Page 22


A Petrochemical refinery at Texas City degree Celsius, or about as much as it warmed from 1900 to 1990. Yet, ten years after the threat of global warming first entered the national consciousness, we find ourselves embroiled in the same Orwellian debate over climate change as we faced over smoking. Threatened by the prospect of huge reductions in fossil fuel use over the next few decades, the oil and coal industries, in tandem with OPEC, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the automobile industry, are waging what Gelbspan calls a “battle for control of reality”in Congress, in the press, and in the public consciousness. For example, astute readers may have noticed a regular contributor to The New York Times Op-Ed page: the Mobil Corporation. The multinational oil company has invested tens of thousands of dollars in recent years on its quarter-page, strategically placed advertisements in the Times. Mobil’s ad on the opinion page of the August 14 national edition was a typical example: a 700-word preemptive strike on th?, Clinton administration’s yet-to-be-announced emissions reduction proposal, which is scheduled to be presented at the next round of Climate Convention talks , in Kyoto, Japan, this December. The presence of the Mobil ads portends something much more disturbing than a hopelessly compromised Times editorial board. . By heavily subsidizing and promoting the dubious research of a small number of climate change “skeptics,” Big Oil and Big Coal have sought to obfuscate an issue that is in reality already a matter of scientific consensus. Thus far they’ve been quite successful. Consider this exchange at a Congressional hearing between an EPA official and California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the House Committee on Science. The EPA official warned the subcommittee that a modest rise in sea levels \(one potential result of clicent of our coastal wetlands,” resulting in the inundation of an area the size of Connecticut. “I am tempted to ask,” responded the Orange County politician/surf aficionado, “what this will do to the shape of the waves and rideability of the surf.” This from an energy and environment subcommittee chairman who still does not concede the existence of a hole in the ozone layer, and who has been known, in the heat of a climate change debate, to confuse carbohydrates with hydrocarbons. Rohrabacher and other Congressmen have assailed the science of global warming as witchcraft and scare tactics, basing their skepticism on the dubious research of a handful of naysayers funded by the oil and coal industries and the governments of OPEC countries. None of the skeptics has published his findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals. One industry-sponsored Sharon Stewart skeptic, Keith Idso, who has argued that increased levels of carbon dioxide will actually have a beneficial effect on global agriculture, admitted in a Congressional hearing that the publication which printed his “research,” the New American, is published by the John Birch Society. But help may be on the way from an unlikely source. The succession of catastrophic weather events has forced the international insurance industry to come to terms with the reality of climate change. In the 1980s, weather-related property damage amounted to roughly $17 billion. But as of mid-1996, insured damages in this decade had already reached $57 billion, threatening to bankrupt the industry worldwide. The U.S. industry has already responded with higher rates and less coverage available in coastal areas, due to the threat of warming-intensified hurricanes. The industry is bracing for another brutal season with the recent announcement by climate watchers of yet another El Milo brewing in the Pacific. According to Gelbspan, a proto-alliance is taking shape between insurers and other non-fossil-fuel big business interests, to seek preemptive action before climate change undermines profits world-wide. Simply put, global climate change is a threat to capitalism. As Kyoto approaches, all eyes are on Clinton and his protg Al Gore, whose green-friendly reputation is rapidly fading 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 5, 1997