By Robert C. Hinkley
19 January 2024
Global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) continue to rise. Every day, the threat of climate change becomes more dire. If the emissions aren’t drastically reduced soon, the planet will be devastated.
Almost everyone wants the threat alleviated, but little is being done to address it. For almost thirty years world
leaders have met nearly every year at Conferences of the Parties (COPs) and
Photo curtesy of Library of Congress and Unsplash
pledged to each other that their countries would pass legislation which will alleviate the problem. However, when those leaders returned home, they found they couldn’t deliver on their promises because of the political power the fossil fuel industry.
The industry understands that laws requiring the reduction of emissions must be approved by national and local legislatures. They spend huge amounts each year to convince our elected representatives that such laws shouldn’t be passed. Non-governmental organizations have tried to overcome this unfair advantage, but largely to no avail.
When legislators do the bidding of industry, their campaign coffers fill. If they come down on the side of environmental activists, they’ll get nothing, and the industry will fund someone to run against them. Furthermore, legislators understand that activists are weak politically. Most are staffed by small groups of people with mailing lists used for raising just enough funds to pay the organization’s bills, but not enough to fund political campaigns against legislators who fail to protect the environment.
If big emitters are going to be required to stop their emissions, a new strategy must be employed. Many have suggested that laws should be passed to prevent corporate money interfering in democracy. They reason that this would facilitate the passage of further laws eliminating GHG emissions. This strategy seems plausible, but it runs into trouble in jurisdictions where the legislation would violate the right to free speech. Also, it’s an intermediate step. If new laws can be crafted and enacted which directly restrict emissions, this step is unnecessary and only diverts attention from resolving the worsening environmental problem.
Instead of activists trying to get legislators to pass new legislation over the objection of corporate lobbyists, public opinion must drive the initiative to restrict GHG emissions. It needs to be made clear to legislators that they must pass laws to make the emissions stop or they will be held responsible at the next election if they don’t.
To garner the necessary public support, the legislation must be non-controversial, straight forward, and relatively simple. In Parts II and III, I’ll discuss what form that legislation might take. Then, in Part IV, how that public opinion might be developed to force the change.