Obama’s climate proposals fall short


At Georgetown University on June 25, President Obama gave a major speech outlining his proposals to mitigate and adapt to climate change after making mention of its importance in his inaugural address several months ago.

Obama presented what he called “a new national climate action plan,” which calls for cutting carbon pollution and protecting the country from the impacts of extreme weather. He plans to accomplish this by using less dirty energy, more clean energy, and wasting less. How profound! Using adjectives such as ambitious and bold, his plan is anything but that.

The administration has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% from their 2005 levels by the end of this decade, a paltry amount compared to the massive reductions that are  needed. Global warming pollution will be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act, a law that has been around for 43 years and could have been used from the get-go when carbon dioxide emissions began to spike in the 1970s, but has never been given the teeth to halt pollution. Reformist environmentalists have been calling for this for decades now.

In regard to dirty fossil fuels and in keeping with his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy presented earlier this year, Obama assured us and the Energy Giants that their production will not “suddenly stop.” In fact, he wants to strengthen the position of the United States as a top natural gas producer, promising to work with industry to make drilling safer and cleaner. Anyone who believes that is sorely deluded.

Part of this strategy is to aid other countries to switch to natural gas as “a transition fuel.” This will mean more domestic fracking of natural gas for export and the building of dangerous liquefied natural gas (LNG) ports. Its sale to other nations will be worked into global free-trade agreements. In regard to the import of filthy, carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Canada, Obama danced around the issue of the Keystone XL Pipeline by saying that the State Department is still evaluating it in terms of “national interests.”

Nothing was said about phasing out coal-fired power plants. Apparently, EPA regulation will ensure the installation of more effective pollution-control devices on old and new electrical utilities, so we needn’t worry. He mentioned that his budget calls for Congress to end tax breaks to Big Oil and increase investment in renewable energy.

Obama promised to double the amount of energy from wind and solar power by increasing renewable energy capacity on public lands. This will probably mean more capital-intensive mega-projects that disrupt ecosystems. The preferred alternative is locally produced and distributed rooftop wind and solar installations in urban centers and on industrial brown fields; this would be far more ecological and efficient since the generated electricity would not have to be transported through a massive grid at long distances.

Federal facilities are to get 20% of their energy from renewable sources within the next seven years. Military bases have been mandated to install three gigawatts of renewable power—the Pentagon being the largest consumer of energy. Among “renewables,” Obama also included wretched biofuels, which use cropland to grow fuel stocks rather than food, and dangerous nuclear reactors.

With the optimistic hope to reduce atmospheric carbon by three billion tons, Obama’s energy-efficiency measures aim to get cars and trucks going twice as far than the current standard on a gallon of gasoline. There was no mention whatsoever of clean mass transit replacing private motor vehicles to haul passengers and freight. In addition, appliances would be upgraded and buildings retrofitted to reduce energy use and provide jobs. None of this is either new or earthshaking in scope.

To aid local governments in adapting to the harsh impacts of climate change, Obama vowed to help fortify coastlines and restore natural barriers to withstand rising sea levels and storm surges, and to strengthen infrastructure items such as power grids, water systems, and fuel supplies so that services do not break down and, paralyze urban centers—as was the case with Superstorm Sandy.

He also proposed stricter construction standards for new buildings that could be struck by natural disasters. However, if sea levels continue to rise as more land ice melts, no amount of coastal reinforcement will hold back the water. Further global heating must be nipped in the bud, and that will take vastly more effort than the administration intends to exert.

All of Obama’s proposals are to be market-based and are designed to enhance an unsustainable growth economy that is already devouring resources beyond Earth’s capacity. As long as costly wars are waged for access to more hydrocarbons, minerals, and metals, there is no way to meet planetary needs. As long as commodity production for private profit exists, there is no way to meet human needs either. As long as it’s business as usual, there is no way to save Mother Earth for human habitation.

With the 12 warmest years occurring in the last 15, Arctic sea ice shrinking to the smallest extent and volume on record, and ocean temperatures soaring, the greatest urgency is required. Over the last year, the nation’s weather has swung from a combination of prolonged heat waves, extreme drought, and wildfires to wet and soggy conditions for months on end. A one-foot rise in sea level on the Mid-Atlantic coast was a major contributor to Hurricane Sandy’s powerful storm surge last year.  lus, diminished snowpacks in the thirsty Intermountain West have led to chronic drought and drinking-water shortages.

Given the magnitude of the problem that humanity faces, Obama’s greenhouse gas reductions are wholly inadequate. That is simply because the president is beholden to his masters, the Carbon Barons, who do not want to relinquish control over their fossil-fuel-powered economy.

In order to cool down the planet and prevent further ocean acidification, atmospheric carbon must be drawn down to a safe 300-325 ppm. That requires that we take radical measures to reduce to zero all greenhouse gas emissions from all sources as soon as possible—with an immediate and massive conversion to wind, solar, geothermal, and benign microhydro power.

If we combine that with recycling, retooling industry for the green production of basic necessities, and switching to organic farming, there is still the chance that we can prevent catastrophic climate change and ensure a relatively decent way of life for future generations.

This is our only hope, but it will be accomplished, not by putting our faith in a Democrat in the White House but in the power of the masses of working people and oppressed to change things once they are aroused to act.

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[Editor’s note: We reprint this article by the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). In 1989, the Bastille Appeal was launched, inviting popular movements throughout the world to unite in demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of the so-called developing countries. This crushing debt, along with neo-liberal macro-economic reforms imposed on the global South, has led to an explosion of worldwide inequality, mass poverty, flagrant injustice and the destruction of the environment.


CLIMATE CRISIS STRIKES PAKISTAN — To aid the millions of Pakistanis suffering from the catastrophic floods: send donations through ESSF (Europe solidaire sans frontières)