Photo via Infranetlab
Coal and oil state politicians are worried that the climate bill will be too hard on industry. Republicans (misleadingly) accuse the bill of raising taxes. Democrats from rural areas say it'll be too much of a burden to big agriculture. Words have been flying, tensions rising, and allegiances shifting--it's been a loud, chaotic conversation over on Capitol Hill. But there's been one thing sorely missing from the debate--a sense of ethics. The fact that inaction on climate change will have disastrous consequences remains curiously absent from the dialogue. Here's why politicians need to start considering the ethical necessity of fighting global warming--and why they need to do it now.In other words, it's strange that we haven't heard more public appeals to the severity of our climate situation from elected officials. After all, a dire report just surfaced detailing the droughts, floods, heat waves, and other woes that will plague the US if climate change continues its current course. So why has the fact that global warming will put millions of Americans at risk, which should be at the heart of the discussion, barely surfaced in the political discourse?
I'm not being naive--I know that rust belt Democrats have to consider the fact that many of their constituents are employed in heavy industries like auto manufacturing (though a lot less now than in years past . . .), and that politicians from coal and oil heavy states are worried about protecting the livelihoods of coal miners, oil workers, and the businesses that employ thousands of people. But what about the fact that all of those people will be adversely impacted by the effects of climate change? That should be a central concern of any responsible senator or representative.
The sad truth is that the concept of climate change is largely abstract and intangible to many, many people--including leading politicians. Even if the majority of Americans believe it's occurring, and think that we should curb greenhouse gases as a nation (which they do), more tangible and immediate concerns like rising taxes and personal job security will almost always be held as a priority. And it's not for a lack of education or personal wherewithal--it's just how human beings are wired.
Which is why it's of the utmost importance that the ethical question is raised more vocally and visibly--the fact is, climate change will become a tangible force that we all are going to be affected by, though it will happen incrementally. And though I'm not advocating more doomsaying or fear mongering, I do believe the true risks should be taken into account when legislators are weighing which provisions to compromise in order to make the bill more palatable. And I'm sure the ethical component does factor into the representatives' decision making, but lately we've seen a veritable cascade of compromises and sacrifices which have weakened the bill's efficacy.
It'd certainly be difficult to look your constituency in the proverbial eye and say, "Sorry, all ye employed in the coal and oil industries, but we're going to start the process that's going to make life tougher on your employers, and eventually, you too. Perhaps it's time you looked into green job training."
But weighed against the alternative--that is, the suffering that will result from unmitigated climate change--such difficult consequences appear more than justified. And they are. Industries develop and shift, and energy is no exception. The simple truth is that burning coal for electricity (along with a host of other emissions heavy practices) isn't a sustainable option. And if we continue to do it, many, many more people will suffer than those who lose their jobs as the energy industry transforms.
Which is why we need to keep in mind that fighting climate change is an ethical necessity--not a political goal.