A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

I often encounter people who find it offensive that I haven’t subscribed to the Climate Change bandwagon. To be frank, that is where the conversation typically ends, because such people rarely have anything more to bring to the discussion than the average theist. The problem that always arises in those situations is the climate change disciple’s inability to differentiate between Climate Change science and the Climate Change movement.

The science behind Climate Change is sound enough, and the predictions seem rather certain, even though admittedly grim, so who am I to question them? Well I don’t question them, actually, but few Climate Change disciples are capable of engaging in enough rational discussion to actually figure that out. The issue that seems to set them off is my failure to perceive virtue in running around screaming that the sky is going to fall.

The line I most often hear is, “We need to take action now!” That’s fair enough, but I feel that I’ve been taking action for 20 years. I’ve been a minimalist for most of my adult life and have, as such, maintained a very small carbon footprint. To that end, I’ve driven the same 4 cylinder jeep YJ for over 19 years, resulting in fewer cars being produced. In those 19 years, I’ve racked up 125,000 kilometers on my jeep, which is less than most North Americans drive in 3 years, resulting in less fossil fuel combustion. Even the electricity that I use is over 90% hydroelectric. Furthermore, having had no children, my contribution to carbon dioxide emissions ends when I expel my last breath.

Given all of these things, any rational person should understand why I am unmoved by Climate Change disciples who load their children into SUV’s to go on unnecessary shopping trips to stores that sell superfluous items like battery operated cork screws. The irony of these things never seems to sink into the mind of Climate Change disciples, however. On the few occasions that I have been able to finish explaining that I restricted my carbon footprint long before they ever knew what a carbon footprint was, their anxiety actually seemed to escalate. The next message of salvation that typically flies out of their mouths is, “Not just us, the big corporations need to be stopped!”

The rationality of the above proclamation has always eluded me. I have many reasons why I think ‘big corporations’ are ‘bad’, but none of them are based on the state of our environment. The Climate Change disciple’s concept of ‘big corporations’ seems to be that of an alien entity that has landed on our planet to set up big carbon dioxide generating stations. There are no carbon dioxide generating stations being operated by aliens though; those stations are, in point of fact, factories that are run by consumer dollars.

Factories don’t produce goods for shipment to alien worlds; they produce goods to be purchased by human consumers. If you are a consumer of goods, then you are paying to have factories output carbon dioxide in exchange for the goods they produce. In this way, big corporations, in and of themselves, have no carbon footprint at all. This, however, is exactly where the religious aspect of the Climate Change movement is revealed. Rather than atoning for their own sins, Climate Change disciples seek absolution by nailing ‘big corporations’ to an imaginary cross. No climate change disciple that I have encountered to date has ever let me complete the vocalization of this blasphemy, however.

Some environmentalists have listened quite attentively to my thoughts on this matter, and for the most part they are very receptive. Typically our discussions develop into debates over the potential of reducing our carbon footprints by way of emerging technologies. I quite enjoy such discussions because they at least recognize the causes of Climate Change rather than declaring dogmatically that unquestioning belief is the solution. Only those who are willing to engage in such discussions can ever come to understand just how heavily the odds are stacked against us.

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Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 13, 2011 at 1:57pm

Well if a corporation is a person then it should only get the standard tax deductions that people get and all other revenues should be taxed like personal income, which would effectively take 50% of all corporate revenues.  This, of course, would destroy the U.S. economy and infrastructure within months.

 

If I am in a business that produces widgets by using energy, I am pushed by the forces of the market to produce widgets using the least amount of energy.  If I try to run my sawmill on an old fashioned coal boiler/steam generation system I won't be able to stay in business long, for instance.  It's all about the most efficient use of the resources.  All of this, however, really gets into an entirely different debate.

 

The fact of the matter is that if you bought a new oven yesterday because your old one didn't match your new counter tops then you just commissioned the use of energy to produce that oven.  We can stop that energy usage by not making such frivolous purchases for such superfluous reasons.  We could also legislate these big companies out of business and thereby remove the option of having such goods to buy, but we may at times actually need those products.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 13, 2011 at 2:14pm

Wow, you went from talking about treating corporations exactly like people in your first post to 3 entirely different topics here.  The free market can't be held to the same standard as everyone else because there is no everyone 'else' - the free market IS everyone.

 

You make it sound as though corporations not only pay 0 taxes but actually get paid to do business in the U.S. - now that may have actually been the case for the fiscal periods in which the U.S. government was handing out a couple trillion dollars but that is generally NOT the case.  Large corporations don't get tax refunds the way wage earners do and neither group actually ends up profiting from a tax refund (potentially with the exception of the recent huge 'bail outs').

 

I don't even know how to interpret the last paragraph.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 13, 2011 at 4:26pm
So GE made $5.1 billion in profits within the U.S., paid zero taxes and got a $3.2 billion dollar cheque from the U.S. government that wasn't part of the bail out money?  I would really like to see a source on this.
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 13, 2011 at 4:28pm
Sorry, just saw your link and I'm reading now.
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 13, 2011 at 4:59pm

Ok, I read the article and it still doesn't amount to GE getting paid to do business in the U.S.  They've become an unregulated lender financing the purchase of their own products which they are no longer able to make money on in and of themselves.  The profits from those loans are made offshore and U.S. taxes aren't paid on those profits until they are transfered back into the U.S. - which is unlikely to happen with the U.S. dollar being bankrupt.  In the meantime they have worked out a great depreciation schedule for the equipment they still own (as the financiers) allowing them to reinvest in another round of production sooner.  Those 'benefits' simply allow them to do business faster than they would under a regular tax schedule which is very much what the U.S. economy needs more than anything right now.

