Climate Change: Capitalism’s Unforgiving Pirralha

By: Will Copper, Pat Johnson, Quincy Carlin, Val Gaytan

In 2019 the state of Nebraska spent over 1.2 billion dollars in disaster relief. The state was hit with several large rain and snow storms throughout the year which led to excessive flooding. While climate change is one of the most prominent discussions being held today, we are seeing little to no action being taken by leaders of the world. The current system dominating the world, capitalism, has made it difficult for the general electorate to take action even though there seems to be a consensus agreement on climate action. Our education system, political system, and how  the world is run by corrupt economic systems that rewards anti-humanistic behavior like bribery, propaganda, and fascism. This study analyzes these issues laid out before and explains the connection to the changing climate and its devastating outcomes to the system currently dominating the world, capitalism.

Methodology:

The research for this study was gathered through individual and group findings. Information was gathered from reliable, scholarly articles through University of Omaha’s portal to Academic Articles. Omaha World Herald archives were used in hopes of finding information relating to politics influencing laws regarding climate change. We created both an individual table and a group coding table organizing all of the main themes from each article. The data gathered was regarding four main themes: Capitalism, public opinion, politics, and education. The overall study was conducted to find research supporting our hypothesis that institutions and structures, such as laws, education, politics and economic factors affect opinion and action regarding environmental conditions. Through this study, considerable evidence was discovered to support our hypothesis. 

Findings & Analysis:

Capitalism

Pollution, Carbon Footprint

Some would say that capitalism is the backbone of this country and is the reason our economy has been the best in the world for decades and centuries.  Incredible products have been invented in this country and those products have been sold all over the world. We essentially invented the automobile, with Henry Ford creating the assembly line to bring vehicles to the masses.  Apple revolutionized the technology world with the first computers available to the everyday consumer and sent shockwaves through the globe with the invention of the iPhone. Since then, the demand for such products have increased by the millions year over year and the production capacity of these companies have followed suit.

More manufacturing means more energy must be consumed to make these millions and millions of products.  Currently, the cheapest source of that energy comes from nonrenewable energy that in turn produces carbon emissions that are not only affecting the climate and the world we live in but also affecting our own personal health.  In 2018, Fossil Fuels accounted for 63.6% of U.S. electricity generation, with a whopping 2,653 billion kWh generated from Natural Gas, coal, and other nonrenewable resources. This is compared to the 703 billion kWh, or 17% of the U.S electricity generated from renewable resources that include hydropower, wind, and solar power.  The problem with this scenario lies in the emissions the nonrenewable energy sources emit into our atmosphere, with the United States producing 16% of the global carbon emissions, second only to China, where many U.S. technology companies outsource their manufacturing too.

Omaha relies heavily on coal to produce the energy needed to power a city of its size. Omaha Public Power District supplies 320,000 customers with power, with 68% of that power being supplied from non-renewable resources, with coal being the main source.  In 2018, OPPD got three new voices, who join the eight-member board and are helping secure the majority on a board that is now focused on addressing climate change. Late in 2019, OPPD has plans to vote on a solar farm, producing 400 to 600 megawatts of solar power, which would be the largest in the state.  The largest solar farm installation announced to date, a 230-megawatt, $230 million project east of Lincoln. OPPD’s current renewable resources include nine wind farms, one solar farm, and one hydro farm.

This ties directly back to capitalism and the growth of not only technology, but the manufacturing industry that is behind the products we buy, throw away, and buy again.  The more we manufacture, the more power that needs to be generated and companies are constantly trying to increase their margins and cheap power is currently not renewable power.   Global capitalism is at an all-time high and the average consumer is directly feeding into the growth of the global carbon footprint. With more demand comes more supply and with more supply comes more manufacturing being powered by energy created with nonrenewable sources that is in turn ruining the one thing that is keeping us alive.

Wealth and Power

A new report from a climate change non-profit CDP in conjunction with the Climate Accountability Institute, looks to highlight the role that about 100 companies have in about 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These companies, mostly oil suppliers spread around the world, are emitting well over half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the entire world. Exxon Mobil, the second largest company in the United States with revenues of 290 billion, released 122 million metric tons of c02 in 2017.  They also contributed 2.7 million dollars to politicians in 2016 and spent almost 12 million dollars on lobbying for policies in their favor. Chevron, which is the 11th largest company in the United States with revenues of 158 billion dollars, released 59 million metric tons of c02 in 2018, which is up from 56 million metric tons in 2016.  In 2016, Chevron contributed 5.2 million dollars to politicians and spent 7.5 million on lobbying. For both of these companies, 80% of those donations went to politicians who either don’t support climate change initiatives, or don’t believe climate change is human caused.

