Duh. That's probably what you thought to yourself when you read my headline.
Yes, as American families on the east coast are reeling from an unprecedented weather disaster, Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning told CNBC:
“I don’t think the data supports that the storms are more frequent or unusual than they have been in the past. But the point is right now that we are not dedicated to getting into an ancillary argument.” (h/t The Hill)
Fanning probably considers the much-needed conversations considering Hurricane Sandy and climate change as "ancillary" because Southern Company plays a very central and very inconvenient role in creating global warming. Apparently, Fanning's home and livelihood weren't damaged by superstorm Sandy, although his birthplace of Morristown, NJ was hit by the storm. Lucky him--out of sight, out of mind! Apparently there's no need to talk about the deeper issue of global warming. (Greenpeace photos of damage from Sandy).
See, not only is Southern Co one of the nation's largest coal-burning utilities, but it creates more carbon pollution than any other utility in the country and ranks #7 in global power company carbon emissions. Southern Co is responsible for dumping over 145 million tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere each year, making it a key culprit in the global climate crisis.
In turn, global warming creates conditions that can make cyclones like Hurricane Sandy more intense than they naturally would be, not to mention increasing the likelihood of other extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and heavy storms. If you live in the U.S., you know this year was particularly suspicious in terms of climate-related disasters.
Suspicious unless you have your head in the sand, as Mr. Fanning appears to. What's worse is how much Thomas Fanning's company has paid money to stuff other people's heads in the sand with them.
While aggravating global warming through its immense greenhouse gas emissions, Southern Company has also been a key manipulator in our national dialog over global climate change:
- Funding junk science: Southern Company gave Willie Soon $230,000 from 2006-2009 for two distinct junk studies disguised as scientific research in order to confuse politicians into ignoring policy solutions to climate change. Willie Soon is a career climate science denier whose other "research" sponsors have included ExxonMobil, the Charles G Koch Foundation and the American Petroleum Institute.
- Funding shill groups: Southern Co. is a member of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a front group run by coal utility lobbyists at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani. Through ERCC lobbyists Scott Segal and Jeff Holmstead, Southern Co and other dirty utilities bitterly opposes any requirements for coal companies to reduce their pollution or greenhouse gases causing global warming. Southern Co is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), another front group opposing strong environmental standards for coal pollution. You may be familiar with ACCCE for its multimillion dollar ad buys around the election, or for its involvement in a scandal where forged letters were sent to Congress to oppose climate legislation in 2009.
Buying politics: Since 2008, Southern Co. has spent over $61 million lobbying our federal government, much of which was to block environmental laws and legislation addressing climate change. Southern Co. has spent over $10 million each year on federal lobbying since 2004. To support its lobbying expenditures, Southern Co. has also sent over $1.6 million to federal politicians and registered political groups since the 2008 election cycle.
- In the 2012 presidential election, Southern Co. has sent $46,650 to Republican candidate Mitt Romney and $8,580 to President Barack Obama (OpenSecrets).
Unfortunately for the climate and those who are now suffering from weather disasters, Southern Company is just one of many companies funding our politicians and then paying lobbyists, setting up front groups and financing hack scientists to push politicians even farther into an anti-science fantasy-land. Along with Southern are other key bad actors like Duke Energy, Peabody, ExxonMobil, Chesapeake Energy, Koch Industries and other fossil fuel interests that also want to stomp any mention of global warming out of politics, protecting billions in profit and limiting their liability over pollution problems.
Understanding how these behemoths operate and coordinate makes it less surprising, though no less offensive, that we didn't hear about climate change in the first presidential debate series in over 20 years.
It doesn't matter if global warming is an "ancillary" issue to Southern Company after disasters like Hurricane Sandy, or if the presidential contenders won't be honest with Americans about the problem. Our changed climate is only going to keep changing.