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January 25, 2013
Thich Nhat Hanh, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Bernie Sanders on Climate Change
    by Robert Kropp

The Vermont Senator says he will introduce legislation that includes a price on carbon, but despite President Obama's statement of commitment to climate change a White House spokesperson says the administration has no plans to propose a tax on carbon.

In an interview published in The Guardian this week, Thich Nhat Hanh applied the tenets of Buddhism to inaction on climate change. The Zen monk said, "They cannot confront the truth. It is not that they don't know what is going to happen. They just don't want to think about it."

"We have to accept that the worst can happen," he continued, "that most of us will die as a species and many other species will die."

Observing that our planet is capable of healing itself even after climate change has destroyed the human race, he observed, "Maybe Mother Earth will produce a great being sometime in the next decade."

Desperate times call for desperate measures, although overwhelming scientific consensus as well as the growing proliferation of extreme weather events would seem to preclude such a necessity as the appearance of a great being. Environmental groups and sustainable investors have been pressuring corporations and policymakers on the crisis for decades. Yet global emissions continue to increase and business as usual scenarios paint a dire portrait of a near future in which our environment will be unrecognizable, and quite likely deadly.

The French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his great work Democracy in America, "As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?" And in today's Congress we have elected officials who, their campaigns funded by fossil fuel industries, persist in denying scientific consensus. They continue to award fossil fuel industries massive subsidies that defy common sense. They prevented the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy Bill, despite its modest ambitions and analysis that concluded that its passage would actually increase revenues, from becoming law.

However, de Tocqueville also wrote, "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced this week that he will introduce legislation that includes a price on carbon and sizeable investments in sustainable energy. Sanders has also called for ending subsidies for fossil fuel industries.

However, a White House spokesperson said, "We have not proposed and have no intention of proposing a carbon tax," despite an inaugural address by Obama in which he spoke forcefully on the urgent need to address climate change. "It is a priority. But it is not a singular priority," the spokesperson continued.

"Energy insiders say the White House will dribble out executive actions and federal rules over the next four years – the same low-key, bureaucratic approach the administration has taken since 2009," the Politico stated stated. However, "The president has got to do everything he can," Sanders told Politico during an interview. Referring to a bill providing relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy, Sanders said, "If we don't get our act together, we can expect to be voting on bills like this every single year."

As reported at this week, the first challenge to Obama's commitment to action on climate change will be the State Department's decision on whether to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring crude oil from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada—described as "the most destructive project on Earth"—to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

If the Obama administration approves construction of the pipeline, "It would be a terrible message," Sanders said. "You cannot say that we have to transform the energy system, that we have to cut back on carbon and that we’re going to approve the Keystone pipeline."


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