Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mrs. MacDowell 1 Exxon 0: Why I Knew in 1970 What Big Oil Still Denies

OK, let's go back to the halcyon days of the 1969-70 school year when I was in fourth grade. My teacher was one of those cool, hip, young people who knew how to reach children, to excite them to learn, and to inject a bit of reality and responsibility into them as they began to navigate the world. She was the kind of teacher that every child has, I hope, at least once during their schooling. I was lucky enough to have her as a teacher twice.

One of the great activities I clearly remember from that school year was a unit we studied on pollution that included not only classwork on the issue but an assembly in front of the school. We made posters. We wrote skits. We listened to CCR's Who'll Stop the Rain  (lyrics).

And we wrote songs.

One of them was based on the Pepsi Cola jingle, "You've Got a Lot to Give." Sing along with me:

It's the pollution generation
Comin' at ya, goin' strong.
Put yourself behind pollution
If you're livin'
You won't for long.

I also seem to remember a pollution song based on the Marseillaise, but I can't seem to recall the words.

We were a cheeky group. She was a great teacher.

And Mrs. MacDowell also knew a heck of a lot more than Exxon did, if contemporary news reports are believable. How is that possible? Because Exxon and other energy companies are not telling the truth about what their scientists were telling them about air pollution and the environment. Even in 1970, as a ten year old, I had heard about the "Greenhouse Effect" and how pollutants in the air were being trapped and were causing the planet to heat up.

But Exxon? They say they didn't know. I don't blame the scientists who work(ed) for the company. I'm going to assume that they stuck to science and dutifully reported what they knew to the best of their ability. To believe otherwise would call into question their credibility and morality. I'm going to blame the company because it has shown time and time again to be on the wrong side of propriety, from the Valdez tragedy to employee protections to today's allegations about covering up what it knew about the effects of fossil fuels on climate.

 I certainly understand that institutions will do whatever they need to do to survive, and the oil and gas industry is no exception. After all, this is the group that came up with the oxymoronic term "clean coal" to try and make the world's greatest pollutant and killer of far too many miners sound acceptable. It's also an industry that probably sees low gas prices as a short-to-medium-term good for its survival since many Americans have moved away from hybrid cars in response to lower prices. We even seem to be acting irrationally by taking the savings we're seeing in low prices and buying slightly pricier premium fuel.

And then there's the political angle. President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline project became a formality because of the low price of oil, the glut in the very refineries and storage tanks that the Canadian oil was supposed to occupy, and the plain fact that the promised jobs from the pipeline project were not going to approach the economy-saving levels that many conservatives, and labor unions, envisioned. Plus, the Canadian oil is actually getting to the United States through other means, so destroying the Midwestern landscape for a pipeline was not necessary. Obama rightly measured the impact on the environment and cannily waited until a great Labor Department employment report materialized, then mercifully killed the proposal.

As for the Republicans running for president, their views on the environment, climate and energy policy are, to be kind, ignorant. They see no reason to act on what is clearly happening to the earth, preferring to stick their heads in the sand and wait for the Montana banana industry to flourish (catchy as the jingle would be). Forget about Carson and Trump, who will not be elected president in 2016. Certainly, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have seen the devastation wrought by climate change on eco-sensitive Florida, and Chris Christie, who used to be somewhat reliable on the issue, certainly saw what happened during Sandy and the October snowstorm of the previous year. All of them are in favor of more drilling, more oil company benefits and, most tragically, more United States involvement in the Middle East, which is rapidly coming undone by climate, politics and religion. For these reasons alone they are unelectable.

So thank you Mrs. MacDowell for being one of the early few who knew about the climate problem and doing what terrific teachers do: Telling your students, waking them up, getting them to act.

If only Exxon, other energy companies and the Republican party were as smart as you are.

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