 

If you don't allow capital assets to be depreciated, especially when they are being financed for the end customer, you curtail growth in production capacity.  One way or the other those assets get depreciated so this is only amounting to putting off taxes until later, not evading them altogether.  The fact that bigger companies can push their own depreciation schedules through while smaller companies can't isn't unfair - but it's entirely unrelated to emissions standards.

 

If anything, this is a case of the U.S. creating an unfair advantage for a U.S. company in doing business overseas - but that has always been the basis of U.S. economic growth.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 13, 2011 at 6:00pm

Well in terms of facing facts, the article you linked states, "Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less."  So the rate is by no means low, and neither is the labour.  Those tax breaks are only advantageous to companies who can move a lot of capital around offshore.

 

The fact is that as long as the push for 'globalization' is going on, goods will be produced in cheap markets and returned to the U.S. consumer who keeps moving the goal post in search of even lower prices.  The harder you push down emissions standards in the U.S., the more motivation you give those big multi-nationals to move offshore - but the same Westerners will be buying their goods no matter where they produce.

 

This entire globalization kick is not about a 'free world' but about big companies being able to move products from places of benefit in one way to places of benefit in another way.  Until the Western world starts to close it's borders to goods produced by people living in poverty conditions that imbalance won't stop; the companies will just move.

 

The solution isn't corporate at all.  Population is one thing that needs to be addressed, but Western nations are mostly curtailing their population growth on their own.  The second issue is energy usage.  Electric clothes dryers need to become objects viewed in antique museums.  Air conditioning needs to become an anachronistic luxury like those big old Sedans that had two sofas for 'seats' and no seat belts.  Public transit passes need to become as common as latte's.  And, more than anything, the pastime of consumerism needs to join the ranks of school prayers.

 

The problem with this is that whether you stop the producers from producing or the consumers from consuming (same problem, different angles) it will mean the end of western life as we know it.  Personally I think that life can't continue another 50 years and that high energy costs are going to enforce a lot of these things.  People will complain that the corporations came and took all our wealth when in reality they provided us with 60 years of living in decadent luxury that has always been beyond our means to sustain.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 13, 2011 at 11:56pm

Talk about moving the goal posts.  Are the corporations being taxed at higher rates or not?  The article you linked states a resounding yes, but compared to the number of air conditioners sold in Morocco I guess the answer is no; as well as compared to GDP.

 

You should also note, by the graph that you have provided, that the U.S. is one of the lowest taxed countries on the list and that applies to consumers as well as producers.  That is what leaves more consumer money in play, driving up the GDP.  The article you provided also pointed out that the beneficial depreciation schedules of GE, coupled with unregulated foreign lending to finance it's own product, gives it tremendous advantage in moving that product even though they barely earn on it at home, further driving up the GDP.  Would you rather the U.S. had the GDP of Spain, Hungary, or Slovenia?

 

In point of fact, it is the high GDP of the U.S. that is the problem in terms of pollution.  All those consumer dollars moving around don't go to outer space, they pay for production, which uses energy.  Those companies can go produce elsewhere, but if Western consumers keep buying the goods then the environmental impact is the same.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 14, 2011 at 12:08am

The problem I have with these multi-nationals is that they can operate without borders where people can't.  This means they can pay crap wages in Malaysia to produce goods for the U.S. market and mask it all behind the happy roll back face of Walmart.  Malaysians, on the other hand, aren't free to move to the U.S. to find higher paying jobs.

 

What this creates is an environment where the biggest consumers gorge ravenously at the trough without any knowledge of the suffering required to fill that trough.  It's generally assumed that 'American Ingenuity' is the reason Americans deserve this bargain; to an extent that is true, but it has nothing to do with the ingenuity of the consumers - it has to do with the ingenuity of these big corporations to hide their production practices.

 

If one forces more production to occur domestically (anti-globalization) then the consumer will either have to accept the low paying production jobs or pay higher prices.  Nobody wants that though - the American consumer would revolt violently if they were ever cut off of cheap foreign labour.

Comment by Heather Spoonheim on July 15, 2011 at 6:49pm
Well we'll either have to lower the population or lower the percentage of people using A/C - and now other countries want to take a turn with all the extra bells and whistles; specifically the Chinese are looking to upgrade their quality of living and incorporate a lot more consumer goods and there are a lot more of them than us.  Something has to give.
Comment by SteveInCO on March 6, 2012 at 10:53pm

...or we need a non-CO2 producing form of energy (I assume that the effect is big enough to be a _problem_ and that it is man-made, neither of which I believe to have been proved).  Solar, wind, etc. can only go so far, especially if we don't have good ways of storing the energy they produce.  I read a study once that claimed you basically had to have 100% of your generating capacity in reserve, if you couldn't store electricity, to make up for interruptions in solar and wind.  So basically have all the coal plants in the world _on standby_.  At that point, economically speaking, if you have to pay for the plants anyhow, might as well use them instead of paying for both them and the (more expensive) sustainable stuff.

We _really_ need a _good_ battery.

In the meantime.. I guess nukes?

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