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Climate activists protest on the fist day of the ExxonMobil trial outside the New York State Supreme Court building on October 22, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

What's Blocking Real Climate Action? Corporate Greed

We know that corporate special interests are the main impediment to taking the action we need. We just need the political will to fix it.

My hope since I first ran for office 20 years ago has been that we would stave off the worst effects of climate change. That is why I worked to make Providence the first capital city in the country with a renewable energy mandate, and to expand solar and wind generation throughout Rhode Island.

The transition away from fossil fuels is much cheaper than the cost of inaction. If we make the necessary investments, we can improve our economy, our environment, and our collective well-being.

We must do more, however, to address climate change and provide a livable future for all. This can only happen if we come together around a set of policies that will transition us away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energies.

The good news is that renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels. This wasn't true back when I started doing this work. Incentivizing development of cheaper renewables was one of our goals back then. Now, all we need to do is build them.

So, why has it been so hard to commit to making a transition that will be good for the planet and good for our wallets?

The answer to that question is complicated—but it is clear that political corruption and fossil fuel industry influence have slowed our progress in recent decades.

The industry has known about climate change since at least the 1970s—and covered it up in ways that have been compared to Big Tobacco's lies. They have donated around $100 million in each of the last few federal electoral cycles.

Yet we have the means to make broad investments in renewables and related infrastructure that will transition us away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy. We simply need to find the political will to do so. The green energy and efficiency elements of the budget proposal pending before Congress represent an important step forward—but are far less expansive than first proposed. Congress must pass this bill—and then we must press further if we're going to meet the Biden administration's initial goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2005 levels over the coming years, let alone visions that have been put forth for a transformative Green New Deal.

With a substantial enough investment, we can build a brand new energy system: cleaner water and air for our communities, cheaper electricity, and safer jobs for our energy workers. That would mean ending our dependence on foreign oil, making us less susceptible to upheavals in geopolitics, such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

By working together to build renewable infrastructure, we would create millions of high-road union jobs—expanding employment even while lowering costs to consumers.

Climate change will continue to upend our lives. Right now, it's hot in Rhode Island.

If we continue on our current trajectory, it will only get hotter, as the typical number of heat wave days is projected to quadruple from 10 to about 40 days per year.

This will take a toll on our health, our mental well-being, and our budgets. A 2014 study found that air conditioning costs alone will increase by up to 40 percent by 2050. And this is not to mention the impacts of hurricanes, storms, floods, and sea level rise, whose costs may total in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars annually for New England.

It's hard to fathom what kind of future the status quo trajectory might bring.

The transition away from fossil fuels is much cheaper than the cost of inaction. If we make the necessary investments, we can improve our economy, our environment, and our collective well-being.

We know what we need to do. We know that corporate special interests are the main impediment to taking the action we need. We just need the political will to fix it.


David Segal

David Segal was a Democratic Rhode Island State Representative until January 2011, and previously served on the Providence City Council as a member of the Green Party. He since co-founded Demand Progress, a million-member civil liberties and civil rights organizing outfit, where he serves as executive director.

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