Republished: OP-ED September 28, 2014
MU seems conflicted on climate change
By Johann Bruhn
I’ve spent 20 years of my career on the faculty at the University of Missouri. I’m told I’m a member of the MU family, and I take that seriously. I want MU to live up to my affection for it, so I find myself needing to offer the university a dose of tough love.
Throughout my college education, I have thought of the nation’s university system as a bastion of objective investigation, society’s firewall against corporate and government propaganda and shortsightedness. But as public support for universities has waned over the years, I have watched universities turn increasingly to corporations for financial support. This support can become problematic when the aegis of the university is used to inappropriately support an industry’s point of view. While the situation is far from out of control at MU, there was a troubling example early last month.
In my view — as a forest health specialist with more than four decades of experience — and in the views of about 97 percent of climate scientists worldwide, climate change poses the most serious threat ever to humanity. Exhibits A and B are the latest sets of reports issued this year by two independent organizations: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. National Climate Assessment. These documents make it clear that global climate change is accelerating largely because of human release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Globally, August was the warmest on record, and this summer is tied for the fourth-warmest.
Exhibit C is the REMI (Regional Economic Modeling Inc.) report contracted by Citizens’ Climate Lobby. This study shows we can reduce emissions, create jobs and grow the economy by enacting a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend. The economic benefits of transitioning to cleaner energy sources are further supported by the recent report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.
Yet fossil fuel companies buy influence, not only in Congress but also in universities, to perpetuate their destructive exploitation of Earth’s fossil-fuel reserves. In the process, these corporate entities destroy entire landscapes while despoiling the air, water and soil in ways that affect every aspect of our lives, from public health to global stability.
The kicker is they don’t pay anywhere near the costs to society of their actions. They expect us to be grateful for the “cheap” energy they provide. Thanks, but no thanks!
I found it infuriating to read “Utility-Sponsored Teacher Training At Mizzou Brings Climate Skepticism and Anti-EPA Message” in the Huffington Post and “Mizzou Class Educates Educators About Energy” on the CoMo Electric Cooperative website. A group of Missouri’s Rural Electric Cooperatives, Ameren and MU teamed up to misinform a group of 23 Missouri high school teachers that there is serious scientific debate about the need to reduce fossil fuel emissions. No one presented the scientific consensus. This is simply reprehensible. MU is quick to advertise its “greenness,” but covert programs such as this only leave one wondering where the university’s heart is. MU needs to do a much better job of vetting the programs that take place under its umbrella.
There are excellent solutions to the developing climate crisis, in the form of solar, wind, geothermal and other rapidly developing, much cleaner sources of energy. Ironically, even as these clean energy sources become less expensive, the burden of the long-lived greenhouse gases we continue to liberate from fossil fuels increases the duration and severity of the developing climate crisis. There is no time to waste.
Why don’t electric cooperatives see the sun (smell the roses) and embrace clean energy sources as fast as they can? Let’s put a price on fossil fuels at their source, with all revenue returned to U.S. households. This market-based solution avoids growing the government, captures the external costs of burning fossil fuels (pollution as well as myriad public health impacts) and creates a level playing field for cleaner alternative fuels. It will stimulate innovation and will also help rural electric cooperatives make the transition to clean energy without creating financial hardship tor their members.
Meanwhile, we must pursue every option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. Personally: I have installed solar panels on my roof; I’ve divested fossil fuel companies from my retirement investments; and I am constantly finding new ways to conserve my use of electricity.
Please do whatever you can, and that goes for MU as well.
Johann N. Bruhn, Ph.D., is a Columbia resident and an emeritus research associate professor at MU. He has studied forest health professionally for more than 40 years. He can be contacted at email@example.com.