Defections from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over its stance on climate-change legislation have grown to a trickle. They started with Pacific Gas & Electric’s Sept. 22 withdrawal, accompanied by a letter from the California utility’s CEO, who found it “dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored.” This week, PNM Resources and Exelon Corp. said they would not renew their membership in the Chamber of Commerce. And Nike and Johnson & Johnson also reportedly have expressed concern.

The Chamber, whistling past the graveyard, projected an image of unflappable nonchalance. These are, after all, just three members out of more than 3 million, even if they are major electric utilities. Surely the Chamber of Commerce can stand the loss. It then issued a disarmingly slippery statement of its position on climate change. Without proposing any positive program, it simply opposes what's on  the table in Congress. And, as if the U.S. were Andorra, it declines to advocate that we provide leadership to the world in responding to the threat of climate change, insisting instead on waiting for other countries to act first. This is not the United States I fought for in Vietnam.
But have you ever seen piping under a dam? Under pressure, the water behind the dam does what water does; it finds the path of least resistance. The pressure drives the water through a weak point until it emerges below the dam. With a path established, more and more water trickles, then flows, through the “pipe” until one day, the dam, undermined, fails.

That’s what has happened to the resistance to the bad news about climate change in general. Climate-change skeptics (who object to being called deniers) complain that the country is being bowled over by liberals (who prefer to be called progressives) and stampeded by the United Nations (which has been unable to fulfill its own charter, so how on Earth can it stampede the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world?) into precipitous, ill-considered action that will increase energy costs for no good reason. What in fact has happened is that growing evidence, built up through decades of intensive, peer-reviewed scientific research throughout the world, has gradually leaked through the shrill, obstructionist propaganda of organized skeptics and persuaded growing numbers of people that we really are facing an existential threat caused by our unbridled abuse of our environment. A trickle of science-backed knowledge piping under the barrier has undermined the blockade of propaganda thrown up by people and companies who, for whatever reason, opposed it. Ain’t nature wonderful?

Technology will save us, the skeptics insist, and on this point, I agree. The urgent need to reduce toxic air emissions to comply with the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 drove the rapid development of large-scale, highly efficient technologies that quickly cut emissions of sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, particulates and other “criteria pollutants.” And, confounding the fears of skeptics, the effort succeeded without bankrupting the power companies or wrecking the economy. Indeed, the 1990s were years of unprecedented economic boom, and engineers and contractors that focused on serving the air-pollution-control market prospered then and are still prospering from the ongoing work.

Tell us, skeptics, why do you think this scenario won’t be repeated?