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The Moral Dilemma of Continued Fossil Fuel Use in an Age of Climate Change
Over the past decade we have seen horrific drought in California and Texas, India and Africa; record floods on the Mississippi and Missouri, in Britain, and Pakistan; the worst wildfires in history in the American West, Australia and Russia. Everywhere around the globe, climate change is bringing an unprecedented escalation in human suffering and economic harm.
And yet, the global average temperature has risen by a mere degree. Scientists tell us that if we do nothing, we could easily see twice as much, or 4 to 5 times more warming, by century’s end, fueling disastrous weather never before seen by civilization. Rapidly melting ice caps; rising sea levels; intensifying heat waves, super storms and mega droughts; acidifying oceans and dying coral reefs, collapsing water supplies, declining crop harvests, teeming eco-refugees and escalating global conflict are happening now, and going to get much worse, says the newest Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change report. The climate disasters endured so far, and dire events to come, threaten an unparalleled wave of human suffering — making climate change the dominant moral issue of the 21st century.
Our fossil fuel addiction, if unabated, endangers our children and their children — civilization itself. If President Obama is to respond to this crisis, he must do so now with the same moral courage and frankness with which Franklin Roosevelt faced the Great Depression and the fascists in World War II, and with which Lincoln dealt with the pro-slavery South.
President Obama’s legacy will clearly be judged on his ability to emancipate us from the economic and corporate tyranny of fossil fuels. This requires his directly challenging the lies of the climate deniers who have put us on the path to planetary ecocide — the “Oil Eight,” the Koch Brothers, and an uninformed or completely out of touch media, that is ruining our democracy with Citizen’s United and other political outrages, and wrecking our ecosystems and economy with fracking, the ta rsands Keystone XL pipeline, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and other offenses against humanity and nature.
As worldwide human suffering and the economic crisis brought by climate change deepens, the President must lead. He must decide whether our fossil fuel addiction is “right” or “wrong.” He must base the rightness and wrongness of this addiction not only on science or economics but on the principles of human justice. It is time for the President to direct moral outrage at the treacherous obfuscations of the fossil fuel industry and its calculated attack on our environment, our democracy, and on governments and habitat worldwide.
The President will not likely come to this decision or this declaration on his own. As with Roosevelt and Lincoln, Obama must be brought to the decision by the people. Activist Bill McKibben of 350.org argues convincingly that, “The fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry.” He declares that if these rogue corporations continue to have their way, “We stand to emit five times as much CO2 as even the most conservative government says is safe,” damning the civilized world. “The fuel will definitely be burned unless we change the story line.”
Only we, the American people, can change this story line. The new narrative we create must include the voices of farmers and farmworkers losing their crops and livelihoods to California’s drought; the ranchers who lost their herds to searing heat in Texas and Oklahoma; the Coloradans who lost their homes to record flood and fire; the citizens of Tuscaloosa and Joplin who lost their towns to tornadoes; the people of Far Rockaway, New York, and New Orleans who lost their communities to hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.
This new narrative, directly connecting unprecedented human suffering to climate change, will not arise out of international conferences or on the floor of Congress. Instead it will push up from the bottom. This new story line must come from the heart, be as unyielding in its principles, and as unflinching in its sense of moral indignation as was William Lloyd Garrison when he demanded slavery’s abolition in 1831. Garrison wrote in the Liberator:
“I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm: tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — and I will be heard.”.
The future of our children is in the balance. Life on this earth is at risk. As our world teeters on the edge of catastrophic climate change, we must demand that President Obama lead. He must oppose the morally corrupt fossil fuel industry with the courage of one who carries forward the flag in a just cause, serving all humankind. The President must commit us to building America’s future and the world’s future on a new, sane, sustainable economic footing. This is what he should say:
Emancipation from Fossil Fuels: A New Birth of Freedom
Most of the links in blue indicate that the entire paragraph is a quote from the President or other world leaders
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens: Good evening, I come before the Congress and the People of the United States tonight because no country can hide from the horrific harm of carbon pollution, the corrupting influence of the fossil fuel industry, their paid denier minions, or the reality of the great danger we face as a nation.
Just over one hundred and fifty years ago, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation proclaiming the freedom of slaves in the states that were still in rebellion. That proclamation made the eradication of slavery and the goal of reuniting the Union inevitable. Tonight I am proclaiming our Emancipation from Fossil Fuels. I am making this declaration against the judgment of special interests, of fossil fuel companies, their well-connected donors and many in congress. I do it for the safety and security of our nation, our children, and their children. This proclamation will make the United States the leader in combating global climate change, and release big oil’s stranglehold on our nation’s energy policy and our democracy.
