Strange Bedfellows

March 22, 2007 at 9:35 am
Contributed by: Chris


Here is my latest, for Green Chip Review. I discuss Al Gore’s testimony to Congress on global warming, and the inextricable relationship between energy and politics.

Strange Bedfellows

By Chris Nelder

March 21, 2007

Ahh—it’s finally Spring!

Maybe now that it has officially arrived, I won’t have to feel so guilty and worried about the incredible warm weather we’ve been having here in northern California.

Actually, it’s been Spring here for a good solid month. The blooms have long disappeared from my plum tree, which already sports tiny green fruit. Other later blooming trees are in full burst, throwing off pollen in great clouds—I literally did a double-take when I saw one this morning—and coating everything in a sticky layer of yellow dust.

And the nest of tree swallows in the wall just under my bedroom window has hatched, so now I wake up with them, before dawn has even arrived, spurred out of bed by their hungry twittering.

I just hope that winter, or a repeat of last year’s deluge of spring rains, doesn’t return. It will really play havoc with the fruiting and seeding cycle here…which, for some crops, has already gone awry.

When I wrote about stumbling around in the heat back in January, I guess I wasn’t the only one. Turns out this was the hottest January on record, globally.

And according to the just-released report from US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists, that’s not all: so far, it’s also been the hottest winter since records started being kept, back in 1880.

I wish I could believe those who still try to claim, against all reason and evidence, that global warming is some kind of hoax, perpetrated by the Left…perhaps because of some strange vendetta against business, or a tendency toward “romanticisation of poverty,” or because they’re enviro-fascists, or because…something.

Oh, and thousands of scientists from across the globe are in a conspiracy to hoodwink us into thinking that global warming is manmade. No, wait—Al Gore invented global warming in order to sell his movie.

Indeed, there’s a new ‘documentary’ movie out, making just those claims.

(Believe me, I get my share of such propaganda. Being part of the public face on these issues makes me a magnet for all sorts of stuff, from the buttoned-down to the tinfoil hatted. No wonder James Howard Kuntsler just put a notice on his Web page asking people to stop sending him stuff, period. The load is pretty intense sometimes.)

But no…alas, I’m just another science-loving leftist, apparently, who can tell you that a week straight of temps in the 80s in March just ain’t normal ‘round these parts.

I’m sure that a few of my readers on the East Cost are saying “We should all be so lucky, to have such problems!” but it really has been a source of consternation.

Projections of grain harvests being off as much as 15% due to unusual temperatures are trickling in from the Midwest.

And there has been a long series of other recent ominous warnings from every quarter: soil, water, carbon emissions, melting glaciers and ice caps, floods…a litany of planetary distress signals. I don’t need to repeat them here, as Al Gore and others have done a fine job of reporting on the problem.

How timely, then, that Gore should bring his campaign to stop global warming back to the halls of Congress today, this first day of Spring.

It was the first time that Gore had returned to Capitol Hill since his last day of presiding over the Senate in January 2001 in his role as Vice President.

And it has been 20 years since he held his first hearings on global warming in Congress.

He was there for a day of testimony about global warming, before a Senate committee and a joint hearing of two House committees, in which he brought a petition with the signatures of over 400,000 citizens who want action on global warming.

He also brought a modest proposal, one which seems too sensible to survive the political process, featuring such suggestions as:

  • An immediate freeze on carbon emissions, with a 90% reduction by 2050
  • An expanded cap-and-trade market-based approach to emissions
  • A moratorium on coal-fired power plants, unless they include anti-pollution technology.

On his Web site, where he has been gathering the signatures, he posted a statement making clear the bipartisan nature of his effort: “While many of the solutions to the climate crisis will be found within the political system,” he wrote, “there should be bipartisan and transpartisan agreement on the basic nature of the crisis and the sense of urgency that is appropriate for us to solve it.”

There should be, but an obstinate opposition is still strong. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) dismissed Gore’s testimony in advance, saying “Those who believe all his garbage are going to be excited to death, and the rest of us are going to ignore it.” And James Inhofe (R-OK), who has famously called global warming a “hoax” and who (like Bush) refuses to see Gore’s movie, grilled Gore about his personal energy use, trying to embarrass him, and then cut him off while he responded, causing committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to bring down the gavel on Inhofe, saying “Elections have consequences, so I make the rules.”