Omaha is home to 10 Fortune 1000 companies, which include Union Pacific Railroad and Peter Kiewit Sons.  Union Pacific Railroad, number 141 on the Fortune 1000, had revenues of 21.2 billion dollars and released 10.2 metric tons of c02 in 2017.  In 2016, UP contributed 2.7 million dollars to campaigns while spending over 5 million dollars on lobbying. Peter Kiewit Sons, number 339 with revenues of 8.7 billion, receives much of their revenue from projects related to petroleum and has substantial interests in coal mining.

This is a problem in our city, our country, and in the world at large.  Companies have been allowed to grow to a point where they have a large influence on how the United States is ran.  They are influencing the political landscape and driving the policies that, in turn, directly benefit their growth and put more money into their pockets to fight against any real environmental changes.  

Supply and Demand, Consumption

Close your eyes and picture this, its 2050, sea levels are still rising, the worst hurricane season on record just passed and global drought is at an all-time high with temperatures, and populations soaring. Meanwhile, the newest iPhone just hit the shelves, the newest cars are rolling off production lines, and Black Friday and Cyber Monday just set records for sales. Lines are wrapped around Walmart, Target and Best Buy, all with consumers ready to score that new Television or Video Game System.  This is the scenario the world is facing…RIGHT NOW! It’s actually 2019, and all of these things are currently happening and accelerating in a way that is unsustainable.

Global capitalism is playing a major role in the acceleration of climate change, it is a cycle that seems to have no end and is continuing to feed itself into destruction. The definition of capitalism is “the production and sale of commodities to extract surplus value and facilitate the accumulation of money”.  Capitalists, who are simply continuing the feed the hungry pockets of consumers, are increasingly manufacturing more goods, producing more wealth, creating more power. Large companies have continued to talk about lowering their carbon footprint and moving toward a future of carbon free emissions at manufacturing plants across the globe, but the real story is that none of that is taking place at a pace that is sustainable.  Money continues to be the driving force behind big business in America and fossil fuels are still the cheapest way of producing the energy needed to fulfill the need of the American consumer. Consumers need to take a step back and realize that the iPhone you have been using for the last couple years still works, that new computer that you really want, will not make you happy, and your car with 60,000 miles will still run for the next 10 years.  Focus needs to shift from being obsessed with the latest technology and using that obsession for fulfillment, and focus on being present, enjoying the natural resources around us, and living life for reasons beyond being a consumer.

Public Opinion

Climate Denial

The climate change denial movement has influenced the views on the public. Their aim is to have people doubt the science and research behind climate change taking place. Confusion causes the public to simply believe what they hear from unreliable sources rather than actual evidence. Because of this movement, it makes political action difficult to take place. This group is also connected to the fossil fuel industry, they don’t want any action to escalate against them because they would lose a lot of revenue. Everyone in the world realized that climate change is happening except one country: The United States. Multiple politicians and businessmen deny this concept. Is it because they haven’t seen the research or because they don’t want to see it? Admitting that they know this is happening would mean that they would need to take action to fight it, but they are not wanting to. Something so visible, is seen in weather changes, escalated natural disasters, contaminants in the ocean, and health issues, it could not be more obvious. 

Student Activism

In Omaha, people have seen initiation of students to make a change. A collective group of students have been fighting against those in charge of policies to switch to more greener options. The plastic bag ban is one example. Multiple people, not just students, have come together to take action about the amount of plastic being produced, used, and thrown away. Eventually going into our oceans, feeding our sea life, and coming back into our bodies. Another example was Creighton taking action against the fossil fuel industry because they emit high levels of carbon. They want to reach carbon neutrality. This has influenced other universities to take action, such as Doane University, who will also stop investments into the fossil-fuel industry. The last example was about transportation. People are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint in Omaha. Activists have emphasized their demand for a better transportation system in the area. This would allow people from poorer neighborhoods to expand and be able to have transportation to a job. A way to encourage change is to start small and collectively take action. Social movement only occurs when people come together and agree on what needs to be done. The best way to make federal change is to start at state-level change. The government is supposed to listen to the people and their demands. A bigger issue is large corporations who have more wealth than the government and are able to make laws in their favor only to make a profit. In California, non-profits have made more change than anyone else in influencing policy. They have some of the best policies regarding climate change. They have set state-based vehicle-emission standards. They have passed the Federal Clean Air Act in 1970. A development of alternative energy sources has taken place. GHG emission reduction targets have been set. The construction of nuclear plants has been prohibited. Strong standards have been set in California because people are standing up for what they believe and action is taking place. Fossil fuel industries continues to be a problem because of the wealth that comes with it. Agriculture, fossil fuel companies, and plastic production would have to be greatly modified to make any progress towards a greener environment. 

