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Chamber of Commerce: April’s Fool …

April 2nd, 2008 · 6 Comments

Yesterday, on 1 April 2008, the US Chamber of Commerce issued a memo that suggests that they want to make April’s Fools of all Americans through their continued efforts to distort discussion about energy issues in a way that takes the truth out of truthiness.   And, what is impressive (and depressing) is how the Chamber’s distorting material brings out April Fools who live in the black hole of denial.

In Pay to Play on Climate Change, the Chamber’s President and CEO, Thomas J. Donohue, moves quite directly into the Delayer mode of reacting to climate change issues.  He does not address the fact of Global Change or its (serious) implications, but asserts that there is not the public support for reacting to Global Warming while pursuing truthiness, by distorting the issue, rather than truth.

Donahue opens with a broadside against

“everyone from Al Gore to Environmental Defense” for being alarmists while they “tend to get all fuzzy when it comes to: What to do about the Problem? Who will pay for it?”   

Sure, forget that Environmental Defense’s President, Fred Krupp, just published a (quite business-friendly) book, Earth: the sequel, focused specifically on how “we can build a low-carbon economy while unleashing American entrepreneurs to save the planet.” In other words, how we can make green by going green.  There are plenty of people discussing “what to do about the problem” and many focused on “who will pay for it”.

The result is an impression by the general public that, while we do face a big problem, the solutions should be free for most people (”Hey, just make the car companies build that electric car!”).

Free?  What do you mean free since I’d like me some of that.  Not free, but cost-balanced might be a more reasonable description.  You might pay more for a better insulated home and a more efficient refrigerator with a balance coming from lower energy bills.   And, just imagine, Donahue, your membership could be saving some serious dollars (making green, Tom!) via energy efficiency which, by the way, has a concurrent benefit of reducing pollution from energy generation. 

That’s nonsense–every possible means of radically reducing our carbon emissions will impose high costs and lifestyle changes on the public.

At some point, you just have to ask: WTF?  “Every possible means” has high cost?  Well, let us be clear, Thomas Donahue is absolutely not interested in discussing full costs.   Want to talk about “fuzzy”?  Where is Donahue in talking about the health costs from coal-fired electricity pollution?  Where is Donahue in talking about the implications of Global Warming and the costs of species going extinct, agricultural production distrupted through weather pattern changes, and dealing with the impacts of rising ocean levels and more severe weather?  Want to talk about “fuzzy”?  Donahue is skilled at blurring the situation. 

You may not like a gas tax–but cap-and-trade could impose even greater increases than a tax would.

Well, let us talk about fuzzy.

  1. This is not a balanced discussion. Why?  Would those cost increases lead to reduced use (efficiency)?  California has very high electricity rates (per kilowatt hour) but has kept per capita use stable for 30 years while the rest of the United States has seen a 60% increase.  Californians pay more per kilowatt hour than most other Americans, but have seen their bills go up far less than other Americans because California’s policies use those extra resources for reducing use (efficiency) and investing in renewable power (which provides price stability in the face of fossil fuel uncertainties with near zero pollution).   
  2. What would those revenues be used for? For example, if the auction revenue were used for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, Americans might be paying a little bit today as an investment to lower tomorrow’s costs (both directly for energy and indirectly for reduced pollution and improved health).

No, Tom simply wants to confuse and enrage by only talking about a very limited, stovepiped vision of “cost” rather than being holistic in his approach. 

Let’s continue our look at Tom’s fuzzy and distorting discussion.

Environmental groups have been scared to talk about costs and sacrifices because they think it will deter the public from addressing the challenges of climate change–and with good reason. A recent National Center for Public Policy Research poll found that–not surprisingly–Americans are not too interested in paying additional gasoline taxes in order to help address the challenges of climate change

Should we consider the source, this self-proclaimed “conservative” think tank that has been questioned about its fundraising approaches and is notable in the funds it receives from (for example) ExxonMobil (among others).  To provide a perspective, here is the money (quite literally, I think) quote from NCPPR on Global Warming:

“There is no serious evidence that man-made global warming is taking place.”

Can we be serious for a moment folks?  “No serious evidence …” Methinks that we all might want some of what these guys are smoking because they must be on some serious dope.  In any event, let us turn to the poll.  Polling is a science and a science that easily fosters manipulation and push polling.  Consider context: the poll only spoke of tax and emissions, without suggesting any beneficial use for those funds.  Since when are Americans (or anyone) enamoured with taxes without some context for what they might pay. There were two key questions in the poll, one made sure to provide information about total likely costs with the efforts to “raise the tax on gasoline in an attempt to motivate Americans to conserve fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” The cost, quite direct, the benefit undermined and quite indirect.  The next question pushpolled the issue by asking how likely one would be to support a  gas tax

“if you knew that if the US stopped using gasoline altogether for passenger vehicles, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions would only drop a small fraction of a percentage point?”

Wow, are you surprised that the support went down, with 58% saying this would make them “less likely” to support a gas tax.  The question is leading, but leading with distorting information. Actually, leading with false information.  Take a look at this report (page 13-14) for the year 2000

The vast scale of transportation in America and its reliance on oil make it the second largest U.S. source of GHG emissions (Figure 2) and a major source globally. …  more than a quarter of total U.S. GHG emissions. U.S. transportation system emits more CO2 than any other nation’s total CO2 emissions, except China. 

