By Debra J. Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle columnistDecember 18, 2014 9:08am
I have a theory as to why Americans don’t worry all that much about global warming: High-profile purveyors of climate change don’t push for reductions in greenhouse gases so much as focus on berating people who do not agree with their opinions. They call themselves champions of “the science” — yet focus on ideology more than tangible results.
Their language is downright evangelical. Recently, science guy Bill Nye joined other experts who objected to the media’s use of the term “climate skeptic.” They released a statement that concluded, “Please stop using the word 'skeptic’ to describe deniers.” Deniers? Like Judas?
Why, they even hear voices from science. “Science has spoken,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently proclaimed. Some men think God talks to them; others hear Science.
Back to my original point: San Francisco liberal plutocrat Tom Steyer has called climate change “the defining issue of our generation.” He told the Hill, “Really, what we’re trying to do is to make a point that people who make good decisions on this should be rewarded, and people should be aware that if they do the wrong thing, the American voters are watching and they will be punished.”
You would assume from the above statement that Steyer wants to punish businesses or people who emit a super-size share of greenhouse gases. But no, Steyer’s big push for 2014 was to spend some $73 million to defeat Republicans who support the Keystone XL pipeline. But stopping Keystone won’t reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels by one drop. It simply will make it harder to tap into Canadian tar-sands oil.
On Monday, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said he plans on introducing a measure to require that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System sell off any coal-related investments. In recent years, demands for disinvestment have visited universities. In May, Stanford voted to forgo investments in coal mining. Student groups have been pushing for Harvard and the University of California to dump fossil-fuel assets as well. It’s a good sign that those efforts have not prevailed at either institution. It’s a bad sign that de León has found a new soft target — CalPERS.
The problem, Harvard Professor Robert N. Stavins wrote for the Wall Street Journal, is: “Symbolic actions often substitute for truly effective actions by allowing us to fool ourselves into thinking we are doing something meaningful about a problem when we are not.” Disinvestment also does nothing to reduce energy use.
Matt Dempsey of Oil Sands Fact Check sees disinvestment as the new environmental talking point for 2016 races. It requires no visible personal sacrifice — while feeding activists’ sense of self-righteousness. Its emptiness is part of the allure. De León even told reporters that he’d write a bill that in no way “hurts investment strategies.”
Then there are the conferences — Kyoto, Copenhagen, Rio de Janeiro. The venues for Earth summits would make for a great episode of “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” The scions of science ought to get acquainted with Skype. If the future of the planet is at stake, shouldn’t the champions of science at least look as if they’re trying to curb their emissions?
Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist.