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Rich Robinson

Too Big to Fail

November 2, 2012

We’ve managed to go through nearly an entire presidential election cycle without any real discussion of the most serious challenge facing our species. Perhaps we’re avoiding the topic because it is uncomfortable to acknowledge that humankind is a threat to every form of life on the planet –plant or animal, terrestrial or aquatic.

We humans are so numerous, so clever, so industrious and so materially aspirational that we’re doing industrial-scale harm to our living home, the Earth. We have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere, and it would have changed more if the oceans hadn’t absorbed more carbon dioxide than almost anyone predicted. Of course, the dark cloud around that silver lining is the acidification of the oceans due to CO2 absorption, to the point that some mollusks can no longer form shells and food-chains are being further disrupted and diminished. So goes life on Earth in the 21st century.

We are in the midst of anthropogenic climate change. It is very real. There is scientific consensus that it is a serious problem. Our kind caused it, and we’re still making it worse.

Somehow, concern for our environment has become a political flashpoint instead of a shared value. We act as though the way we consume energy as a society is just a matter of economic truth. Climate change deniers refute science and popular media act as though all points of view deserve equal coverage, regardless of their veracity. It is particularly disheartening to see that the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Milliken has lost its environmental compass.

The economic truth is that we don’t pay the whole price for our carbon-based energy system. Most forms of transport and our power plants are contributing to accelerating environmental degradation. We’re not accounting for dumping the atmospheric waste that is the bi-product of our energy generation into the global commons.

We need to change the mix of energy sources toward renewables more quickly than current markets demand. The security of our shared home depends on it. Blithely following the signals of a market that ignores deadly externalities is a blueprint for disaster, not an energy policy that is worthy of what we know.

We will be judged by history on our stewardship of these Great Lakes. The bequest that matters to our descendants in Michigan, and beyond, is a healthy complex ecosystem where our air, water and soil are protected as the foundation of life. Perversely, the diversity and richness of life is under assault by us, who should be its protectors.

So, what to do about Proposal 3? I’ll take on the argument of those who say we shouldn’t junk up the Michigan Constitution. I’d probably value those voices more if I’d heard them when we were banning marriage equality and affirmative action. Were those appropriate constitutional amendments?

Regardless of the outcome of Prop 3, our friends at DTE and Consumers Energy, who are operating an eight-figure media campaign under the nom de guerre, Clean Affordable Renewable Energy (CARE) for Michigan, need to accelerate the real movement to clean, affordable, renewable energy for Michigan. A Michigan energy portfolio with 25 percent renewables by 2025 should be a desirable and achievable objective. It should be followed by more ambitious goals for sustainable energy.

Can we afford the shift to renewables? Look at the alternative. Our current energy economy is causing measurable damage to the planet. Polar ice, the planet’s air-conditioning system and reflector of radiant energy, is melting faster than modelers projected. Aberrations of precipitation and extreme weather events are increasingly commonplace. Global temperatures are rising. Sea level is rising. Coral reefs are dying. Tropical diseases and insect infestations are expanding their ranges. Populations are failing.

Can we afford to fail?

Rich Robinson is the executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. The opinions expressed here are his own, not necessarily those of his employer.

November 1, 2012 · Filed under Robinson

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Waymire // Nov 2, 2012 at 9:02 am

    The easiest way to increase use of renewables is to open the state’s electric system to competition. Today an entrepreneur seeking to build a wind farm cannot sign a contract with a user who wants to buy green power. Instead, they are forced by state law to sell their power to the monopoly utility companies, who pick winners and losers among the potential contractors (who are also competing against the utilities, who build their own wind farms), then mark up the power cost and sell it to users. Let’s get the utilities out of the middle, let anybody build a wind farm and sell the power to anybody who wants it. Great way to let the market decide.

  • 2 Patrick L. Anderson // Nov 2, 2012 at 11:43 am

    It is too bad that the advertising for this proposal is almost entirely about supposed “jobs”. There is benefit in renewables, but the taxpayers are probably (and properly) quite skeptical about claims that forcing them to pay more for energy will “create jobs”. (See our AEG study on that question, which properly separates out the jobs created in the wind industry from the jobs reduced in all others).

    I am hopeful our next debate on renewables will include a proper discussion of the costs and the benefits.

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