Viewpoint: Biden climate action lead to transformation of American society? That’s a good thing

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

Oh, the horror! American life might be “transformed” by actions to stop carbon emissions that threaten civilization as we know it!

So cars would be powered by electricity instead of gasoline; homes would be more efficient but we would still have homes, even private homes; LED bulbs replace incandescent but we still have light. Instead of people slaving in coal mines with nothing to show for it but Black Lung disease, they would have jobs manufacturing, installing, maintaining wind turbines, solar panels, the grid and all the other technology that supports clean, renewable energy instead of dirty, polluting, increasingly scarce and expensive fossil fuels.

Electricity would be generated by solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal – clean, renewable, essentially free, ubiquitous resources – much like the before-times, pre-Industrial Revolution.

I’m still trying to figure out what is scary about the “transformation” except it would free us from the tyranny of greedy oil and gas producers, liberate us from centralized control, both figuratively and literally, as people are able to generate their own power, even selling it back to the utility company, and freeing us from reliance on cartels, foreign and domestic.

We wouldn’t be setting off thousands of earthquakes and polluting groundwater with mysterious chemical cocktails, or unleash climate-warming methane into the air by fracking.

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And communities and the entire economy would be less vulnerable to a ransomware attack on a single oil pipeline company that supplies 45 percent of the East Coast gasoline, or a single utility, because power generation would be decentralized.

That’s what this is about – power and money. When the American Petroleum Institute lobbyist testified to a House committee on whether to end subsidies for some of the most profitable companies in human history, he claimed that 75,000 direct jobs might be impacted and people’s gas and heating fuel costs might rise.

But he neglected to mention that the cost of clean, renewable energy is now comparable, even cheaper and trending down, versus the inevitable rising cost of fossil fuels, not just because they are a finite resource ever more expensive to extract, but because of the associated costs to health and the environment which should also be factored in to consumers’ cost of heating a home or filling the gas tank.

He neglected to mention that renewable energy industries already employ 3 million (fastest-growing category) and will employ millions more to manufacture, install and maintain wind turbines, solar panels, transmission lines for the grid, EV charging stations and retrofit buildings, versus the piddling 1.1 million employed in oil and gas.

He also neglected to mention why the Republican Congressmen were such sycophants to Big Oil: Answer: the five largest companies spend $200 million a year lobbying just to block climate action.)

Clean energy jobs can be in the same communities where coal mines are closing and power plants are converting. But as for uprooting people to go where the new jobs are, millions are already being forced from their homes by climate catastrophes – superstorms, wildfires, drought, flood, and rising sea level, insect infestations.

But think about it: these “coal’ communities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia didn’t exist before the 1880s when technology was invented to turn the black rock into energy, and then came the canals and the factories and the steel mills and the company towns that imposed feudal control over workers and residents; it wasn’t until the 1960s that coal became the major fuel for electricity. It wasn’t until the 1890s when gasoline, a waste product in producing oil for industry, could be used to power the combustible engine, and not until the 1920s when Texas and Oklahoma boomed with oil rigs.

Society is constantly being transformed by new technology and response to ecological conditions – would people be pushing back against computers, the internet, cell phones, automobiles and jet planes to keep buggy whip makers, the Pony Express, horse-drawn carriage drivers in place? Horrors!

Imagine if Big Oil had invested its riches in the new clean energy industry. Even Louisiana is moving away from oil and gas and shifting to renewable energy.

As President Biden said, we should be embracing this Fourth Industrial Revolution and all the opportunities it affords for a better life. The alternative is an existential collapse of our way of life, higher costs for food, health care, rebuilding after climate disasters. Instead of spending $100 billion a year in disaster aid, invest in a clean, sustainable, healthier, more prosperous and peaceful future.

Is Biden’s goal to cut carbon emissions 50-52 percent by 2030 possible? I think it’s like his promise to get 100 million shots into people’s arms in his first 100 days – he more than doubled on that target and it is very possible he will exceed this one.

That’s no thanks to Republicans in Congress but because American businesses will be forced to adapt because their products won’t have buyers, investors and insurance companies will factor in carbon cost, and they will be in a race to innovate the most efficient products.

Government can help things along through purchasing – they can set standards for electric vehicles for government fleets that create a market threshold –as well as tax policy, regulations, subsidies, labor policies. That’s what Biden means by a “whole of government” approach – every rule, standard and purchase will reflect the need to cut carbon emissions and promote sustainability, just as his American Jobs Plan requires “made in America” in every purchasing contract.

And once it is easier and cheaper to find a charging station than a gas station, any holdouts will make the transition, as well.

Transformation of American society? What is so bad about that? During World War II, patriotism meant women working in factories and putting kids in child care. After, “patriotism” meant women shoved back into the kitchen, caring for kids and being brainwashed to want to latest appliances. Planned obsolescence assured a growing consumer economy.

Greta Thunberg, visiting coal miners in Poland who lost their jobs found them sympathetic to the need for transitioning to a carbon-free economy but pleaded for assistance. President Biden understands that in making the transition, government needs to retrain workers; cultivate, incentivize (with carrots and sticks) and invest in new economic opportunities in communities impacted by the transition.

Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for $40 billion toward a new Dislocated Workers Program and training programs focused on growing, high-demand sectors such as clean energy, manufacturing and caregiving, helping workers find quality jobs in an ever-changing economy.

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