ATLANTA -- For decades, the Southern Company has run roughshod over the health and welfare of its customers with uncontrolled, dirty, coal-fired power plants. It's been used to calling the shots in its region and was one of the major forces behind the Bush administration's ultimately unsuccessful first-term campaign to allow continued uncontrolled emissions of mercury under the Orwellian-named "Clear Skies" campaign.
Now David Ratcliffe, Southern's chairman and CEO, has conceded that, yes, his company's emissions will change the climate -- but not to worry: "I don't believe there's an impending catastrophe in front of us... The environment has an ability to adapt to that."
Of course, the environment does adapt. During the last warm period, Florida was entirely under water, for example. And that warm period then triggered an ice age that put Manhattan under a mile of ice. The environment adjusts all right. It's human civilization, and all the species that share this world with us, that will have a hard time. Almost none of them were around for the last big warming.
Ratcliffe couldn't be clearer: The value of his stock trumps everything. As long as he reports good results until he retires, we'll be just fine. It's hard to imagine a more cynical or hard-hearted attitude. But no doubt he genuinely sees it that way -- his bottom line is the measure of the world. We, however, will have only ourselves to blame if we continue letting this man and his company run our politics and if we go on electing their candidates.
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