By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
Political leaders would like to snooze and forget the extreme effects of climate change, whereby we could eventually lose our water, food supply and even the ground we live on. This week I interviewed Alyssa Burgin of San Antonio, who is trying to wake up these leaders. She is the outreach director of Texans for Peace and is currently carrying the banner for the Texas Climate Emergency Campaign.
Braune: Ms. Burgin, I am glad to spread the word and I presume that your climate-change bill is facing some opposition in major newspapers that have fossil fuel buddies. Could you catch us up a bit?
Burgin: Thanks for this opportunity. Yes. You’re correct in saying that the fossil-fuel representatives are lined up in opposition to this bill, and that opposition takes the form of both direct and indirect lobbying. For example, in these economic times, newspapers can’t afford to lose any more automobile industry revenue, can they? And so it has been a tough fight all along with very seasoned opponents.
There is some momentum however. Congressman Henry Waxman will shortly introduce a bill that gets the United States back into the Kyoto Treaty process — a necessary goal. The most important, most vilified, aspect of that treaty, and therefore of our bill, will be the cuts and caps on carbon emissions.
Our organization, the Texas Climate Emergency Campaign, an affiliate of the national group, 1Sky, is following the recommendations of Dr. James Hansen, prominent NASA scientist and expert on climate change. He and his colleagues consider emission cuts of between 25 to 40% below 1990 levels to be an absolute necessity if we are to mitigate climate change and avoid the worst-case scenarios. And the worst case, I might add, looks very serious — sea level rises of one meter by the end of the century, the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers by 2050, continued drought in our part of the country, and stronger hurricanes and storms.
The good news is that these cuts are achievable — and not by drastic means, not by telling people they can’t drive their cars. But by adding incentivization to existing technology development: More wind. More solar. Increased use of simple energy efficiency. Texas could benefit greatly from the first two — more than the rest of the country, in fact. We could become the green capital of the U.S.A., maybe the world.
Braune: How have our elected representatives from the Rio Grande Valley been responding? I think Representatives Cuellar, Ortiz and Hinojosa should show an interest, particularly if there is talk about jobs.
Burgin: Interesting question. Actually, Congressman Cuellar is very involved in bringing wind energy to his district, and he has shown a lot of interest in solar. It’s no surprise that he signed on quickly to meet with his constituents who are committed to seeing this bill pass. Congressmen Ortiz and Hinojosa, however, have so far refused to meet with us—Ortiz, in particular, has been non-responsive. I wish they could understand what this would mean for Texas.
We are projecting five million new jobs nationally, and again, the disproportionate number could land in Texas, due to our ability to host wind and solar farms. People who have farmed their land for generations, and have met frustration and despair due to lack of rainfall could see a new and profitable use for their property. Men and women who are tired of low-wage jobs could train for these very lucrative positions, and find a new life. Peak oil is in our past–we have to move forward into a new future, and our bill is perfect for Texas.
Braune: I have not been following this well, but it seems to me that President Obama wants to be known as “responsible” on the environmental issues. But, personally, I am not sure how he will hold up to pressure from various business forces. Any comments?
Burgin: We’re very concerned about President Obama’s position on these issues. Although he has indicated a desire to move forward with a new, green economy, he has learned quickly the reality of the political games played in Washington. We’re concerned that he will trade on political expediency, forgetting his commitments to putting money into green jobs, taking necessary steps to cut carbon emissions, and returning to the international climate talks.
He needs to remember that what comes out of those climate talks will only be as strong as what the U.S. will commit to, because other nations (particularly those in the developing world) are waiting on our action. This could be our last opportunity; in fact, this could be humanity’s last opportunity. Let’s not waste it.
(Alyssa Burgin’s email: email@example.com. The Texas Climate Emergency Campaign will also be participating in a Socially Responsible Investment Coaltion event on April 23rd: “Care, Climate and Cash: Current Crises.” The event is to be held at the Oblate Grotto Ministries in San Antonio.)