In the August recess of the House of Representatives, the words of U.S. Representative Mark Souder hang heavily in the air. Just two and half weeks before the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the surface of the world’s oceans has never seen a hotter July, Souder complained loudly on the floor about the energy legislation that had just been passed by the House of Representatives. “What kind of joke is this?” he asked.
Souder complained that the legislation would drag America backwards and force everyone to live like the Amish. He complained that giant, gas hog trucks like the Silverado and the Sierra (16 miles per gallon on the highway, 14 miles per gallon in the city) which had been manufactured in his district would not be any more if Americans passed legislation to deal with climate change.
If you read Mark Souder’s speech in isolation, his outrage sounds plausible. If you consider his words in the context of recent economic history, they sound more like gibberish.
There’s already double-digit unemployment in Mark Souder’s congressional district, and no one can blame that economic disaster on climate change legislation. After all, to this date, no climate change legislation has been passed by Congress. Mark Souder saw to that, through years during which his political party, the Republicans, controlled Washington D.C.
The auto industry has long resisted improved energy efficiency standards, and Mark Souder helped them do so. That resistance to improvements weakened the appeal of American cars and trucks, and led to the ruin of General Motors, the company that made the Silverado and Sierra. Environmental legislation didn’t have a thing to do with it.
Souder’s outdated economic and anti-environmental ideas are what brought about the calamity his constituents are now suffering under. Refusing to deal with the threats of climate change didn’t protect jobs in Indiana. In fact, refusal to innovate with energy efficient technology ruined the auto manufacturing industry in Souder’s home district.
The trouble with the climate change legislation passed by the House of Representatives this summer, to be considered by the Senate this autumn, isn’t that it brings about too many changes. It’s that it stands too much within the territory of old technology and failed energy strategies, and doesn’t encourage innovation strongly enough.
Congressman Souder’s claim that environmentalists want everyone to live in the thrall of outdated technology rings hollow. It’s Souder who is acting like a luddite, protesting against the development of newer, more efficient technology that would benefit the American economy and the global environment at the same time. It’s Souder who is demanding that Americans hold onto the ideas of centuries past. It’s Souder who is holding his constituents back, keeping them from the up-to-date, cutting edge jobs that have the best chance at revitalizing their region’s economy.