Close Those Libraries! Change Those Names!

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July 21, 2006
OnTheCommons.org

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Now that the Bush Administration has realized that climate change could be an argument for nuclear energy, it isn’t quite as resistant to the prospect as it was before.  But when nuke plants aren’t on the table the Bushites still are pretty down on the idea.  To address climate change would mean more regulation, they say. It would hurt the economy – or I should say “the economy,” because the way they define the economy is essentially a tautology, and boils down to saying, “If we have to address climate change, then we won’t get to do what we want to do.”

Climate change would be inconvenient. Ergo, it could not exist.  Yet many of the items in their doom-and-gloom scenario  are confronting corporations now, because action has been so slow in coming.  That’s the import of an article in the July 17th Business Week entitled “Business On A Warmer Planet.”  The subhead tells the story: “Rising temperatures and later winters are already costing millions. How some companies are adapting to the new reality.”

Costing millions?  I thought the Kyoto Accords were going to impose costs like that.

The article provides numerous examples.  A diamond mine in Canada has to fly heavy equipment up north because the ice roads are too thin now to support the loads.  The Canadian province of British Columbia  has lost 22 million acres of pine forests – the equivalent of the state of Maine — to a beetle that long winters used to keep in check.  Logging communities are going to be decimated.

That used to be called a disaster when environmentalists could be blamed. Now I guess it’s the divine workings of the invisible hand.

There’s more.  In Northern China, freezing temperatures used to kill a snail that spread a parasitic disease. Now 20.7 million more people are vulnerable. In Alaska the warming of the Yukon River has spread a salmon parasite.  Upstream fisheries are getting wiped out, which is something else that used to inspire hand-wringing  when the regulators could be blamed.

Speaking of regulators, guess who’s in that role now? The American Petroleum Institute.  The API has had to issue tougher standards for drilling rigs, in the face of worsening storms such as Katrina.  Cities are going to have to enlarge their storm drains and their seawalls. Regulations. Taxes. Not because we are taking climate change seriously but because we aren’t.

The Bush response to all this has been to pretend it isn’t happening.  One official toldBusiness Week that his superiors won’t let him use the term “climate change.”  Instead he has to talk about “natural climate variability.”  (And it’s not an “estate” tax.  It’s a “death” tax.)

In related news, the Administration wants to close the libraries of the Environmental Protection Agency and halt the flow of information they contain.  In his proposed FY 2007 budget, the President has cut the EPA’s library budget by 80%, which is $2 million out of a total agency budget of $8 billion.  Already the EPA is curtailing access.  That’s despite agency’s own studies that show full library access saves some $7.5 million worth of professional staff time alone, on top of the value to the general public.

But if we citizens get information on poisons in our air and water then we might demand that public officials do something about it.  In Washington these days, those people think it’s better to lock the doors.  The reason Franklin and Jefferson wanted information to flow freely – because an informed populace can be a check on malefactors in high places – is the same reason this Administration wants to shut it off.

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