Generational Beliefs

A survey was conducted to show generation differences in beliefs about the topic of climate change. Four projects were conducted between 2000 and 2018. A question that was asked is “Which of the following three statements do you think is more accurate?” with the options being

1.  Climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities.

2.  Climate change is happening now, but caused mainly by natural forces.

3.  Climate change is not happening now.

4.  Don’t know/no answer

It is quite shocking that only 48%-67% of the people in the United States believe that it is human-made. A fairly large percentage believe it is caused by natural forces. This goes back to the climate denial issue. People are lacking the accurate information. It is also shocking that conservatives have the lowest percentage in believe that climate change is man-made. It is also seen that the higher the age, the lower the percentage. Some people choose to be oblivious and ignorant. 

Politics

Lobbying

According to over 90% of climate scientists, climate change does in fact exist and is human made. If the studies and predictions of these subject matter experts still bring doubt, then apply some anecdotal experience to how the Earth is changing. We have seen in the past decade, record size storms and trillions of dollars spent in repairing cities like New Orleans and Houston. Just in 2019 Nebraska spent more than 1.3 billion on disaster relief. So why do we have corporations spending millions of dollars on lobbying for anti-climate change legislation every year?

Lobbyists are often seen as a negative in politics, and with everything being able to be found online, there are plenty of sources of information showing which politicians are funded by corporations. To explain what a lobbyist is into one sentence, it would be described as an individual often representing a larger company or idea, who is trying to convince a politician to vote or support a certain bill or agenda. In America, the system we have is designed to suppress truth if it is impeding a corporation from making money. Its expected in the next few years that the United States will become the largest exporter of natural gas meaning there is trillions still to be made in profit before we start to take the climate crisis seriously. With these corporations paying lobbyists to persuade politicians to deny climate science, and further natural gas use, there is a huge disconnect in the electorate on how to exactly handle climate change. The Republican and Democratic parties both accept money from big oil companies. This corrupt mindset often trickles down to local politics as some state politicians will deny human made climate change, including Nebraska’s Governor Pete Rickets who denies climate change exists at all.

Political Party Affiliation

The country today has become extremely partisan between both Republicans and Democrats. Under the Obama administration, Republican leaders in Congress vowed to prevent any agenda by the Obama administration to go forward even if it was for the interest of the American people and the world. This childish behavior by the Republican party to deny a moderate agenda being laid out by the Obama administration has also caused a lot of anger and more tribalism on the Democrat side as well and we are seeing similar actions being done under the Trump administration.

The data laid out by the scientific community is showing that the climate is changing and humanity needs to help combat it. Whether you believe it is human made or natural. But politicians on the Republican side denying climate change even exists are incredibly dangerous. There was a forum at UNO on September 25th, 2019 hosted by the conservative group Turning Point USA where they hosted young conservatives from the legislator. During the questioning part of this event, Nebraska’s State Senator from district 1 Julie Slama, had a question regarding climate change and what she is doing as a State Senator to help combat the effects of climate change. Slama responded by saying that there are more important issues to worry about than “habitat management.” While many Nebraskans do agree with the Senator that other issues like property taxes are a huge issue in this state, this answer is a great indication about the level of seriousness our State Senators have in the Republican party. Julie Slama is an appointed Senator by the Governor Pete Rickets, one would argue that the answer given might have some relation to supporting a Rickets agenda which is to deny climate change. Even though many leaders in the Democratic party do accept money from big energy companies.

Wealth and Power

When it comes to the issues we face as humans, since the beginning of time there has been a struggle for truth and freedom for the mass of people. Since the economic crash in 2008, the majority of the wealth created in this new economy has been going to the top 1% at record numbers. Under the Obama administration, 95% of all the income generated went to 1% of people, and this trend will continue for the Trump administration who is only deregulating the economy more, and giving corporations tax breaks paid for by corporations.

In Omaha, it is home to a large investing company by the name of TD Ameritrade which is owned by Nebraska’s Governor Pete Ricketts. With the current President of the country being a billionaire, and several Governors being millionaires, its evident that money does buy you power and it is interconnected with each other under capitalism. Many former citizens that attempt to run for office are often laughed out the door if they have no funding. This system prevents regular working people from being able to properly represent their districts. Instead we have a system that rewards those who know how to raise money, whether it’s from good sources like individual people, or corruptive sources like big oil. It is obvious that there is a direct connection between the amount of money you have and the amount of power and influence you can buy.

