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Denial and Delay Winning the Day in Durban
Amid difficult United Nation climate talks this week in Durban, lead climate change denier -- U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) -- sent a patronizing video message to delegates in South Africa celebrating what he called the "complete collapse" of the movement to fight climate change.
His message comes as delegates work night and day in a last-ditch effort to produce a legally-binding deal to restrict the damage already underway due to the rise of carbon content in the atmosphere. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said earlier in the week that a new international climate pact might be "beyond our reach" given the "great economic troubles" many countries are experiencing.
New data demonstrating that global warming is accelerating and the planet is running out of time, add urgency to the talks. The Global Carbon Project unveiled a report, which says carbon emissions increased 5.9 percent between 2009 and 2010. According to the New York Times, this represents "almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution." Prominent environmentalist Bill McKibben said these numbers mean that "we've all but lost the battle to reduce the damage from global warming."
Biggest Tax Increase in American History
Eight years of record warmth and raw data that has convinced even the Koch Brother's favorite scientist that climate change is real, has not changed the tune of Inhofe who calls climate change the "greatest hoax" ever perpetrated on the American people and has compared the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the "Gestapo." Not surprisingly, Inhofe accepted $547,000 in contributions from oil and coal interests during the 110th Congress.
"For the past decade, I have been the leader in the United States Senate standing up against global warming alarmism and cap-and-trade, which would have been the largest tax increase in American history," he said in the video. "Tossing out any remote possibility of a UN global warming treaty is one of the most important things we can do for the economy."
Aided by an economic crisis that elevates jobs to the top of the nation's priority list, the climate change deniers have helped shift U.S. public opinion on the issue. In 2007, 71 percent of Americans thought climate change was a problem; today only 44 percent do.
For Conservatives Climate Change is "Kryptonite"
Recently journalist Naomi Klein did a much discussed piece in The Nation magazine where she delved into the reasoning behind the fervor climate change has caused among American conseratives. She says that while climate change deniers are wrong on the science, they are right about the fact that truly addressing the probem will be an enormously costly transformative endeavor.
In an interview with the New York Times, Klein said: "If you really do believe that freedom means governments getting out of the way of corporations and that any regulation leads us down Hayek's road to serfdom, then climate science is going to be kryptonite to you. After all, the reality that humans are causing the climate to warm, with potentially catastrophic results, really does demand radical government intervention in the market, as well as collective action on an unprecedented scale. So you can understand why many conservatives see climate change as a threat to their identity."
Klein also calls upon environmental groups to own up to the fact that really dealing with the climate crisis will mean a fundamental restructuring of the way things are done. "Too often the liberal climate movement runs away from the deep political and economic implications of climate science, which is why I wrote the piece. I think we need to admit that climate change really does demand a profound interrogation of the ideology that currently governs our economy," she said.
"You Are Being Ignored"
In his message, Inhofe mocks the delegates and tells them the are being ignored by their biggest ally in the United States.
"I am making this announcement from Washington DC -- where I am confident that the only person left talking about global warming is me," Inhofe said. "The message from Washington to the UN delegates in South Africa this week could not be any clearer: you are being ignored. And you are being ignored by your biggest allies in the United States: President Obama and the Democratic leadership in the Senate."
Indeed, while Congress remained mum on the topic, U.S. negotiators in Durban argued that nations should wait until 2020 to make steep reductions, when the majority of climate change science shows this is not an option if the world is to avoid the devastating impacts of a warming planet. The United States has also worked to protect Wall Street and big business in negotiations surrounding how to fund a "Green Climate Fund" to aid poor nations in adapting to the changing climate, as well help them cut emissions. These funds are crucial to areas like Eastern Africa, which is experiencing the worst drought its seen in six decades, leaving more than 13 million people in need of food. The U.S. wants these funds coming from the public sector not the private sector.
"George W. Obama?"
In the eyes of many, the Obama administration is not much better than the Bush administration on how it has managed dealing with climate change. A group of climate change deniers applauded the administration this week for refusing to support an extension of the Kyoto Protocol or an agreement on binding emissions cuts at the conference, one of them even referring to the the president as "George W. Obama."
After it came to power, one of the Obama administration's first moves on climate was to change the base year for a United States pollution target, which nearly doubled the percentage of emissions that would have been allowed under the Kyoto Protocol. The administration recently halted EPA smog standards and has approved oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
Positive Steps Draw ALEC Ire
But the Obama administration has also taken some environmentally-friendly steps. It was able to double fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, tighten regulations on pollution from power plants that blow downwind, and the delay of the construction of the Keystone XL to carry Canada's Alberta tarsands to the south, which have been referred to as the largest carbon bomb in the world. At the state-level there have also been efforts to fight climate change, like the California law limiting CO2 emissions from vehicles by 2009.
These EPA regulatory changes have thrown the right-wing into a tizzy, resulting in coordinated attacks at the state and federal level. CMD reported on "EPA Trainwreck" spin which emerged from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) but was echoed at the federal level. ALEC's Board of Directors includes lobbyists from ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Koch Industries, and the organization has churned out state resolutions to reject the Kyoto Protocol, reject state efforts to regulate greenhouse gases, and attack the EPA.
Inhofe, naturally, is an ALEC alumni.
As the Durban conference winds down to its final hours, it looks like denial and delay are winning the day -- a deadly combination for the planet and future generations.