Saving the Planet, Saving the Economy

Bill Scher

Al Gore has said, “If the President made climate change the organizing principle, the filter through which everything else had to flow, then that could really make a huge difference.”

In other words, by prioritizing the climate crisis, we’re not simply saving the planet’s environment.

We’re transforming foreign policy so we don’t have to occupy for oil. We’re preventing future conflicts over dwindling and damaged natural resources. We’re helping families save by providing affordable clean energy at stable prices. We’re establishing healthier trade policies by raising environmental standards globally. And we strengthening our economy’s foundation by creating millions of good-paying, green-collar jobs.

The Conservative Economy has been a stressful slog for working families and the impoverished throughout the Bush Era. Conservative apologists boast of decent GDP growth numbers, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Stock prices and corporate profits may have gone up, but incomes have gone down. Poverty has gone up. The dollar has gone down. Foreclosures are up. Consumer confidence, down. Bankruptcies, up. Health care costs, energy costs, college costs, personal debt – up, up, up, up.

Discussion is going to heat up this year over what is ailing the economy and how we should change the past seven years of failed conservative policies. That economic discussion should not happen separately from discussion of global warming. Because how we tackle global warming directly affects, and potentially fortifies, our national and global economy.

The Senate’s environmental subcommittee has taken the first step, albeit an imperfect one. Their bill rightly caps greenhouse gas emissions, and allocates a limited number of pollution permits that companies can trade – an incentive to cut pollution more and sell the extra permits.

But the bill weakens the potential environment and economic punch by initially allocating most of the permits for free, instead of making polluters pay for them.

Europe has already made this mistake, feeling they had to initially give away free permits to garner corporate support. But it hampered the start of the cap-and-trade system. If there’s no price on emitting carbon, if it’s free for companies to pollute public sky, there’s no incentive to cut emissions.

Making polluters pay is not only better for the atmosphere, but also for our economy.

With the money raised through selling pollution permits, we can more easily create good jobs by investing in renewable energy. And we can return the proceeds from polluting public sky to the public, mitigating any short-term increases in people’s energy bills during the transition to a sustainable, clean energy economy.

After the Nobel Peace Prize winning efforts of Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, public sentiment has made a fundamental shift. We are no longer debating if we face a climate crisis. We are debating what to do about it.

The full Senate is expected to consider the subcommittee bill later this year, and efforts to weaken it or strengthen it will be fierce — though any bill of any substance will likely face obstruction by conservative filibuster or presidential veto. And whatever happens this year in Congress, the issue may well dominate the presidential campaign.

It is imperative for all of us to engage the debate. To press Congress to pass the most effective bill. To press the candidates to show the way towards solving the climate crisis and embarking on an Apollo plan to build the clean energy economy.

An unmistakable mandate from the people for lasting change is critical if we are to overcome corporate interests foolishly standing in the way of sustainability and economic revitalization.

Entrenched corporate interests, always grasping at straws to squelch progressive change, will try to use our economic struggles as an excuse to delay action on the climate crisis.

We must speak up and show that our economic struggles are just another reason why action is so urgent.

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