Big money and that big hole |

Big money and that big hole

Alan Braunholtz

It’s been an interesting week for politics and money with the Supreme Court upholding the campaign finance reform act. The court in effect said yes, unlimited contributions of money can corrupt politics and the concept of “money talks” isn’t really free speech. Buying influence isn’t free or fair to those with less money.

Hopefully, this is a blow to those who find it easier to get their way through the influence of wealth instead of the normal currency of a democracy, i.e. persuasive, factually based arguments that consider many points of view. There’s probably a little less back-slapping inside the private clubs today. Our all-knowing oligarchy will hopefully find itself questioned a little more.

Speaking of money, our country’s spending bill (the one that keeps the government going) recently stalled, mainly due to all the little projects everyone tacks on for their own districts and special interests.

“Tax and spend” used to be a catchy phrase. Now it needs to be “cut taxes and spend.” It’s not an economic strategy I’d recommend for your own home finance.

Interest-ingly, when the leaders of the House and Senate met to reconcile their differing versions of the bill, certain aspects of proposed changes to overtime rules and FCC regulations that had previously been defeated by the majority reappeared. Similar acts also happened when the energy bill emerged from its top-secret reconciliation.

When leaders ignore majority votes of a representative democracy, they’re really saying, “We know best and don’t care what you think.” That damn oligarchy again.

The continuing assault on the environment and the rules that protect the assault provide an example of the “we know best regardless” mindset in action.

Take the ozone hole. Current predictions put us on track for pre-1980s levels by 2050. This is a great success story for global environmental cooperation and illustrates how long it takes.

In 1987 the Montreal Protocol regulated CFCs and other ozone-destroying gases, and they’re decreasing. Bromine is one of these; it destroys ozone 45 times more than the chlorine in CFCs. Atmospheric scientists look at the ozone hole as a close call. We discovered it by accident, could take action sooner rather than later, and 50 years ago chemists fortunately chose an inert chlorine gas as a propellant for aerosols. If they’d chosen bromine instead, we’d have a lot less ozone.

While the effect of climate change on the ozone layer remains to be seen, one of the biggest threats to the ozone hole repair is us. The U.S. government wants to use more, not less, of the fumigant methyl bromide, one of the major sources of atmospheric bromine and scheduled under the Montreal Protocol for phase out by 2005.

Since 1991, we’ve done a great job reducing our use by half, though we still use more than any other country. It’s the cheapest fumigant out there, and under pressure from agribusiness we’re asking for exemptions to the protocol. Our government still doesn’t get the one atmosphere-one planet thing.

This government has always been a proponent of states’ rights, so I guess good luck to the 12 states and two cities that disagree with the White House ordering the EPA not to classify CO2 as a pollutant and exempt it from regulation. (Campaign promises, anyone?)

CO2 obviously isn’t a pollutant, since we breathe it out. Yes, it naturally occurs as .0003 percent of the atmosphere. Over the last 100 years an increase of about a third (i.e. .00004 percent of the total atmosphere) is thought by almost all scientists not dependent on the fossil fuel industry for pay or grants to be contributing to global warming.

Climate change has the potential to be one of the bigger threats to disrupt our lives, so perhaps the gases that cause it should be considered pollutants. We already dodged a bullet with the ozone layer. Let’s not make a habit of in-action under threat.

A recent bill sponsored by Sens. McCain and Lieberman tried to take the first step to addressing our greenhouse gas pollution. It was defeated 55-43. This bill would have cost the average household about $20 per year – hardly the catastrophic costs foot draggers like to shudder at.

Oh well, 43 concerned senators is a start. It took five attempts for campaign finance reform to pass and start saving our democracy from being smothered by money. It’ll probably take more to stop our planet being smothered by CO2.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.

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