DiLeo is assistant professor and director of justice and peace studies at Creighton University; Dilly is associate professor of anthropology and sustainability studies; Miller is professor of systematic theology and sustainability studies. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of their institution or programs.
On Nov. 15, the Omaha Public Power District board voted 6-2 in favor of SD-7 Environmental Stewardship Resolution No. 6289. While commendable, the measure imprudently fails to satisfy several widely accepted ethical standards that should guide public policy, and it should be revised accordingly.
The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently confirmed human activities have warmed the planet 1°C since the Industrial Revolution. It also warned that another half degree of warming risks triggering widespread, potentially irreversible global drought, glacial melt and sea level rise that would likely produce catastrophic food insecurity, population displacement and public health crises. The IPCC notes that poor and marginalized populations are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
Under business as usual, the IPCC estimates our planet will surpass 1.5°C warming in 2030. To avoid this threshold, the IPCC calculates “global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions (must) decline by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 ... reaching net zero around 2050.” Since the report’s publication, several leading scientists have warned the report underestimates the threat of runaway climate change since it inadequately considers significant positive feedback loops that could rapidly exacerbate warming. In any event, the report calls for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
The IPCC’s recommendations constitute prudence defined by St. Thomas Aquinas as “right reason applied to action.” In contrast, Resolution No. 6289 calls for “20 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2010 through 2030” and would effectively allow OPPD to achieve the goal by simply increasing total power sales through additional renewable generation but without any actual decrease in OPPD’s carbon pollution. The resolution is thus by definition imprudent since it aspires to far less than what the world’s top scientists say is necessary to avoid the prospect of runaway climate change that threatens civilization.
The resolution also fails to uphold several basic ethical norms since it would knowingly permit and exacerbate the threat of climate change. As professors at a Catholic institution, we echo the Church’s teaching begun by St. John Paul II that climate change is a moral issue because its effects violate ethical commitments to protect human life and dignity, care for the poor and vulnerable, promote the global common good and steward the earth for future generations. We also recognize that one need not identify with a religious tradition to believe these norms should ground culture and society or appreciate climate change as a moral issue that requires adequately corresponding policies.
Science-based energy policies deeply rooted in ethics can adversely impact some in society; however, the prudent response is to develop comprehensive policies that facilitate just transition and equitable cost allocation -– not justify scientifically inadequate energy plans with ideological self-interest or short-term cost-benefit analyses, especially since these arguments are themselves often dubious. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln report website for “Understanding and Assessing Climate Change: Implications for Nebraska” warns that “climate change poses significant risks to Nebraska’s economy, environment and citizens.” The U.S. National Climate Assessment authored by 13 federal agencies and published Nov. 23 estimates that effects of unchecked climate change could cost the U.S. $500 billion per year by 2100.
We appreciate OPPD’s work to power our community. However, power provision should be guided by prudent consideration of science and robust ethical reflection that upholds basic moral norms. In our judgment Resolution No. 6289 is inadequate with respect to both. As OPPD customers, climate change scholars, ethicists, global citizens and family members with children and grandnieces and nephews, we thus urge the utility to at minimum revise the resolution consistent with IPCC’s call for net zero carbon pollution by 2050. We also encourage OPPD customers to contact their elected board representative to this end.