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Energy Reform: It's Time to Work Together

06-01-2009 // Larry J. Schweiger, President and Chief Executive Officer

LET’S START with the air that we breathe. Carbon dioxide, an invisible heat-trapping gas, has increased by 36 percent from pre-industrial levels in the atmosphere, and its buildup will trigger record warming in the decades ahead. Burning more fossil fuels will only make things much worse. We have two options: We can either continue to depend on dirty coal and expensive imported oil and overheat the planet while increasing our indebtedness to unstable nations; or we can build a new economy that uses renewable energy from the sun and wind while creating millions of new green jobs. It is that simple.

Congress must rewrite our national energy laws to curb pollution and build a clean, domestically supplied energy economy. To do that, lawmakers must put aside strongly held ideological barriers. Blind ideology is the greatest challenge to a new energy future.

Throughout the history of the nation’s environmental movement, from President Theodore Roosevelt to Senator John Heinz (a Republican senator from Pennsylvania who worked with Senator Tim Wirth of Colorado to lead efforts to curb acid rain), Republicans have been conservation leaders who understood their moral duty to work in a bipartisan way to protect nature and stop pollution. But the spirit of bipartisanship has been compromised in recent decades as too many Republican members of Congress have become unwilling to acknowledge the large body of climate science and address the threats of global warming.

Despite the stalling tactics of many Republican leaders, their interest in insisting global warming is not a danger and the vitriolic misinformation on cable channels that fuels a partisan divide, the public’s support for a new energy policy continues to rise—without the political divide some leaders continue to ferment. The public’s understanding of the importance of clean energy investments in creating new jobs and safeguarding natural resources from global warming impacts continues to increase—again, without the political divisiveness some leaders seem to crave.

This presents Republican leaders with a choice: demonstrate their confidence in America’s ingenuity and ability to lead the clean energy revolution, or continue to focus on a partisan divide that doesn’t achieve anything but missed opportunities and mounting danger for future generations. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, author Thomas Samuel Kuhn examines why obvious scientific evidence is sometimes obscure. He coined a phrase “paradigm blindness” to explain that it is not possible to understand or even see a new paradigm through a flawed conceptual framework and terminology of rivaling paradigms. Perhaps the growing partisan division and paradigm blindness over environmental protection reflects a tendency to put misplaced faith in party leaders, ideological pundits and news shows that reflect polarizing ideology rather than science. If some members of Congress believe global warming is a liberal hoax, they cannot see the scientific evidence—no matter how extensive it may be. When the Arctic ice shrinks by 40 percent or when forest fires increase by a factor of four, paradigm blindness sets in.

This must change now. Congress needs to develop an energy plan, and the administration must carry it to Copenhagen in December to help pass a treaty to stop global warming. We need to work across political lines to solve the climate crisis.

I suffer no illusions about the magnitude of the difficulties ahead. “Fight no little battles,” my childhood mentor Ralph Abele often challenged. As a company commander in the U.S. Army, he served in five World War II campaigns, including the Normandy invasion where he was the sole survivor from his landing craft. Ralph knew the cost of stubborn courage. His gravelly voice, long silenced by death, still speaks clearly to me as I write this.

We must find the stubborn courage to pressure our elected leaders from both sides to not act from political division but from the place of urgency and possibility. Unborn children do not have a say in the matter if you and I do not provide a voice for them.

Looking ahead, I cling to the hope that all Americans will cut through the cynical obfuscation that has caused paradigm blindness and discover the truth about what lies ahead for all humanity. Voter pressure is the only thing that can overcome such blindness. Contact your lawmakers today and tell them to pass a climate-protecting energy policy. For the sake of all children, please join with me in this effort to avoid a climate crisis. It is the one message you will never regret sending. To find out whom to contact, go to www.nwf.org/climateaction.

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