Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way


The United Nations Conference of Parties 25th annual negotiation on climate change, which was  held in Madrid this year, has ended with no discernible progress being made on global warming.  With the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, the result was entirely predictable.  It is as if the leading actor simply vanished from the stage without explanation in the middle of the play. 

Expressing deep disappointment, bewilderment, exasperation and vexation, Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said:  “This is the biggest disconnect between this process and what’s going on in the real world that I’ve seen.  You have the science crystal [clear] on where we need to go.  You have the youth and others stepping up around the world in the streets pressing for action.  It’s like we’re in a sealed vacuum chamber in here, and no one is perceiving what is happening out there – what the science says and what people are demanding.” 

I truly hear and feel his pain.  There is a wonderful book, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, that you may recall.  In an unforgettable scene, Yossarian, the principle character and the bombardier in a B-25 bomber, is in the nose of the airplane on a dangerous bombing mission over enemy territory.  Yossarian is terrified that he is about to be killed and desperately wants to be out of the nose of the plane.  However, another crew member is blocking his path of retreat and Yossarian is trapped.  He is trying desperately to flee his perilous perch, but his fellow crew member is blocking his path and doesn’t even realize Yossarian is terrified.  Caught between his personal terror and the obstruction of his means of escape by a clueless crew member, Yossarian is rendered totally helpless.  I sense that Alden Meyer and all of us who care deeply about global warming are having a Yossarian moment.  We are screaming at the top of our lungs, but we aren’t heard or, if we are heard, we’re being ignored.  Is there any feeling worse than seeing imminent danger and being helpless?

My friend Bill Torrey of Milam County has directed my attention to a lengthy article in The New York Times which appeared on Friday, December 13, 2019.  The article is about the alarming increase in the emission of methane gas from oil wells in West Texas.  Methane is the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas.  Naturally, Trump’s EPA plans to rollback regulations on emission of methane that will “effectively eliminate requirements that oil companies install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from oil and gas facilities.  By the EPA’s own calculations, the rollback would increase methane emissions by 370,000 tons through 2025, enough to power more than a million homes for a year.”

 This rollback was achieved by oil and gas industry lobbying, but it probably didn’t take much arm twisting.  The assistant administrator at the EPA overseeing air pollution, William L. Wehrum, was a lobbyist for oil and gas producers.  Wehrum’s boss, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, also has a history of lobbying for energy companies.  Wehrum  has resigned and is now under investigation for his contacts with former clients, but the methane rollback is going forward.  No doubt Wehrum won’t have a hard time getting a new job somewhere in the oil and gas business or back on K Street in Washington. 

 An EPA spokesman attempting to defend the rollback said methane was a valuable resource, so the industry already “has an incentive to minimize leaks.”  I suppose we are to understand that there is a profit motive for voluntary compliance or an economic argument for self-policing, but remember that natural gas, which is valuable, is being flared (burned) in enormous quantities all over the oilfields in Texas so that oil can be produced from wells that are not connected to a gas pipeline.