There was an editorial put out online last week, which seems to have been widely circulated among conservative blogs. It says that United States carbon dioxide emissions decreased between 2020 and 2020, then takes that as a jumping-off point for a series of absurd statements about the lack of need for emissions standards, and how CO2 is actually great for the environment. I’ve already written a thorough rebuttal of it at my personal blog, but with the original piece getting so much traction, I’m really eager to take it down a peg, so I’ll address it here, also.
The main ideas that the editorial presents seem to be common angles of attack from the anti-environmentalist camp. It portrays any regulations whatsoever as inevitably and irreversibly damaging to the economy, and it says that we shouldn’t regulate CO2 anyway, because it does all kinds of good things, like feeding plants. And I must admit that yes, CO2 is used in plant respiration. But while that might mean that pouring five and a half billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year would be a good thing if we were living on the forest moon of Endor, or if the entirety of middle America was a bamboo jungle, in the reality we currently inhabit it’s a little too much, and it’s not doing any of those good things. It’s just building up in the atmosphere and exacerbating the greenhouse effect.
As to the other assertion, that carbon dioxide regulations necessarily kill jobs and damage the economy: well, it may indeed be harmful to the old way of doing things, but as I suggested in my post about offshore drilling last week, there are other ways of making money. It’s not an easy transition, but we should be willing to make the requisite sacrifices for the health of our planet and a better, more sustainable future. I won’t sugar-coat the issue, the nation’s worst polluters probably stand to see a reduction in their profit margins as a result of regulations, but those profit margins are generally pretty substantial, and the loss can and should be absorbed for the sake of basic environmental responsibility.
But yes, with reductions in their bottom line, corporations will cut jobs. That doesn’t mean that that employment disappears forever. It doesn’t even have to disappear in the short term, if those same corporations are willing to make compensatory investments. But if they don’t, someone else will. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual whether they view potential environmental regulations as destructive of preexisting sources of capital or as creative of other opportunities.
There are three species of bamboo that are native to North America. These could be cultivated beyond their presently limited acreage in the United States and bamboo farming could provide multiple benefits. There would be increased availability of a renewable, multifaceted resource. Jobs would be created to support the new planting and harvesting, as well as the related industries that utilize the new crop. And because of the nature of bamboo, it could be used in agro forestry, allowing much of that new employment to be integrated into preexisting operations with little new investment. Once substantially larger bamboo stands are established in the US, they will be able to convert a portion of that carbon dioxide “plant food” floating unused through the air back into oxygen, possibly lessening the need for future regulations.
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In that sense, these sorts of green operations, of which bamboo agro forestry is only one example, can help to sustain the functioning of older industries. After all, contrary to the paranoia of many conservatives, the goal here is not to destroy or demonize industry, but simply to compensate for some of its ill effects. The alternative, embodied by the writer of the editorial praising CO2, is apparently to deny that there are any such ill effects. But that assertion can’t possibly be taken seriously. I want to see an increased emphasis on any number of more environmentally conscious technologies, but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that they all have their drawbacks. Wind turbines kill and encroach on the habitats of North American birds, and efficient solar cells consume an alarming amount of water. But there are other alternatives aside from saying either “scrap it completely” or “full speed ahead; change nothing.” A more balanced approach is the approach I’d like us to take in implementing green technologies and new resources, and it’s the approach that the defenders of fossil fuels and traditional industry should take, as well. But that view would be amenable to reasonable emissions regulations.
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As we learn more about the effects of what we’ve done, our ways of doing things have to change and adapt going forward. That’s how we develop as a society. Economics is vitally important to that future society, but so is a sustainable Earth. Unfortunately, the dynamics of our interrelated world are often complicated, and sometimes those things have to be competing interests. But it serves no one to deny one side of the issue. So if your focus is on profit, don’t try to deny the plain truth that CO2 emissions have consequences for the environment, and I won’t deny the potential consequences of regulations for business. Let’s work together, for God’s sake. We can solve more than one problem at a time.
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