In light of the recent Senate vote on climate change, I had an imaginary dialogue with Lisa Murkowski, Republican from Alaska, who is the Chair of the Senate Energy Committee — a very important position indeed. The dialogue, such as it was, went something like this:
Me: So, Senator, it appears your colleagues in the Senate have finally arrived at the position scientists have held for many years about the radical changes in our climate that are already impacting on our weather and food production in disturbing ways. Is that so?
L: Yes they have and I was one of the 98% who agreed that climate change is a scientific fact.
Me: I also noted that 59 Senators agreed that humans are somewhat responsible for that fact but that only 50 agreed that humans have had a “significant” impact on global warming. You were one of those who voted “no” on this latter question, were you not?
L: Yes I was.
Me: Why was that?
L: Because I think the jury is still out on weather humans have had a significant impact on climate change. After all, there have always been ebbs and flows, oceans rising and falling, radical changes in weather patterns and temperatures, and even though humans may have contributed somewhat, it is a stretch to say that we have made that much difference.
Me: Really? Even though human populations are exploding all over the earth and industrial gasses are expanding at a very rapid pace in order to feed and clothe those folks? You don’t think that the carbon monoxide that our homes, cars, planes, and factories spew into the atmosphere has a significant effect on the rising temperatures around the globe?
L: No, I do not. Moreover, I resent the implication that because I don’t recycle and I want to keep my house warm and drive a car that can get me down the road quickly I am part of the cause of a global problem, that I should alter my lifestyle in order to please some crazies who seem determined to exaggerate the problem. Besides, any serious attempt to curb global warming, I am told, would require stringent controls on industry which would be bad for business and, as we all know, business is the engine that runs this great country of ours.
Me: Indeed it does. But there are companies harnessing alternative energies and building mass transit systems that could create work for anyone who might be displaced by currently existing industries that might be forced to cut back in order to reduce our carbon footprint — especially if they received a fraction of the $8 billion in subsidies that, as an example, the oil industry receives at present. But let’s go back to the original question. Let’s suppose, for a moment, that those “crazies” are correct and that you and I, along with the industries that support our present standard of living, are all making an impact that could be reduced if we altered our lifestyles. Shouldn’t we attempt to do something that will reverse the trend?
L: Not in the least. Until you can show me that humans, all humans, are making a huge difference I prefer to continue to live the way I am right now.
Me: OK. So if the “crazies” are exaggerating the problem then you are home safe. But if they are correct in their estimations, by the time you and the others who think like you realize this it may be too late. It seems to me you are taking a huge risk. On the other hand, if you were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt it would doubtless alter our lifestyles somewhat, but it would also pay dividends in the long term by preserving a healthy planet for future generations. We would still maintain one of the world’s highest standards of living. Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution?
L: I don’t see why I should have to make any sacrifices at all on the basis of assumptions and speculation.
Me: Because these “assumptions and speculation” are supported by 98% of the scientific community that has studied the problem in depth. It is not simply an assumption or idle speculation, but a fact based on solid evidence and it behooves us all to take steps — again, if it’s not too late. As a nation we seem to be hellbent on conducting a risky experiment that places a premium on profits and creature comforts in the hope that the serious problems we are facing will simply go away by themselves. It’s virtually certain that humans are playing a significant role in climate change and we are making a terrible mistake to simply ignore that possibility — especially since the price of attacking the problem is so small in the grand scheme of things.
L: Who are you anyway? And why are you in my face?
Me: I am sorry. But just one quick question. I noted that two of your biggest contributors this past election were utilities and oil and gas companies — to the tune of well over $1 million, and that four of your five largest individual contributors were electric utilities and oil companies as well. Doesn’t that skew your thought process somewhat on this issue and, at the very least, shouldn’t you step down as chair of the Energy Committee because of a conflict of interest?
L: I don’t have time for this. I have a committee meeting.