Climate As Context

There are lots of issues in the energy space that deserve some new analysis and examination in the context of what is now an energy world that is no longer like the 1970s,” says Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. Is he talking about climate change? No, he’s advocating the export of crude oil from the United States, which has been unlawful since the days of the Arab oil embargo.

I mention this not to argue the economic or strategic merits of exporting domestically produced crude. If we lived in a world where adding carbon to the atmosphere were safe, that debate would be sensible and necessary.

I mention it because it so profoundly misses the mark.

The important and overarching change in context from the 1970s is our carbon-filled atmosphere. The debate Moniz should be vigorously pushing is how to curtail human carbon emissions as fast as possible.

Burning fossil fuels has become so culturally ingrained that we can’t question it, even though we know it’s insidiously destructive. More oil production from the Bakken and the Eagle Ford? What a boon!

I’m sure Moniz would insist he realizes the threat of climate change. But any action that challenges the status quo is viewed as a non-starter, if not subversive. Moniz could be asking, should we impose a carbon tax in part to discourage further fossil fuel development, and to encourage alternate forms of energy?

But that would provoke a harsh and overwhelming backlash from those who now benefit from fossil fuel use, which is pretty much everybody—although the reaction would be far more intense from those with a direct monetary interest in fossil fuels.

It’s very discouraging.

Here’s another symptom of our collective failure to acknowledge the real and radically different context of our every energy decision. I got a solicitation from the Climate Reality Project to attend climate change leadership training—in South Africa!

Yes, let’s jet a bunch of Americans 8,000-10,000 miles to Johannesburg to fight climate change. Couldn’t possibly get trained in our own country—where’s the caché in that?

If our climate change organizations champion the status quo of commoditized international pleasure travel, if they encourage fossil-fueled tourism to reduce fossil fuel use, if they can’t perceive the dissonance in that notion, then we may well be lost.

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