I am taking this step because the evidence that climate change is happening, that it is a threat to our economy, our national security and prosperity, is unequivocal. The longer our government and our people delays action on climate change, the harder it will be to combat. Climate upheavals are impacting our citizens everywhere: destroying the lives and livelihoods of farmers and farm workers in California, and ranchers in Texas and Oklahoma. It is raising prices on meat, vegetables, fruit and other vital commodities at a time when Americans can’t afford price increases. It is threatening our future food supply and our water supply. Extreme weather events, never seen on such a large scale in this nation’s history, have in the first years of this century assaulted New Orleans, New York, Tuscaloosa, Joplin and other cities — bringing misery and economic hardship to our citizens. Record floods and droughts have struck the Midwestern grain belt, the breadbasket of the world. Meanwhile, oceans are rising, threatening our coasts. The insurance industry warns that such weather disasters – drought, deluge, and deadly heat waves – as they escalate in this century, will ruin American businesses and could even bankrupt nations. Our own military has told me that as climate change worsens, it will destabilize countries around the globe as they struggle to deal with costly weather disasters, and to meet food and water needs for their populations. Indeed our climate scientists tell me it has already done so in geopolitical hotspots such as Syria and Afghanistan, where fierce droughts contributed to government collapse and citizen revolts. As climate change intensifies, its capacity to be an unpredictable and dangerous, politically destabilizing wildcard will only grow.
Those who deny climate change and demand a halt to emissions reduction want us to take a huge gamble with the future of every human being on the planet, and every future human being. I am issuing this proclamation because climate change is not only a massive threat to the global environment; it is also perhaps the greatest economic and security challenge facing us in the twenty-first century. It demands an urgent and radical response across the developed and developing world.
I stand before you tonight because, it has become apparent that we’re not at the point of trying to stop global warming; it’s too late for that. We now must try to keep it from becoming a complete and utter calamity.
What is now plain is that the emission of greenhouse gases, associated with industrialization from a world population that has increased six-fold in 200 years, is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming, and is absolutely unsustainable in the long-term. And by long-term I do not mean centuries ahead. I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own lifetime. And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it radically alters human existence.
Climate change is not an environmental problem, a problem for the political right or left, or for environmentalists. It is a problem for all of us because, if it is not dealt with now, it could threaten civilization itself. Climate change is not just another issue. If it is not addressed in very short order, it will swamp every other issue facing us today .
I am proclaiming emancipation from fossil fuels tonight, in significant part because of industry malfeasance and resistance to all logical argument. Our domestic oil, gas and coal companies, who have served us all so well in the past, did not deserve blame when the risks of climate change were first revealed to Congress in 1988, But the fossil fuel industry does deserve blame for its willful campaign of delay, denial, and obfuscation conducted since 1988, as CO2 emissions responsible for our catastrophic global warming have risen apace. More than 60 percent of the carbon emissions now threatening our planet occurred since that date, 25 years ago. For decades these companies have intentionally, and with calculation and deceit, cultivated scientific ignorance that demonstrates a “treasonous disregard” for the people of this nation, our economy, our security, and the future of all humanity.
This is not the 17th century, when “beliefs” trumped science, forcing Galileo to recant his knowledge that the earth orbits the sun. My administration unequivocally supports the climate science community, which is under politically orchestrated assault by the fossil fuel industry on the legitimacy of its scientific assessments. In support of this assertion I have asked for a prompt report from the National Academy of Sciences, for advice on climate change technical issues, a report due in the next 90 days. I am also establishing a White House Council on Climate that will include a new Cabinet Secretary, members of Congress, members of the business and agricultural community, academics, and engaged and informed individuals to advise me on the public policy initiatives required to effectively address this crisis. I also issue a warning to the fossil fuel industry: Further attempts to corrupt our democratic political system to serve their own profits will not be tolerated by me, this administration, or by the American people. Their honest efforts to assist us in effectively meeting this crisis will be welcomed; their resistance will not stand.
There are those in my administration who have urged me to use moderation when addressing this issue. This I cannot do, because the predominant moral issue of the 21st century has now become climate change. Its security threat to our nation is now greater than the threat of Nazism faced by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Its economic threat is now greater than the threat of the Great Depression, also met head-on by that same President. And it is now an even greater moral threat to our country than that of slavery, as faced by President Abraham Lincoln. Our fossil fuel addiction, if unabated, threatens our cities, our livelihoods, our economy, our security, our children and grandchildren, and most species on the planet. It is a threat as well to this nation’s moral compass, which has always guided us to improve life for our most vulnerable citizens. We now must shoulder the responsibility for keeping the planet habitable, or we will all suffer the consequences together.
Therefore I will no longer use moderation in addressing the climate crisis. “I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — and I will be heard.
I am, today, directing every agency of government to develop detailed plans, to be submitted to me within six months to advise me and the newly formed White House Climate Change Council on the immediate steps that our government will take to not only mitigate the effects of this climate disaster, but to do everything in our power to avoid the worst possible outcomes.
Climate change is the greatest threat to our common future, and we have a very short period of time to tackle the problem before it becomes irreversible and out of control. A lot of progress has been made, but we must now go further, faster and turn targets into real change.
Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world – endangering access to water, food production, threatening health and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms. These disruptions will no doubt strain civil authority around the globe, bringing unrest, failure of government service, and even the collapse of nations. Therefore, I am asking the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Military to come to me with a plan in six months to address climate change threats to global and national security.
