“If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us. Never forget this!” — Pope Francis
Last week, weather forecasters once again issued flash-flood warnings for the Deep South’s coastal areas — as governments were still working to repair the damage wrought by flooding a month ago. In California, meanwhile, authorities are struggling to handle the consequences of a historic drought, a water shortage that has choked agriculture, created a tinderbox and wreaked havoc on the economy.
Oddly, the crises brought on by water — either too much or too little — may have the same cause: climate change. Scientists have said that increased temperatures will lead to more severe weather of all kinds, including searing droughts. Though it may be counterintuitive, global warming will also cause the atmosphere to hold more moisture, resulting in heavier rainfall. Add to that rising oceans, fed by melting polar ice, and coastal areas are in for catastrophe.
President Obama has vowed to do everything he can to mitigate the global threat. His latest move is to rein in power plants; power generation is responsible for roughly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. New regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency will aim to reduce those emissions from power plants already in operation.
Obama had already insisted on increased fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. Though the automotive industry and its toadies fought him fiercely, he prevailed; during his first term, he issued new rules requiring automakers to nearly double fuel economy in new cars and trucks by 2025. The president completed that phase by calling for tougher fuel economy standards for big rigs, to be issued before he leaves office.
Taken together, the new rules for fuel economy and power plants suggest that Obama has done more than any president to face squarely the compelling moral issue of our time. And he has done so in the face of corporate lobbyists who don’t care what they do to the planet, not to mention a science-denying political opposition that would oppose elementary school recess just to defy the president.
Once upon a time, Republicans respected science. President Richard Nixon created the EPA and championed the Clean Air Act. Sen. John McCain campaigned for the presidency as an advocate of a “cap-and-trade” plan that would have limited carbon emissions from industry. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, among his 2008 primary opponents, emphasized “clean coal” and alternative energy sources. All three acknowledged global warming as a threat.
But that was in a galaxy far, far away. Since then, the GOP has morphed into a flat-earth society, a small tent of ultra-conservatives who mock the science of climate change, resist any government regulation and champion Big Business, no matter its demands. Oh, yes — they also fight anything the president proposes.
In the case of the new regulations on power plants, Democrats from coal country — states such as West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky — will join Republicans in their resistance. As just one example, Alison Grimes, who is running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is campaigning as a “pro-coal Democrat.”
“I don’t agree with the president’s war on coal. I think it’s wrong for Kentucky,” she said after her recent primary win. “I will fight to make sure that coal has a long-term place in our national energy policy. I won’t answer to the president.”
So look for an all-out war against the new EPA regulations. Lawsuits have already been prepared, marketing plans worked up, political campaigns financed. Indeed, conservatives have been battling the EPA for decades now, trying to turn back rules that have already made the air cleaner in major industrial hubs.
The pushback to the new regulations will garner some sympathy among American voters, who are less concerned about climate change than citizens of other affluent countries, polls show. That indifference is a victory for the corporate czars who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to downplay the consequences of their carbon spewing.
That means Obama’s big push to mitigate climate change has little political upside for him. It’s just the right thing to do.
(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Photo: Takver via Flickr