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Four things to understand about the climate change debate

1) Climate Change is politically contested – not scientifically contested.

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening, it is a result of human activity, and its impacts are and will be increasingly devastating to the land, air and water we depend on for survival.

The existence of climate change has been endorsed by every national academy of science of every major country on the planet, every major professional scientific society related to the study of global warming and 98 percent of climate scientists throughout the world. In the latest and most authoritative study by 3,000 of the very best scientific experts in the world, the evidence was judged “unequivocal.”

2) Denying climate change is a business decision.

Those that have lead the effort to cast doubt on the existence of climate change are party to a conscious and calculated strategy to maintain the status quo.  Denying climate change is a business decision made by industries that profit from pollution and is carried out by these industries’ political beneficiaries. In fact the seeds of doubt can often be traced directly to those who have the most to lose if carbon emissions were capped.  A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that ExxonMobil funded 29 climate change denial groups in 2004 alone and since 1990, the company has spent more than $19 million funding groups that promote their views through publications and Web sites that are not peer reviewed by the scientific community.

In 1991, The New York Times offered a peak behind the climate denial curtain by exposing an internal document drawn up by a consortium of the largest global-warming polluters. It spelled out their principal strategy: “Reposition global warming as theory, rather than fact.”

Corporate polluters are willfully attempting to cover up the threat of manmade climate change, and because of their clout in Congress, no comprehensive climate change legislation has been enacted. In fact, not only have decision-makers failed to pass climate legislation, but a full court press assault has been waged to roll back existing safeguards aimed at protecting the public and environment from corporate polluters.

An analysis undertaken by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) determined that the Republican-led House has voted to “stop,” “block” or “undermine” efforts to protect the environment 110 times since January.

3) Blasting environmental protections wasn’t always a GOP litmus test.

GOP presidential hopefuls appear to view past support of climate change-curbing measures as a political liability. With the exception of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, candidates are back-peddling on any votes or political statements they have made in the past that suggest they agree with environmental protections or restraints on greenhouse gas emissions.

And while some, like Tim Pawlenty, are apologizing for supporting cap-and-trade legislation, others are stepping up their rhetoric against rules designed to curb pollutants. In a June speech, Michele Bachmann pledged to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. More recently she vowed to lock its doors and turn off the lights, concluding, “It will be a new day and a new sheriff in Washington, D.C.” if she is elected.

Not to be out done, potential candidate Sarah Palin claims to love the smell of emissions.

It hasn’t always been this way. According to recent Time article, the surprising truth is that the extreme political polarization of environmental and energy issues is a relatively recent phenomenon. There have long been prominent conservatives who proudly called themselves conservationists back in the days when Republicans for Environmental Protection – an actual political group, founded in 1995 – wasn’t an oxymoron. Theodore Roosevelt – who has a strong claim as the greenest president in U.S. history – helped create major national parks and launched the U.S. Forest Service. Richard Nixon created the EPA and signed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. George H.W. Bush signed the landmark 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act and supported a cap-and-trade program that successfully fought acid rain.

4) Creative actions and nonviolent civil disobedience are necessary to challenge political inaction.

Perhaps predictable, the anti-environmental agenda is becoming more zealous as climate change impacts become more visible and our dependency on dirty fuel becomes more of a liability.  All of the evident indicators that should demand action -from the worst oil spill in U.S. history to the frightening severity of dangerous weather – have failed to ignite a sense of urgency.  Many who have attempted to fight climate change through legal and political action feel that the time for incremental change and small victories has long since passed.

In response, thought leaders within the climate movement like 350.org founder, Bill McKibben have issued a new clarion call for action. On the heels of a spring that brought 10,000 activists to Washington, D.C., for the Powershift conference and a summer that sent many of those same people to West Virginia to march against mountain top removal, climate leaders are calling for sustained acts of civil disobedience against the proposed expansion of the Keystone tar sands oil pipeline. Already, thousands of citizens from throughout the country have pledged to participate in the two weeks of action at the White House.

The climate movement’s new attitude might best be reflected in the words of activist Tim DeChristopher, who was arrested after bidding for land at a public auction to save it from oil interests; at the time, he didn’t have the money to buy the land.  At his sentencing hearing in July, he said, “I do not want mercy, I want you to join me.”