An idea that should appeal to everyone, but doesn’t


Shrinking one’s carbon footprint should appeal to everybody: using fewer carbon products like petroleum or natural gas or coal. Anyone without a degree in environmental science, or anyone without lung trouble understands that putting pollutants into the air hurts breathing. Anyone who never worked in a coal mine, where black lung is almost inevitable, appreciates that cutting our national addiction to carbon-based fuels benefits everyone. Even a certified public accountant with a Christian conscience should admit the moral bankruptcy of climate-change denial, what with Pope Francis speaking against it forcefully. But mysteriously, there is widespread, obstinate refusal to cut the carbon. Despite near unanimity among scientists, small groups of pseudo-scientists object, like those who claimed that fluoride in the drinking water would make zombies of us all.

One clue might be the small type at the bottom of the TV screen. The advertiser is complying with the law to identify the source of such commercials. Why would anyone spend big money to urge voters to vote and constituents to contact Congress in order to overturn laws to protect everyone’s lungs? It looks to an objective observer that there is money to be made if the carbon industries are handed a Get Out of Jail Free card by unwitting citizens wanting clean air.

At the bottom of the screen is the name of the organization that lobbies for these mega-industries. Lobbying is itself a huge industry, and it takes a lot of money. The gas pump and the electric and gas meters extract money from us to pay the bill, so we consumers are involved. Inhaling and paying are both painful. If it isn’t true now, at least it was a few years ago that the New Jersey county with the highest incidence of lung cancer was rural Salem, downwind from oil refineries. A coincidence? The “fracking” for natural gas, despite the lobby’s cartoonish commercials about how much deeper the gas is below the water supply, has resulted in Pennsylvanians opening their kitchen faucets to emit both water and gas that ignites when a match is held to it. And Detroit’s admissions that car engines are about 30 percent efficient explain smog and ozone.

When real scientists corner them, lobbyists concede that such aberrations happen, but they are necessary for our economy. Jobs are indeed crucial. They are a better income source than welfare, and one that most Americans want. That makes miners and other Pennsylvanians collateral damage. Sorry, nothing personal. Buggy-whip makers were told the same thing: adapt or perish. I have suggested adapting in a way the carbon lobbyists dread: solar power panels atop every garage within which is an electric car. Think how many jobs would result if thousands were hired to make solar panels, and if Detroit retooled to build the kind of car it has refused — until Europe and Asia started making better cars. One American electric-car CEO has offered 200 battery-related patents to any competitor in the hope of getting our country thinking about phasing out gasoline-burning engines. Sure, they have to be recharged, but technology is gaining on the day when a recharge would be as time-consuming as a visit to the gas station, but much cheaper. Besides, a recharger unit comes with the car, to be juiced up overnight from the previous day’s daylight, enough to travel perhaps 250 miles.

So, back to the starting point: why do many critics feverishly deny carbon-related climate change caused by our addiction to carbon when there’s an increasingly attractive alternative? Is it because they oppose the political party of former Vice-President Al Gore, a major proponent of environmental sanity? Why, that would be as silly as boycotting peanut butter because a former president of the same party grew peanuts.

A likelier reason, though, for such unscientific, anti-intellectual and in fact shameful climate-change denial is that vested interests refuse to adapt, so everyone’s health be damned. If entrepreneurs cannot sell the sunshine hitting those panels, do we expect them to go away quietly with their petroleum, now useful only for lubricating electric car wheels? Should we await natural gas and coal to benignly surrender to obsolescence when it comes to generating electricity? Pretty unlikely, isn’t it? Detroit dinosaurs and oil-patch oligarchs will have to adapt or die. The same with the investors and the consumers behind them. Interestingly, Vatican City produces proportionately more solar-powered electricity that any other country.