Talk vs Action

This past year the world came together in solidarity to protest the climate and demand action by our representatives. Over 300 young people from Omaha participated in this march that took place in downtown Omaha. Its safe to say that the youth of the world is ready for action on climate change and sick and tired of the talk done by our representatives. The students who participated in this march believe that climate change is an immediate threat that needs action now. Many young activists in Omaha have stepped up and taken their own action. Omaha’s own Mark Vondrasek is running for LD9. Mark has been a political activist for years, and has said climate change will be one of his top priorities if he wins the election. This is a prime example of people taking action for important issues and not settling for just talk.

Educational Institutions 

Presently, Omaha’s public education system is still not as adamant on fighting the current climate crisis as some institutions are in different cities and states. While there are still some aspects of this system that are successful in properly educating the coming generations about this issue, it could improve in many areas. Obviously, the local school district isn’t going to reverse the extreme damage mankind has done to our planet. However, there are still ways Omaha could implement more environmental responsibility into its schools. 

Highschool Curriculum

To begin, the current high school curriculum in OPS schools does not require an environmental science course for graduation. To some this isn’t a huge deal considering students are still required to complete some form of a basic level science course. The issue here stands in the fact that a science course is often only as accurate as the most updated textbooks being used, and for a public-school district, it isn’t feasible to buy. New textbooks every single time the science field changes or discovers something. This means students aren’t getting the most accurate or current information on climate change, which greatly limits their knowledge of the issue and therefore their ability to live in an environmentally responsible way. Some teachers are educated well enough on the subject to fight this, but they all had much less access to this information than the current generation of students had, meaning the educators have not been properly educated enough to provide the most helpful information.

In 2010, it was proposed to begin an environmental focus high school in the Douglas and Sarpy county area (Dejka). With no existing public focus high schools, it was a quite popular idea. Rather than creating a new school, this focus school was to become an attachment to Platteview High School. The addition of this environmental studies program, if successful, could even save the diminishing district. The largest conflict that came with this proposal was city council’s money investment in the project. The investment would come to around $6 million to complete the construction costs, and fewer than half of the county were willing to pay a small fraction more to help fund the program. The program did end up successful and was officially started in 2012. This addition was one of the Omaha areas more positive actions against the climate change threat. The issue presented here is not the idea or result of the proposed project, the issue is the fact that often times neighborhoods and city council have to choose between adding beneficial education and fixing the potholes that litter our streets. 

The most access to current, impactful information about climate change in schools tends to come from the students themselves. Many public high schools in the Omaha area have clubs and student organizations that focus on positively impacting the environment and bringing awareness to our rapidly dying planet. This amount of student involvement does show improvement and proof that at least these young adults are getting this information from somewhere, be it school or otherwise. The amount of involvement differs from public to private schools, but overall the highest amount of action against climate change is led by students

Universities and Class Availability

Most collegiate educational institutions offer more freedom in the curriculum and better opportunity for environmental education and responsibility. Currently, there are no majors/fields offered and UNO that are specific to climate change action. There are, however, majors that one could use to further develop a career working in environmental action and safety. Majors such as agricultural engineering or environmental science are great for people who want to go into a field that is focused on bettering the climate. The available options are not bad ones, they are just rarer than majors in the medical or educational fields. Other Omaha based universities like Creighton have more extensive options for this subject. With over 200 student organizations they have multiple student-led clubs regarding the environment. Also, being a medical and science-focused university, they also have better class and major options regarding the environment.

Analysis

Overall, the present options for students to receive a substantial environmental education are not extensive enough to combat the major climate crisis that our planet faces. This shows how much those in power care about fighting against this threat. Educational institutions are a huge part of how the newer generations receive high-quality information. The lack of proper education they are receiving, along with the fact that students are the most active in fighting against this issue, shows the decline in reliability and influence of these institutions.

Conclusion:

This study focused on all things related to the climate change problem occurring in our world today.  The research in this study went into the facts surrounding the existence of climate change and the major capitalist reasons behind it, as well as government policies that directly affect the mitigation of it.  Public opinion and the education our youth is receiving about this ongoing problem was a large part of the research as well. It was determined that capitalism is directly affecting the health of our climate and the growth rate of global manufacturing and oil businesses is not sustainable for our planet.  These businesses are directly affecting the policies governments are creating to not only help start the reversal of climate change, but to create a world that is no longer reliant on fossil fuels. Public Opinion is starting to move more towards the facts that climate change is being caused by human factors but the education has not caught up to that, with our youth still being educated solely based on teachers’ opinions. Education will play a significant role in creating a culture shift in the United States and the rest of the world.  Ongoing research will continue to show that climate change is a human caused problem, and further education is necessary to help change public opinion. We expect to see an accelerated shift in public opinion with new generations

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Turning Point USA forum in Omaha, Nebraska, September 25th 2019.