Don’t push climate change past the tipping point (SD U-T) (8-1-10)

OP ED in Union Tribune by John Reaves – TRENDSETTER or JOB KILLER?  Con: Don’t push climate change past the tipping point

August 1, 2010

Vote No on Prop 23, the ‘Dirty Oil” Initiative to Suspend AB 32

Texas has a saying, “Don’t mess with Texas,” that started as an anti-litter campaign. So why are Texas oil companies Valero andTesoro messing with California’s goal to cut pollution? As key funders of the Dirty Oil Initiative set for the ballot in November (misleadingly called the “Jobs Initiative”), their goal is to suspend AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, just when it is about to be more broadly implemented, until the state’s jobless rate lowers to 5.5 percent for a straight year. They want to kill the bill and stop the spread of climate legislation – not surprising given that these carbon-belching companies are clinging myopically to nostalgic times of pollution past. AB 32 is a trendsetting law that deserves strong support for many reasons. Climate change accelerates after years of hidden build up. Science shows we are at a “tipping” point, or very close to it. Carbon dioxide persists decades or longer in the atmosphere. Oceans have buffered much of the impact so far, absorbing more CO2 (becoming more acidic) and 80-90 percent of the increased heat (raising sea levels). We cannot alter trends quickly once they become apparent; nor could the Titanic’s captain correct course when he finally saw the iceberg.

Air pollution continues to be a serious problem. Micron-sized “particulates,” primarily from vehicle exhaust and industry, slip past cilia into our lungs and bloodstream. The American Lung Association has declared a national asthma epidemic. Our cars do not stop polluting or mixing with Asian haze even during a rain. On the best days, San Diego’s air pollution is still near the “moderate” level.

World population is exploding: 1.6 billion in 1900, 6 billion in 2000, nearly 7 billion today, and 9.4 billion expected by 2050. People everywhere want to increase their standard of living, so growing population, energy demand, and pollution make a deadly mix.

The worldwide supply of oil is at a tipping point. Tightening supplies will lead to price spikes and jockeying over remaining supplies, adding to global instability. We import about 55 percent of our oil needs today and project 70 percent in 20 years. We remain hostage to foreign price controls. Our foreign debt burgeons. We borrow to buy. We could instead invest heavily here now and convert to clean energy independence.

We are also at a tipping point with investments. AB 32’s environmental requirements prompted the market to comply and innovate. Huge amounts of venture capital have poured into the emerging green market ($9 billion between 2005 and 2009). High-tech companies have grown rapidly in San Diego and California during the recession. While momentum is building, it can fall. Opponents use the worn cliché that AB 32 will be a job-killer because of costs. Most studies, however, predict minimal cost increases and a strengthened economy. The Union of Concerned Scientists concluded AB 32 would add a mere 0.3 percent to the energy costs of small businesses by 2020. Suspend AB 32 and you will see a massive retrenchment in the very investment we need.

By contrast, in 2009, China invested $34.5 billion in its renewable energy future (nearly twice that of the U.S.). We need more, not less, than AB 32 to ensure our country does not lose its competitive edge. We also need a national escalating carbon fee at the production source and on imports from countries without comparable fees. The fees could be returned to all Americans as a dividend to offset the slowly rising cost of carbon products. Citizens Climate Lobby and many others believe that idea is ready to take hold. On May 18, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences urged our government to take action “now” to raise the cost of fossil fuels due to “significant risks” posed by climate change.

Our military sounds the same alarm. Since 2007, the Center for Naval Analyses, with a Military Advisory Board of retired generals and admirals, has produced reports examining the intertwined issues of energy, climate change, national security and global instability. Its May 2009 report “warns that continuing business as usual is perilous because of the converging national security risks of energy demand and climate change.”

Are Valero and Tesoro nostalgic for the past, when oil roamed free, forcing others to bear the social costs of oil spills, air pollution and climate change? Fossil fuels have us squirming at the edge of various tipping points. The Dirty Oil Initiative is reckless and would stymie investment in a clean future. Support AB 32 and a national carbon fee and dividend to address the biggest global issues of our time. California can take the lead in finding the best ways to implement efficiencies and clean energy here and the world. AB 32 jump-starts the process.


Reaves is an environmental attorney and a director of Citizens Climate Lobby ( He can be reached…


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