Why does Mickey Mouse want to destroy civilization?
OK, that’s probably not what Disney executives think they do. But the Walt Disney Company, along with other corporate giants including ExxonMobil and Pfizer, is reportedly preparing to endorse major lobbying against President Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion investment plan – a plan that could be our last chance, in earnest Action against global warming before disaster strikes.
To say what should be obvious, the dangers of climate change are no longer hypothetical. The extreme weather events we’ve seen around the world recently – severe drought and wildfires in the American West; increased hurricanes, catastrophic floods in Europe; Heat waves that push temperatures in the Middle East above 120 degrees – are exactly the things climate scientists have warned us about as the planet warms up.
And this is just the beginning of the nightmare – the tip of a wave of disasters and a harbinger of the crisis that awaits us if we do not act quickly and forcefully to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
What can be done to avoid disaster? Many economists advocate broad-based incentives to limit emissions, such as a CO2 tax. There is an interesting, serious economic debate going on about whether this is really the best policy, or at least whether emissions taxes alone would be a sufficient policy. In practice, however, this debate is controversial: CO2 taxes or the like will not be politically feasible in the foreseeable future.
What could be politically feasible – fair – is a range of more targeted measures, particularly efforts to decarbonise electricity generation. Generation is a relatively soft target from an economic point of view, because almost miraculous reductions in the cost of renewable energy mean that we already have the technology to move away from fossil fuels relatively cheaply. And power generation isn’t just directly responsible for about a quarter of US greenhouse gas emissions; If electricity becomes a clean source of electricity, it would open the door to great reductions in emissions from vehicles, buildings and industry through widespread electrification.
The good news is that Biden’s proposals would give a big boost towards decarbonization. As climate journalist David Roberts points out, there are two key climate-related elements in these proposals: a series of fines and subsidies that would give electricity companies strong incentives to stop burning fossil fuels, and expanded tax credits for various forms of clean energy. This policy would only fill part of the environmentalist wish list, but it would be a very big deal.
The bad news is that if these proposals are not implemented, it will likely be a very long time – possibly a decade or more – before we get another chance at major climate change policies.
Let’s face it, there’s a good chance Republicans will control one or both houses of Congress after the midterm elections. And at this point, climate denial has the GOP in a deadly grip – a grip that is unlikely to loosen until a complete disaster strikes us, and maybe not then. Watch as anti-mask and anti-vaccine mandate Republican governors double in on the rise in hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19.
So the democratic reconciliation law, which will either succeed or fail in the next few weeks, could actually be our last chance to do something meaningful to limit climate change.
Then why is America mobilizing against the bill? Because Democrats propose to partially offset new spending with higher taxes on corporate profits and, to a lesser extent, use the government’s bargaining power to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs. This approach is necessary from a political point of view: if taxes need to be increased, the public wants them to be increased for companies. But it’s not surprising that companies don’t want to pay.
The company’s opposition to the Biden plan is understandable. It’s unforgivable too.
And maybe something can be done about it. Republicans, I’m afraid, are completely out of reach right now. But corporations and the handful of Democrats tempted to carry their water can still be vulnerable to pressure.
After all, we are no longer living in the time when William Henry Vanderbilt, the railroad magnate, declared “The public is damned”. Today’s companies want to be perceived as socially responsible; they run wafer-thin ads that proclaim the good they are doing.
But it is hard to imagine anything more irresponsible than torpedoing efforts to avoid a crisis that threatens civilization because you want to keep your tax bill low.
Therefore, the companies that join this effort must be named and put to shame. So does the handful of democratic “moderates” who carry their water. (“Mercenary” would be a better term for politicians who oppose actions they should know are both necessary and popular.)
Remember, this is not your ordinary political dispute that can be picked up again on another day. This is zero hour, and if you don’t do the right thing now, you won’t get a second chance.