In the video below, GOP Senator Roy Blunt, a longtime, ardent defender of the fossil fuel industry – which has, in turn, been most generous with him – explains that he is opposed to President Obama’s plans to combat climate change because he believes it will drive up energy costs for poor folks and seniors on fixed incomes. This is the same Roy Blunt who consistently votes against raising the minimum wage. In fact, in 2011, Blunt was given a score of “D” by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty law based on his votes on bills that had potential to alleviate poverty. Interesting that he’s so worried about how the poor, particularly poor seniors, will cope with a shift to clean energy, isn’t it?
However, if we assume that Blunt is really sincere in his concern about impact of the President’s climate change proposals on the economy and on the poor – I know, I know, it stretches the bounds of credulity, but bear with me – someone needs to put his fears at rest. He’s dead wrong on all counts.
In fact, ignoring the impacts of climate change is costing us money now as we taxpayers foot the bill for the increasing numbers of climate-related natural disasters. The situation will only get worse as climate change escalates. The American Security Project has analyzed the costs that will be incurred in each state if we continue to ignore climate change. Among their findings for Missouri:
–Corn and soybeans, currently staple crops for Missouri farmers, will likely no longer grow if climate continues in its current change trajectory. Forests will die out. The impact on the state’s economy will be major:
Farmers would have much to lose if crop yields fall. Missouri’s forest products generate nearly $1.69 billion in revenue, nearly 2% of the state’s gross state product. Agriculture commodities account for nearly 3% of the U.S. total. Climate change will significantly damage this industry.
–Extreme weather such as flooding and changes in terrain will put fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing at risk “placing roughly 57,000 jobs and $3 billion in income at stake.”
–Then there’s those increased energy costs that Senator Blunt’s so worried about. Of course, electricity will also become more expensive if we ignore climate change and do nothing:
Missourians will also pay more than necessary for electricity. If business continues as usual, consumers will pass up an opportunity to directly save $175 million on their natural gas bills, and, over the next five years, will overpay by $457 million for electricity. Furthermore, by failing to pass statewide energy conservation policies, specifically the International Energy Conservation Code, a model energy regulation policy supported by the U.S. Government, Missourians will have wasted over $108 million by 2020.
On the other hand, If we could get politicians like Blunt to stop whining about imagined or short-term economic impacts and do something constructive to help us cope with climate change, we’d realize some positive economic benefits as well as an improved quality of life. Coal, just like climate change itself, is costlier than it seems. Clean energy, however, is a growth industry that has the potential to generate many, many jobs:
Renewable energy investment around the world topped $257 billion in 2011 (80% of the investment in fossil fuel capacity), approaching half of all new electrical generating capacity globally. Energy efficiency and “green-buildings” have also become multi-billion-dollar markets, and growth is showing no signs of slowing.
Furthermore, as the technology that enables renewable energy continues to evolve, the cost drops – for instance, wind power is already competitive with fossil fuels in terms of costs. And, as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 proposed, if you’re really concerned about folks who may be penalized by slightly higher energy prices during the transition, you can always subsidize their energy use. I personally would prefer that taxpayer-funded subsidies go to the poor rather than continue the generous subsidies that Senator Blunt regularly fights to preserve for the very prosperous fossil fuel industry.
I read that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) believes that the “right should not cede the moral high ground” on poverty. Senator Blunt’s comments today certainly proved Ryan’s point; it can be very convenient for a dyed-in-the-wool corporatist to invoke the suffering of the poor from time to time.