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Class of 2012, greetings! It’s a deceptively glorious day, even under this tent in the broiling heat of an August-style afternoon in mid-June on this Northeastern campus. Another local temperature record is being set: ninety-eight degrees. And yes, let’s admit it, the heat, the sun, the clearness of the azure blue sky stretching without a cloud to the horizon, the sense of summer descending with a passion, it’s not quite as reassuring as it might once have been, is it? I suspect that few of you, readying yourselves to leave this campus, many mortgaged to your eyeballs (some for life no matter what you do), and heading into a country on edge, imagine personal clear skies to the horizon.
And while we’re admitting things, let’s admit something else about the heat today, as you bake under your graduation gowns: whether or not you have the figures at your fingertips, whether or not you know the details, who doesn’t sense that this planet is on edge, too? I mean, here you are, the class of 2012, and like the classes of 2011, 2010, and so on, you are surely going to spend your first months out of college enduring one of history’s top ten heat years.
As so many Americans have noticed, this was a spring for the record books just about everywhere in the continental United States. And keep in mind that at the moment we also seem to be making a beeline for a potentially record-setting summer, the months of your job hunt for a future, and maybe the hottest year in American history as well.
And records or no, this year is no anomaly. Look at a temperature map of the United States, 1970–2011, and every state—every single state—is, on average, hotter now than it was four decades ago. Imagine that.
And now, imagine this. If climate change is the main culprit and the burning of fossil fuels is threatening to turn Hell, which you were once supposed to visit after death for your sins, into a pit stop on planet Earth, and if you want to do something about it, brace yourself. What you’re up against is the power of the richest, most profitable corporations in history at a time when the sky’s the limit, not just for carbon dioxide but for the infusion of private and corporate money into what we once called democratic (with a small “d”) politics.
In other words, the giant energy corporations that rake in tens of billions of dollars every quarter and whose lifeblood is the burning of fossil fuels are essentially capable of buying more or less anything they want in Washington. That includes continuing massive subsidies—via “your” Congress (via your tax dollars)—of their unbelievably profitable operations.
And what exactly can you buy? How many lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians can fit in your less than spacious pockets? Okay, you don’t want your world, and that of your children, hotter than Hades? That’s understandable, but tell it to ExxonMobil. It has money to burn and specializes in mobilizing some of those billions in profits to employ ranks of lawyers, hordes of well-organized lobbyists, klatches of politicians and even its own armed mercenary warriors. If the planet burns as well, so be it.