Rio Earth Summit: Welcome to the 'insidious conspiracy'

Twenty years ago, Pres. George H.W. Bush told those gathered at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that he brought an action plan to combat climate change.

"It stresses energy efficiency, cleaner air, reforestation, new technology," he said.

The 41st president also started his speech with a Chinese proverb: "If a man cheats the Earth, the Earth will cheat man." He then followed with, "The idea of sustaining the planet so that it may sustain us is as old as life itself. We must leave this Earth in better condition than we found it."

Blast from the past

That was then. The United Nations' Rio + 20 Earth Summit this week has ushered this debate back into the political scene.

Bush's words show how much he was ahead of his time. Now Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney skirts the entire issue, leaning as far from the entanglements of climate change as he can. According to Neela Banerjee at the New York Daily News, Romney "expresses doubts about climate science like the majority of his party."

Romney says if elected he would support expanded coal and oil production and work to "amend (the) Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide from its purview," according to his official website. He also calls solar and wind failures.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., takes aim at such positions in a fiery speech on the Senate floor on the eve of Rio + 20. If he had looked like this during his failed presidential bid, things may have turned out much differently.

"We should fight today's insidious conspiracy of silence on climate change," he says. "The danger we face could not be more real."

Kerry fights back

Kerry singled out those on the green side of the fence by referring to the "timidity of proponents." He likewise railed about those who marginalize and misrepresent the facts.

"Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real," Kerry says. "It is nothing less than shocking when people in a position of authority can just say — without documentation, without accepted scientific research, without peer reviewed analysis — just stand up and say that there isn't enough evidence because it suits their political purposes to serve some interest that doesn't want to change the status quo."

Rio should be interesting. And no, solar and wind aren't failures. In fact, Brad Plumer of the Washington Post speculates that policy makers may be significantly underestimating their potential. He cites a recent study by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory that says the country could generate 80 percent of its electricity from renewables using existing technology by mid century. He also cites the exponential growth of solar as an indicator.

We could use the jobs. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute says that between 90 million and 95 million low-skill workers -- or 2.6 percent of the global workforce -- will not be needed by employers by 2020 and will be vulnerable to permanent joblessness, according to a story in Huffington Post by Bonnie Kavoussi.

That means we'll be needing something for them to do. Clean energy is a solid investment and a great return jobs wise. Toss in the cleaner air, and we've got a winner. One that members of both parties would approve of more openly just 20 years ago.