Within the transportation sector, highway transportation dominates both energy use and GHG emissions. Highway vehicles account for 72 percent of transportation energy use and carbon emissions.   Within the highway mode, light-duty vehicles (passenger cars and light trucks) account for 75 percent of highway energy use. Carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. light-duty vehicles alone are comparable to the total carbon emissions of major industrialized countries like Germany and Japan.

Okay, transportation was 27% of US GHG emissions in 2000.  Highway vehicles were 72% of that, or about 19.5% of total emissions.  Of that, gasoline represented about 75%, or 9.72% of US total emissions.  In other words, with US emissions at about 25% of global GHG emissions, elimiating gasoline from the US transportation sector would cut global emissions by about 2 percent.  Sorry, but 2 percent doesn’t seem like “a small fraction of a percentage point” to me.  So, should we be suprised that Truthiness Tom Donohue is using misleading, “fuzzy” could we say, information to support his arguments?

Let us continue with Tom’s fuzzy logic.

Nor would they likely be thrilled with a $6 trillion price tag to bring down greenhouse gas emissions only marginally

What is the real fuzziness here? I’m not going to get into what things might add into a ”price tag”, as this gets into discussions as to paths forward.  But, what Tom is seeking to do is solely focus on “cost”, a very limited definition of “cost”, with no discussion of benefit. Yes, it would “cost” to build wind, nuclear, solar, and other low/no carbon power systems.  Oh, yeah, they would create the “benefit” of the produced electricity and the “external” benefit of reduced health risk through polluting electricity generation systems. For the “cost” of doing something about Global Warming, we mitigate the damages that Climate Change will create for all future Americans (born or unborn).  That avoided cost almost certainly dwarfs Tom’s distorted definition of a price tag.

Now, please get our your violins for Tom.

In fact, these environmental groups like to shout down the U.S. Chamber and other groups who talk about costs–accusing us of being reactionary anti-environmentalists who want the planet to cook. In fact, that is precisely what Environmental Defense alleged three months ago in an inflammatory letter addressed to the U.S. Chamber’s entire board, denouncing our position on climate change. These groups think that they can postpone the discussion of costs until it’s too late for anyone to do anything about it, at which time they will again lay the blame for cost increases and personal sacrifices on business!

Oh, the poor Astroturfing organizations that Tom’s been affiliated with, suffering from being “shouted down” during the Bush Administration and not having their (misleading) voices heard.  And, well, poor business will suffer the blame in the future. Those dastardly environmentalists.  Get serious Tom.

They also tend to paint an unrealistically rosy scenario on how quickly we can achieve these reductions.  Many of the technologies necessary to capture carbon and make coal cleaner burning are not yet commercially viable and won’t be for some time.

Ah, we shouldn’t do anything now, let’s wait for new technology.  Guess what, this is misleading and distorting at best. Certainly, Carbon Capture & Sequestration is something for tomorrow (if ever) with many hurdles to cross before viability. But energy efficiency?  Negawatts can be cutting power use today, significantly, throughout the US infrastructure.  We can build smart, improve standards, and encourage choices (by government, business, communities, consumers) that lead toward more efficient (rather than wasteful) use of energy. There is much in hand that could radically change the US energy usage patterns, even without a single new patent, a single new invention. 

And when they are available, they must be adopted globally or we will never achieve the levels of reduction that will make a real impact. 

Another classic “delayer” argument, can’t do anything until everyone else is on board. To be honest, this needs to be tackled globally, but it doesn’t mean we can’t start to clean our own house now and be benefitting from it before that global partnership and coalition is fully formed. 

And, think about the last words, Tom, is there no need for making a “level of reduction that will make a real impact.”  Is there a serious problem out there?  If the problems is serious, it is a real challenge, can you explain why you are even putting a price tag on it?

Not having an honest, complete discussion is a bad strategy if you really want to address global climate change over the long term.

“Honest”?  “Complete”?  Tom, you know that term “the pot calling the kettle black”?  But, in this case, you are mirror imaging, creating a false statement about others that really reflects what you are doing. 

There is ample evidence that surprising the public rarely makes for good politics.

Tend to agree, Tom.  Though, you seem to take a leaf from this Administration in believing that deceit and truthiness (often with the truth removed) makes good politics. 

Any costs imposed can quickly be un-imposed once the public starts to howl.

Quite possibly true. 

The only truly smart play regarding the environment is being honest about costs and choices–and enrolling the public in the discussion.

 Well, make that “benefits, costs, options, and choices” and we might be able to agree.

The U.S. Chamber is at the forefront of this truly pro-environment strategy, and we are going to keep at it no matter what bill of goods others try to sell to the public.

Should we laugh or cry? Who is selling a false “bill of goods” here? And, what is your “pro-environment” concept:  a regulatory environment good for serial polluters?

Doing so will help achieve what we all want–a cleaner environment and a prosperous economy.

Tom, what you are doing will not help promote “a cleaner environment and a prosperous economy” but lays a path for dooming future generations to ever more difficult lives and constraints on their opportunities.  We can have prosperity, but only if we realize that it is not the Environment versus the Economy, but the Economy AND the Environment.  And, Tom, the path forward can be fruitful for your membership as more and more of them recognize that they can be making some serious green by going Green.

Tags: business practice · climate change · climate delayers · environmental · pollution

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