Corporations versus the Planet

By Conniff, Ruth | The Progressive, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Corporations versus the Planet


Conniff, Ruth, The Progressive


There are no bigger bad guys than the captains of the fossil fuel industry.

In the face of record temperatures, rising sea levels, and looming planetary disaster, fossil fuel execs are rushing to bid for drilling rights in the newly ice-free regions of the Arctic.

They just won't stop.

Their entire business plan is based on destroying life on Earth as we know it.

The facts are simple: The primary assets of the world's coal and oil firms are in vast reserves underground. If they mine, refine, and burn that fuel, the temperature of the Earth will soar far beyond the 1 or 2 degrees Celsius scientists agree we must not exceed. We are currently heading for a 2-degree increase within the next fifteen years, and if we tap all the reserves the fossil fuel industry wants to tap, we are headed for 6 degrees Celsius, or almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit. That would create what climate activist and author Bill McKibben describes as "a planet straight out of science fiction."

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"We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn," McKibben writes. "We'd have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground if we are to avoid that fate."

The problem is, all that fuel represents about $20 trillion in assets, which are already "economically aboveground" on coal and oil company balance sheets.

The industry's perverse economic incentives lead to ever more perverted political behavior, documented by Nick Surgey, research director for the Center for Media and Democracy and now part of our team at The Progressive.

Not long ago, Nick received a package here at our offices. It came in response to one of thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests he files each year. Inside was a colorful spreadsheet tracking the 2014 legislative efforts by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

On the spreadsheet, ALEC reported a lobbying agenda in the states that includes rolling back renewable energy standards, increasing the costs of solar power, hyping the Keystone XL pipeline, creating new secrecy rules to protect the fracking industry, and pushing back on new regulations of coal-fired plants, which the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue in June.

Talk about science fiction bad guys! The corporate rogues in the ALEC gallery want to punish people for putting solar panels on their houses, while defending fossil fuel extraction and dirty coal plants with all their might.

An entire section of the ALEC agenda, Nick points out, is devoted to thirty-one bills that aim to suppress the use of renewable energy.

"The boom in solar generation is increasingly becoming a threat to the high-polluting industries, like the coal companies and oil processors that underwrite ALEC," Nick explains. "Longtime ALEC funders include behemoths like Peabody Energy, Koch Industries (controlled by the infamous Koch brothers), ExxonMobil, BP, and other global multibillion-dollar corporations."

The corporations see clean energy cutting into their profits, and they are determined to stop it.

Germany shows what can happen when there is real political will to move to solar.

"One sunny Saturday in late May, that northern-latitude nation generated nearly half its power from solar panels within its borders," McKibben writes. "That's a small miracle--and it demonstrates that we have the technology to solve our problems."

In this country, solar generated 0.2 percent of the energy supply last year, up from 0.02 percent before President Obama was elected. Wind power now generates 4 percent of U.S. electricity, and renewables are increasingly popular. But the Kochs and ALEC are not taking it lying down.

Among the key pieces of legislation ALEC has been pushing in the states, Nick reports, are eleven bills that attempt to amend "net metering" laws, which allow homeowners with solar panels on their property to sell excess electricity back to the grid, an incentive that helped propel a 60 percent increase in domestic solar installations in the past year. …

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