Jewish wisdom often has a peculiar slant of viewing the world that is out of sync with mainstream media and punditry. The joke, which is not particularly funny, runs like this:
A man comes running to his rabbi exclaiming that he has a terrible problem. The rabbi invites him to sit down and the man takes a seat, he immediately says, “my wife thinks I’m an idiot.”
The rabbi stares at the man for moment and then breaks out in a wide grin. “That’s wonderful news,” the rabbi says.
“My wife thinks I’m an idiot. Why is this good news?”
“Because the rest of us know you are an idiot,” the rabbi replies. “She must love you because she is giving you the benefit of a doubt.”
While the United States has been locked down, carbon emissions have decreased by 5.5 percent. The skies have cleared over major metropolitan areas and the sunny days are simply gorgeous. However, sheltering Americans in their homes left the rest of the nation producing carbon emissions at an incredible 94.5 percent of the rate before the pandemic struck. How could this happen?
The answer is the fossil fuel industry. The utilities are still running at full tilt. Diesel trucks and trains are still crisscrossing the country at steady rates. Essential manufacturing and cattle management are continuing unabated.
We have been taken for idiots.
For decades, climate change advocates have worked at the grassroots level, encouraging individuals and households to become involved in the fight to save the planet from global warming. The most common method of raising volunteers is teaching them individual responsibility, of reducing their own carbon footprints. Our websites, toolkits, and workshops are full of strategies and advice for individual choices and household choices for green living. Most of material is good and worthy.
In fact, many of the best suggestions for individual greening are also promoted by the fossil fuel industry, particularly utilities. They offer promotions for digital thermostats and LED lightbulbs nearly every month. We should have been more suspicious.
The utilities have been emphasizing their customer’s individual responsibility for climate change while remaining silent about their own outsized culpability. “Don’t look at us,” they are saying, “look at what you are doing. You are guilty of not doing enough.” At a time when households are absolutely doing their part by staying home, the carbon emissions only dropped 5.5%.
The utilities are responsible for most of the rest of the carbon pollution, 60%, 70%, or 80%. The reality could not be starker. Utilities were, are, and will be the worst polluters until we stop them. At this time of pandemic, energy sector bailouts should be targeted at clean renewable energy sources. Natural gas and coal powerplants should be wound down as soon as possible.
Furthermore, the only path out of the pandemic-caused recession/depression is government spending. FDR’s New Deal was a spending plan focusing on infrastructure, of which the United States is already in great need. The new energy structure necessary for the 21st century needs to be built and it must be built for a green energy economy.
Individual responsibility is a still a great entry into the green activism. However, the ultimate goal is not individual actions, but government and industry actions. Let us not allow ourselves to be taken for malleable idiots again.