George Pyle: Mitt Romney might be just the vulture capitalist we need to lead a Green New Deal

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Rob Bishop makes a comment as Mitt Romney listens during a U.S. House Natural Resources Committee forum about how to address catastrophic wildfires, at the Utah Senate Building, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018.

And then I told Mitt Romney that we in the newspaper game really don’t have much sympathy for electric utilities losing business to home solar power systems, independent auto dealers who don’t want to compete with Tesla’s vertically integrated retail operation or taxi companies being pushed aside by Lyft, Uber and whatever all those zippy electric scooters are called.

Newspapers, after all, are another one of those pursuits gracefully referred to as “legacy industries,” dinosaurs who bestrode the world for a long time but are now being gnawed away by herds of online ratlike creatures.

It was, I thought, one of the few common frames of reference I might have to chit-chat with one of the nation’s best-known and most successful vulture capitalists after his fruitful October meeting with The Salt Lake Tribune’s Editorial Board.

So, Sen.-elect Mitt Romney, R-Utah, meet Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The blue-state bartender is young enough to be the red-state teetotaler’s granddaughter. But they are both new to their jobs, safe in their seats, potentially free of partisan baggage and of loyalty to donors. And they might just form enough of an alliance to, well, save all life on the planet.

Mitt made a career, before entering politics, of showing absolutely no compassion for corporations that weren’t making it. Corporations may be people, my friends, but they are still expendable.

AOC, as she is known, has burst on the Washington scene by demanding that the first priority of the new Congress must be what she and others are calling a Green New Deal. It is the belief that the threat of climate change is such an existential threat to human civilization that it deserves at least the level of attention and resources dedicated to clawing our way out of the Great Depression, fighting World War II and landing on the moon.

These two positions are wholly compatible.

Ocasio-Cortez wants to end all government efforts, funding and pretense that are based on the idea that the existing industrial base, particularly the corporations that make billions extracting, processing and selling fossil fuels, need to be protected from either human needs or market demands.

Romney knows all about taking corporations in totally new directions or, if that won’t work, liquidating them, skimming off whatever profits or assets are available, and moving on to more lucrative pursuits.

Two sides of the same coin.

Another thing that Romney said to us at the editorial board meeting in October suggests he might be on board for a Green New Deal. Asked point-blank if he believed that human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, create or contribute to climate change, his answer was, basically, I hope so.

Because if it is human activity that is causing climate change, he said, “That means we can do something about it.”

And, clearly, we can. The same inventiveness and technological know-how that got us into this mess can get us out of it. Strange that it is mostly democratic socialists who have faith that our best brains can figure this out if only given the chance and the funding, and, Romney perhaps excluded, mostly Republicans who insist that we are too stupid and too set in our ways to think of anything new.

Newspaper editors do have an honest standing to argue that the creative destruction of the old energy business be allowed to go forward, without any government effort to stay the hand of progress, because we are in the same boat.

We like that other First Amendment wall of separation, the one between press and state. We like it so much that it is very rare indeed to find a newspaper publisher or editor in favor of any legislation or regulation that would prop up our operations with anti-competitive laws or taxpayer subsidies.

(Except we still want governments and lawyers to pay for those tiny-print legal notices that sometimes take up whole pages of the paper. They carry valuable public information and, particularly in the case of some of the smaller, hometown publications, really do help to keep the lights on and the doors open.)

(Oh, and real, universal, single-payer health insurance would take a large financial burden off the backs of newspaper publishers even as it would make the gig economy, formerly known as freelance writing, greatly more survivable for detached journalists.)

The Salt Lake Tribune and other news operations are busy trying to evolve, as the dinosaurs did, into birds that will survive another eon or so. That means moving to the online universe and persuading you to pay for the news you need and want, like your grandparents did when paying the fifth-grader on a bicycle was the only way to get it.

We’ve been pondering this for a long time, as visionary publishers tried to make reality of the idea that we aren’t in the newspaper business, or the journalism business, but the information business, or even, dare we say, the enlightenment game.

And, by golly, if we journalists are going to have to invent a whole new way to survive in the 21st century and beyond, there is no reason that ExxonMobile, Marathon Petroleum, Massey Energy and all those other legacy operations that have lived on fossils should not now, with no sense of irony, become fossils.

Unless they learn to profit off new, sustainable, clean forms of energy. In which case, the richer they get, the better.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, the editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, also finds his own personal energy supply to be somewhat fossilized. gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter, @debatestate

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