07/05/2012 05:27 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2012

Coal and Oil Have Their Lobbyists, but the Earth Has YOU

It hit 109 degrees in Nashville over the weekend, but don't worry; ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson tells us we can keep extracting and burning fossil fuels to our heart's content, because we crafty humans can deal with anything nature throws at us:

"We have spent our entire existence adapting. We'll adapt. It's an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution."

Maybe he'd like to explain this engineering solution to the 346 families in Colorado Springs whose homes were reduced to ashes by the most destructive wildfire in state history. Perhaps he can tell the millions of people from Ohio to Virginia how we can adapt to storm systems like the one that leveled trees and left millions of people without power while the mercury broke the 100-degree mark. He could also tell Washington Nationals all-star pitcher Stephen Strasburg how to last beyond the third inning when the game-time temperature is 106 degrees (115 on the field).

Like the tobacco industry before it, which hired phony scientists to dispute the carcinogenic effects of cigarette smoking, the fossil fuel industry has waged a decades-long PR campaign to prevent our government from enacting policies to mitigate climate change. Their arguments keep shifting as the weight of scientific evidence blows their talking points out of the water. At first, they said there was no global warming. Then, well, maybe there is global warming, but we don't know if it's naturally-occurring or man-made. Unable to hide the smoking gun of greenhouse gas emissions any longer, they've now rolled out their latest rationale to protect their profit margins:

"We can adapt."

Yes, we can adapt, but only if we contain global warming to levels that are indeed manageable, and that means we have to stop burning fossil fuels. From the mitigation perspective -- as opposed to the adaptation perspective -- Tillerson is right: It is an engineering problem. We need to quickly change the way we power our lives and get from one place to another.

On that front, there was very encouraging news last week from the National Renewable Energy Lab's new study, which said that we can get 80 percent of our electricity from clean energy by 2050 using existing technology.

Making that happen, however, requires economic incentive, like putting a predictable price on carbon that accounts for all the hidden costs -- health, security, environmental -- inherent in fossil fuels. A politically-viable solution would be a straight tax on carbon-based fuels that returns the revenue to the public.

So, what's stopping our nation from doing that?

People like Rex Tillerson, who can say absurd things -- don't worry; we can adapt -- because of the power and money they wield. Members of Congress, petrified over the unlimited cash the petroleum industry can throw into advertising campaigns to unseat troublesome legislators, are all-too willing to listen to such inanities, nod their heads and sit on their hands.

For anyone who cares about the future we're handing to our unsuspecting grandkids, this situation can be thoroughly depressing.

But there is hope.

Yes, it's true that the coal and oil industries have an army of paid lobbyists in Washington to look after their interests, but the Earth and future generations have a far more powerful advocate: YOU.

Imagine this: Hundreds of constituents show up at congressional offices, sit down across a table from their representatives, take out pictures of their children and say, "This is my daughter. I'm here talking to you today because I don't want the world to be a horrible mess when she grows up and starts thinking about having kids of her own. I know you don't want that, either, so let's talk about how we can preserve a livable world for ALL children."

That's one of the things that will happen later this month when volunteers from throughout the U.S. and Canada gather in Washington for the Citizens Climate Lobby 2012 International Conference (July 22-24). More importantly, what will happen is that ordinary citizens will discover the power they have to make a difference. And as they walk to congressional office buildings and see the visitors waiting in line to tour the Capitol, they will realize that they are no longer tourists. They will see that, as Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweikert once said, "We are not just passengers on Spaceship Earth; we are the crew."

Rex Tillerson tells us we can adapt, but what that adaptation really entails is reclaiming our democracy and wresting control from the corporate interests that have a stranglehold on our government. If you think it's time to be piloting Spaceship Earth, then join us in Washington this month.