Wednesday, 15 December 2021 13:35

OPINION: Toyota deal highlights the political right’s detachment from reality on the seminal issue confronting humanity

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in North Carolina — or, at least, the Christmas we’ve come increasingly to expect. This week’s forecast shows high temperatures will average in the 70s on multiple days.


Meanwhile, across the nation and the globe, similar weather events that would have been seen as extraordinary in past decades have, increasingly and worrisomely, become the norm. A swath of killer tornadoes fed by warm, springlike moisture killed scores of people in Kentucky this past Friday. Meanwhile, as the Minnesota Reformer reported the same day, average temperatures in the North Star state are up by a full 3 degrees Fahrenheit in just a little over a century.

As these developments and countless others like them make ever more unmistakably clear on a daily basis, our planet is in crisis. The need for rapid and transformative change that will dramatically reduce carbon pollution in order to slow the pace of global warming is beyond urgent.

It’s in light of this situation that last week’s announcement that North Carolina will become the home of a massive new multi-billion-dollar Toyota manufacturing facility for electric vehicle batteries in a site near Greensboro must be seen as an important and positive development. That our state can help to expedite what’s become an essential shift away from gasoline- and diesel-powered trucks and automobiles is great news.

No, electric vehicles aren’t perfect. Owners face some inconveniences not present in gas and diesel vehicles. EV’s also bring their own collection of not insignificant environmental challenges, but as scientists have documented repeatedly, none comes close to the dire, near-term threat posed by the climate emergency.

It’s also true that, in an ideal world, there would be no need for the kinds of economic incentives the state agreed to heap on the giant auto manufacturer to cinch the agreement. Unfortunately, the global climate emergency makes the current world we inhabit anything but ideal.

Moreover, when one totals all the costs, the U.S. already spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. If North Carolina can help create 1,700 jobs and boost the environment for a comparative pittance, that’s a deal too good to pass up.

Not surprisingly, if there’s a most maddening aspect to the Toyota deal, it’s the stances adopted by leaders of the state’s political right.

For politicians like Senate GOP leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, the Toyota deal was okay. Both men issued statements endorsing it and, of course, claiming credit, but through it all, they continued to refuse to even acknowledge the climate elephant in the room.

Maybe it’s just habit. After all, both men have been, effectively, denying the existence of climate change and advancing policies to prevent the state from taking action to address it for well over a decade.

Whatever the explanation, it’s borderline laughable that neither would even mention the issue in and around such a development. It would be like announcing a new factory to produce a COVID-19 vaccine without acknowledging its purpose.

Hmmm…come to think of it, maybe their actions aren’t so surprising.

And then there are the “free market fundamentalists” at the Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation. As you may recall, this is a group that, for decades, denied the reality of climate change and/or its connection to fossil fuel consumption.

Given this backdrop, it should probably be seen as progress that Locke staffers now at least occasionally acknowledge the reality that greenhouse gases are fueling climate change, but as you would probably have expected, this doesn’t mean they’re ready to endorse meaningful societal action to address the problem.

Not only has the group panned the Toyota deal based on its longstanding opposition to economic incentives (even as it parroted the inaccurate claims of Berger and Moore that GOP tax cuts were the deciding factor), but it has repeatedly argued — in tandem with its long-time allies in the fossil fuel industry — that electric vehicles are a fraud.

Indeed, the group seems so desperate to undermine fossil fuel competition that it has even resorted to borrowing progressive stances on other issues to do so. In a video the group released earlier this year featuring a man who long served as one of industry’s favorite (de)regulators — former state Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart — electric vehicles are slammed because of the environmental damage that is caused by mining the minerals needed for batteries and — get this — the poor treatment of the miners!

This, from a group, that’s scarcely ever met an environmental or worker protection regulation it didn’t want to repeal.

The bottom line: Like the pandemic, the global climate emergency is a challenge to humanity that requires an all-hands-on-deck response. Whatever it takes to get necessary policy changes enacted — alternative explanations, right-wing politicians engaging in delusional thinking and/or ignoring their allies, tax breaks for big companies, or plain old greed (and with Koch industries recently announcing an investment in EV chargers, maybe there’s hope on this latter front) — here’s to making it happen ASAP.

Rob Schofield, director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. Republished from NCPolicyWatch.org.