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Proposal 3, and why you should vote for it

by: Eric B.

Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 11:34:59 AM EDT


Too much proximity to folly tends to make it seem normal. -- Ed Abbey

I started reading James Hansen's book about climate change, Storms of our Grandchildren, this morning. Hansen is best known for his testimony before Congress in 1988 that first brought the issue of global warming to the public consciousness. Since then, the bar for who testifies before Congress is set based on political preference rather than genuine expertise, so it's hard today to understand that it was a real, genuine hearing rather than the farce that so many Congressional hearings are today. Today, Hansen is generally considered to be the grandfather of climate change in that he is generally considered to be among the people on Earth who best understand it.

Hansen, in the opening chapters of his book, is unequivocal. Climate change poses a real, immediate danger to the future of humanity. It makes hot periods worse, but it also leads to an atmosphere that is able to hold more moisture, which means that storms are more extreme. This is why this last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that Hurricane Sandy should serve as a wake-up call. Or, as Eugene Robinson said, "Welcome to the rest of our lives."

One of the dangers he warned us about was the influence in policy making by interests who benefit from the status quo. They will attempt to stifle progress towards reducing the atmospheric load of carbon dioxide, and they have lots of money.

This might sound familiar, because it is. Proposal 3 is a reflection of that, an attempt to make positive movement towards addressing a very serious problem -- the most serious problem facing humanity today -- but over the very loud objections of the political system that is supposed to represent our best interests. It's been couched in job creation numbers, which aren't always a good reason to do something, but it's really about the future.

I've had qualms about doing this through the constitution since the early days of summer. You can attribute that to being close to the political process for too long. The constitution is an important document, something to be followed, but it's not the Bible, or even the U.S. Constitution. Until the political process gets fixed, which is the real problem here, then I guess we'll just have to have a series of fights over how to dictate the public interests to the Legislature in clear, uncertain terms. Again, the only movement the Legislature has taken on clean energy the last five years has been to allow Ray Franz to bounce around a bill repealing an already weak 10 percent requirement. It's not the preferable route, but it's the one that is open.

Now, we've seen a lot of numbers tossed around about how much this will cost us this way and how much it will cost us that way. The truth is that you can't believe any of them, because that's not how the economics of energy work. I was reminded this morning that just 10 years ago, a former U.S. Senator turned Energy Secretary -- Spence Abraham -- believed that we were about to embark on a 20-year period in which 90 coal plants would be constructed a year to meet expected electrical demand. If we'd actually done that, considering how much more costly coal plants have become, we'd be an entirely bankrupted nation.

There is, however, one thing you can count on. It is the cost of doing nothing. Shifting Michigan towards cleaner energy might in the big picture be a very meager thing to do. Well, this big picture is made up of a vast assortment of small pictures. There is no one thing that we can do, no light switch to flip, that will do what needs to be done. It will only be accomplished by taking a series of small steps -- burning less gasoline by driving more efficient cars less often, changing agricultural practices, reforesting land, and shifting away from coal-related energy as quickly as possible. It's not something that can be dictated from on high, but requires changes in policies here, in other states, and in other parts of the world where the United States needs to demonstrate real leadership by offering an example rather than relying on muscle.

We may also talk about locking in specific policy goals into the constitution, where they can't be reached by the Legislature. Well, as to that last bit, I think that is the point. The Legislature has shown no leadership, appitude or even basic competence on the issue. Its leadership regularly snubs the public's interest, and it just simply can't be trusted with something as important as energy policy and addressing climate change. As for locking specific goals into the constitution, I am swayed by the realities of energy production. No matter where those choices are made, we will be stuck with the results for much longer than another 13 years. You don't build a power plant and expect to take it off line in five years because something better came along. They are major capital investments expected to be profitable for an extended period of time. Our current fleet of coal plants have been operational for five decades. A natural gas plant's lifespan is about three. Choosing right now to not aggressively pursue alternative energy locks the state into a policy for as long as what kinds of power plants the state's utilities choose to construct regardless of what the constitution says. If you want an idea of what I'm talking about, Michigan has lobbied against stricter emissions standards on its coal plants for the last decade on the grounds that we can't afford to shift away from them fast enough. State energy policy was locked in when our utilities built coal plants, and there was never anything the Legislature could do about it.

Vote yes on Proposal 3.

Eric B. :: Proposal 3, and why you should vote for it
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Thank you for your most wise comments. (0.00 / 0)
A prophet is rarely appreciated in his/her own time, but the specter of global warming is one which our politicians and other leaders can not continue to ignore.  We must find ways to elect and appoint leaders who will take this issue seriously.


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