The President's State of the Union speech tonight was a true breath of fresh air, especially in its emphasis on the responsibility of all parties to a pact or an effort to put real, factual information on the table, achieve consensus and accept the consequences of their actions.
A very large part of our problem of dealing with global carbon emissions is the subversion of the entire climate change issue by those who would simply deny science, withhold information and abandon all liabilities for actions that continue to create this problem. There's no accountability on the part of the fossil fuel industry for any of the activities that it pursues in the name of providing energy. All risks are denied or minimized, or information is suppressed to escape any of these very real and very major issues surrounding carbon emissions and pollution. It's come to the point where even a simple request for information from the U.S. Department of Energy is being sued over a Freedom of Information Act to force it to comply with the requirements of the U.S. Congress.
At issue in this case is the very intense water usage of power production; specifically the nearly trillion gallons of water used by coal plant cooling systems each year that represents over 2000 gallons for each person in the U.S. The data being withheld is critically needed in order to allow Congress to make policy decisions about the costs and benefits of power production in the US. This is in the name of coal profits, of course.
The oil companies have, for years, also engaged in a concerted effort to suppress information and facts about the impact of greenhouse gasses on the planet's atmosphere and ecosystems. But this creates a liability that may very well come back to haunt these companies and put complete liability exposure at their door. An article by Christine Shearer lays out how this question of deliberate information suppression could play out in the courts.
She starts her timeline of the study of emissions history with:
Research on climate change goes back over a century. Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming lays out the long trajectory: from realizing GHGs trap heat and help warm the planet, to identifying them, to tracking GHG emissions into the atmosphere and oceans from the burning of fossil fuels, to measuring the effects.
So none of this is new, the popular climate movement began with Earth Day in 1970 with information that was public knowledge, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created in 1988, and yet the denial of information and deliberate disinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry has accelerated climate change while at the same time increasing their liability exponentially. In a case in 2008 from Alaska, a city attempted to sue the industry for the damage it had caused to their ability to inhabit their ancestral lands. It becomes a matter of deliberate harm to the entire ecology, for which the industry potentially becomes liable. While it was dismissed, it raises the issue that must be addressed, and that is the willful misleading of public policy in the name of profit, and at the expense of life on this planet.
It would seem that a new page has been turned tonight.