Here’s the bad news: The debate about climate change is over. And the environmentalists won.
That’s my take, anyway.
That’s not to say that you won’t flip on the TV and continue to hear debate about climate change. But in much the same way that World War II in Europe was essentially over on June 6, 1944, the climate change debate is pretty much done, and fleet managers should expect to see an increasing number of laws, regulations and policy positions that reflect that outcome in the coming decade.
Here are three reasons why I think this is the case:
1. The dynamics of the debate are changing
The first clue that this public debate was done came quietly over the holidays, when the MSNBC cable news network announced that it would no longer book climate change deniers to debate on its programs.
Aha! You say – That’s merely a liberal news outlet censoring viewpoints it doesn’t agree with! That doesn’t mean the climate change issue is settled at all!
But consider this: Public debates are just that – an attempt to hash out important policy issues. And they don’t last forever. Sooner or later, the evidence builds up to the point that people hosting venues for the debate have to take a position and declare one side the winner.
Don’t believe me? When was the last time you saw a scientist or “expert” on TV arguing that smoking cigarettes is healthy – or at least has no real impact on a person’s health? When I was a child, there were people on TV all the time arguing over findings in studies and presenting data supporting the idea that cigarettes weren’t a health risk. Today, no TV producer in his right mind would put a cigarette or tobacco advocate on air to argue those issues.
And while MSNBC was the first to shut down the “No” side of the climate change debate on its programs, odds are other networks will follow suit in the future. And that means that fewer people will even hear people on legitimate news outlets claiming climate change isn’t real.
But what about President Trump? He has has publicly stated that he rejects the pro-climate change data, has rolled back environmental regulations, and is likely to continue doing so.
All of those things are true, but they ignore a pretty important reality, which is the second sign that this debate is over, in my opinion:
2. Administrations change
Even if he wins a second term, Donald Trump isn’t going to be president forever. Sooner or later, a Democrat is going to win the presidency. When the day comes that Democrats are finally in control of the government, simply rolling back the executive orders Trump has enacted during his presidency isn’t going to be nearly enough to satisfy the liberal base. Instead of simply returning regulations to Obama-era emissions levels, it’s far more likely they’ll make up for lost time and ground with new rounds of far tougher new rules – many of which will directly affect the trucking industry.
And finally, while we’re on politics, there’s a third reason I believe the tree-huggers have essentially won the climate change debate today:
Her name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly minted Congresswoman from New York. It’s hard to miss Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, because she’s basically living rent-free in conservative cable news pundits’ heads these days. They find much of what she believes to be utterly terrifying. Several of her highest-profile policy proposals so far have directly addressed climate change in the form of a Green New Deal. This proposal would establish a new economy based on developing and deploying new technology and jobs to directly combat climate change, with a variety of strict emissions control measures, including – according to various news outlets – the outright ban of all fossil fuel use by 2030.
Obviously, the United States is not going to adopt such a radical departure from our current energy infrastructure in such a short period of time. And all the headlines aside, such policies aren’t why Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is one of the reasons I believe the climate change debate is over.
The reason I believe Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and her currently high profile are informative on the state of the climate change debate today is because of her age. At 29 years old, AOC, as she’s known, is one of the first Millennials to be elected to Congress – and she’s not going to be the last. As anyone with any knowledge of this demographic group understands, these people are note transportation-friendly in ways that is recognizable to older generations of Americans.
Millennials tend to view most forms of transportation as a necessary evil at best. They’re more than happy to climb into a cube-shaped electric vehicle and let a robot drive them somewhere while they work on their laptops, as opposed to climbing behind the wheel and actually driving a car.
Moreover, polling shows that Millennials as a group believe climate change is a major emergency, with human activity being the main factor the main driver fueling the crisis. And they support urgent action to stem or even stop climate change before it gets worse. And it’s not just the Democrats. Support for new regulations and measures to stem climate change are higher for Millennials who identify as Republicans and conservatives compared to older voters who share those political philosophies.
So what does all this mean for trucking? First off, the industry needs to accept a new political reality coming its way fast. Climate change is unlikely to remain a back-burner issue in the United States for much longer. Trucking would do well to keep making its case as an absolutely vital economic engine for this country – with a compelling case for special allowances that would enable it to keep functioning efficiently and profitably in a political climate increasingly hostile to fossil fuels and exhaust gas emissions.
Trucking already has a positive story to tell on this front. Diesel trucks today are cleaner than ever before. And external pressure from both OEMs and customers are rewarding green fleets today and constantly pushing the industry to be even more environmentally friendly. A new crop of battery-electric trucks likely to appear this year will only add to the industry’s luster.
It’s important for trucking to take a seat at the table now, and demonstrate good-faith efforts to work with the new generation of Millennial politicians to find common ground solutions to develop cleaner vehicles and transportation networks. Having a seat at the table and working toward viable and practical solutions is infinitely preferable to being dictated to by hostile policy-makers.