In fact, in classic shoot-the-messenger style, Gore has been subject to a series of well-publicized personal attacks in recent weeks, as it becomes clear to his opponents that he has succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans on the global warming issue via his Academy Award winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

But thankfully, the efforts in Congress are largely bipartisan. Despite the incredibly damaging divisive politics that have stymied dialogue in recent years, clearer heads on both sides of the aisle are recognizing that when the water levels rise to inundate our cities, they will drown the left and the right alike.

Or, to put it more positively, that free solar energy shines down the same on all of us.

Even the Pentagon, that bastion of tree-huggers, has realized the significance of the global warming threat. In 2004, a leaked Pentagon report worried that rapid climate change may well set off global competition for food and water supplies and, in the worst scenarios, spark nuclear war.

The Pentagon is also clearly worried about fueling its operations. And well they should be, since the US Department of Defense (DoD) is the world’s largest purchaser of oil. They’ve been looking for ways to stop using oil entirely by 2050.

Apparently recognizing that North American natural gas supplies are also dwindling, a recent Army study explored availability and cost scenarios for natural gas, stating “Current Army assumption is that natural gas may cease to be a viable fuel for the Army within the next 25 years based on price volatility and affordable supply availability.”

And as I have reported previously, former CIA heads have come out in force to advocate for clean, green renewable energy, to address the twin threats of global warming and peak oil. Their eyes are fixed steadily on China’s burgeoning use of coal (over one-third of the world’s consumption).

Republican Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) is leading the peak oil caucus in Congress, urging demand-side solutions and wondering aloud if it even makes sense to try to fill the post-peak gap in energy supplies, knowing that to do so would only delay, even intensify, the pain of adjustment later.

Perhaps his clear-eyed assessment of the problem is due to the fact that he is a Ph.D. research scientist and a medical doctor, a man not afraid of good hard science. He puts partisanship aside by saying “I may be a Republican, but I try not to be an idiot.” He is currently sponsoring the Energy Farm Bill, which will offer federal R&D support to make farms “net positive” in both food and energy.

Republicans and Democrats alike have sponsored bills before the new Congress to do everything from reducing emissions, to promoting the development of alternative liquid fuels, to improving the efficiency of cars and household appliances.

The CIA, the Pentagon, most of the People, and both sides of the aisle in Congress. Crises do make strange bedfellows.

Now, I know that some of my readers (and perhaps my colleagues too) would prefer that I leave politics out of my articles, and just focus on the facts about energy.

But I decided long ago that it’s not only impossible to separate energy policy from politics, it’s disingenuous to even try.

There can be no policy without politics. Our national foreign policy is a direct reflection of our energy policy, which is a direct reflection of our values as a nation, and of our very capitalist system. They are all one and the same.

Energy IS global warming IS politics.

Peak oil is merely the flip side of the global warming coin. It amazes me how so many people, from lawmakers to environmentalists to investors, still fail to realize that.

In a March 12 commentary, ASPO-USA co-founder Randy Udall criticized Congress’ grasp of the energy problem, writing, “Congress is overwhelmingly staffed by lawyers. I have met some of these notables, and with the exception of Rep. Bartlett, most of them are energy illiterates, if not energy cretins.”

And I was once personally assured by a member of the House of Lords that we should stop worrying about peak oil because we’re going to crack the nut of cold fusion any day now.

So there is still much work—and politicking—to do. Addressing these common threats together truly must be our mission. Our grandchildren will not forgive us for seeing the threats, and failing to take action simply because we placed a greater value on playing politics, or protecting somebody’s profits, than on the welfare of Man.

As Gore said in his testimony today that we face an unprecedented challenge, “the most dangerous crisis we have ever faced, but it is also the greatest opportunity we have ever been confronted with.”

That Opportunity, with a capital O, is what we’re all about here: How to bring the best of breed technologies, and the best and brightest of human talents, to bear on these problems, and make money doing it.

And I think it’s going to be a very profitable spring for renewable energy.

Until next time…


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