Because I refuse to condemn this generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing, and since we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country on where we go from here – tonight, I am sending a new Energy and Climate Bill to Congress, and will campaign across the country to engage and inform citizens of their moral responsibility to the security of our nation, and for them to demand that their state and federal elected representatives do the “People’s bidding,” instead of that of the fossil fuel lobby and their political contributors.
It takes a look back at the past several decades to appreciate the true costs of burning fossil fuel: Air, water, and soil pollution, environmental degradation, wars and military entanglements in Iraq and elsewhere to protect access to oil, the transfer of American’s earnings to foreign economies, and dependence on other nations for our energy needs, and, of course, the suffering brought by climate change. The impacts of global warming are such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a weapon of mass destruction.
Unfortunately, our individual pocketbooks don’t feel the true costs of what it takes for Americans to enjoy the energy derived from a ton of coal, or a barrel of oil. And that’s one reason we make so little effort to use it efficiently, conservatively, or wisely. That’s why I am asking Congress to pass a bill shifting all energy subsidies and tax incentives formerly applied to fossil fuel production to sustainable energy research and production.
Climate change is the greatest long-term threat faced by humanity. It could easily cause more human and financial suffering than the two world wars and the Great Depression put together. All countries will be affected, but the poorest countries will be hit hardest.
Climate change is a risk-multiplier. It has the potential to take all the other critical issues we face as a global community and transform their severity into a cataclysm. Reducing poverty, increasing food production, combating terrorism and sustaining economic development are all vital priorities, but it is increasingly clear how rapid climate change will make those goals far more difficult to address. Furthermore, because climate change is intimately connected with our systemic, unsustainable consumption of natural resources, any decline in the ecological resilience of one resource base or ecosystem increases the fragility of the whole.
Since the fundamental requirement for solving our fossil fuel addiction and moving to a clean energy future is a rising price on carbon emissions, I will send Carbon Tax legislation to Congress, because if we refuse to make fossil fuels pay for their damage to human health, the environment, and our children’s future, fossil fuels will remain the cheapest energy and we will squeeze every last drop from tar sands, oil shale, deep ocean oil deposits, and pristine federal lands, exacerbating both environmental calamity and increased carbon in the atmosphere.
We will take immediate steps to develop a New Green Deal, “a new green industrial revolution” that develops the new technologies that can confront and overcome the challenge of climate change.
I will be sending to Congress comprehensive legislation for a “Green New Deal” that will include, but not be limited to:
- Enacting a revenue-neutral carbon tax, with all revenues returned to taxpayers as payroll tax cuts
- Enacting a federal living wage, indexed to inflation, and repeal the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act to help the less fortunate deal with climate change’s economic setbacks
- Re-regulating the financial sector and enact a Tobin tax of 0.25 percent on all cross-border financial transactions
- Redirect 50 percent of military spending to generate public works projects to harden dams, coastal nuclear plants, airports and other vital infrastructure against sea rise and flooding, improve food and water security against drought, give America a world-class public transportation system, retrofit 10 million homes with energy-conserving insulation, power America with 50 percent renewable energy by 2020, and 100 percent by 2030
- Authorize the creation of the Climate Change Corps, the CCC, an organization much like the Peace Corps that will offer climate change mitigation and adaptation technology and techniques to developing nations who desperately need our help
- Create an industrial council on climate change to develop a corporate and business road map for reducing fossil fuel use, achieving sustainable energy goals, and achieving zero waste
My administration will apply the climate change test broadly, to decisions ranging from flood insurance to federal road projects and all executive departments will from now on factor in climate impacts to a host of decisions, including how to construct or fund new federal and state projects and rebuild after disasters.
In the next 100 days, I will issue executive orders as well as sending legislation to Congress requiring electric utilities to face stricter carbon limits because when it comes to power plants being able to emit unlimited carbon for free: “That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”
My administration will also begin negotiations with the United Nations and the world’s largest carbon emitters to secure international climate agreements by the end of my term as President. It’s time for the U.S. to lead on climate, negotiating binding treaties and accords on greenhouse gas emissions that will include but not be limited to bilateral climate agreements with China, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, The United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, and Mexico.
Religions across the spectrum — Christians, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, and the Eastern Orthodox — stand united in seeing climate change as a moral and ethical challenge. Delaying real change is intolerable for anyone who sees the danger. Of course, I do not expect such dramatic and sudden change to come easily or without hardship. But failure is not an option. In the case of climate change, it is not even an alternative. We must have enough food to eat and water to drink, we must be able to live in a world where our infrastructure and government institutions are not threatened at every turn by catastrophic random climatic events. Again, as during the debate over slavery more than 150 years ago, we face an undeniable moral imperative to act quickly and decisively.
I close by asking; by what name will future generations know our time? Will they speak in anger and frustration of the age of the Great Unraveling, when profligate consumption exceeded Earth’s capacity to sustain, when greed and political corruption led to an accelerating wave of collapsing environmental systems, violent competition for what remained of the planet’s resources, and a dramatic die back of the human population? Or will they look back in joyful celebration on the time of the Great Turning, when their forebears courageously embraced the higher-order potential of their human nature, turned crisis into opportunity, and learned to live in creative partnership with one another and the Earth?
Good night, thank you, and God Bless the United States of America.