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Capital Blight: Old Wine in New Bottles; Why Obama's "Bold" Announcement on Climate Change Gives the Fossil Fuel Industry Just About Everything it Wants.

By x344543, June 25, 2013.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Count me as being among those  who find little to cheer about in Barack Obama's so-called "bold" speech on Climate Change.

Yes, it's true that he called for an end to big oil tax subsidies, but he offered no specific plan on how he would make that happen (and very likely the US Congress and Senate, who are the bodies that actually craft the budgets the President must sign into law, most of whose members are deeply indebted to the fossil fuel industry for campaign contributions are not going to bite the hands that feed them).

Yes, he called for an end to public financing for new coal plants overseas, but he said nothing about putting an end to public financing of new domestic coal plants, nor did he say anything about regulating coal exports.  

According to the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC):

"He directed the Environmental Protection Agency to put an 'end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution' from new and existing power plants. IF EPA comes up with a good regulation for existing power plants, this will be exceptionally good news and long overdue. If this regulation takes a political eternity to adopt and doesn’t require significant reductions or allows broad exemptions, then this regulation won’t be worth the paper it is written on."

I agree and want to add to that that both the EPA, OSHA, and other regulatory agencies whose mandates are to regulate the environmental, labor, and business practices of such activities are either routinely understaffed or under the directorship of capitalist representatives of the very businesses that are supposed to be regulated. It's been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you cannot leave the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Desmog Blog was even more blunt, excoriating Obama for trying to suggest that Natural Gas is a "cleaner" alternative to other fossil fuel alternatives, since one of the byproducts of Natural Gas is Methane, which is even deadlier than CO2. It is also one of the engines driving the fracking boom.

A good deal of attention was given to Obama's declaration that he would oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline if it “significantly exacerbate(s) the problem of climate change.” There are many problems with this statement:

  • (1) The evidence already proves without a shadow of a doubt that the Keystone XL Pipeline would do exactly that, and he could simply reject it now;
  • (2) The word "significantly" can be parsed to death leaving too much leeway for the pipeline's approval;
  • (3) Keystone XL is but one of many proposed pipelines that will have the same, negative effect;
  • (4) The issue isn't the pipeline itself (though with all of the pipeline spills that have occurred during the recent spring--more than a dozen so far--it's nevertheless a significant issue), it's the entire fossil fuel infrastructure!

No doubt the attention given to Keystone by the vast coalition of people opposing it drove Obama to mention it by name for fear of losing political support for the Democratic Party (the recent demonstration and protest on the Golden Gate Bridge by National Nurses United opposing keystone -- one of the many business unions the Democrats assume will continue support them without question -- has to be giving them pause to think). Perhaps Obama thinks that by throwing environmentalists a bone he will distract their attention from other, equally destructive, but not as well publicized fossil-fuel related projects.

Sure, Obama proposed "acquiring 20% of the federal government’s energy from renewable resources within 7 years," but the technology and resources exist to set much higher standards within that timeframe. Of course, doing so would require a complete break from capitalist economic practices, including the nationalizing of industry and very strict regulations on capitalist activity that clearly favored reneweable energy and a complete phaseout of fossil fuels. This is not likely to happen, because Obama clearly reitereated his support for "market based solutions" i.e. the continuance of neo-liberal capitalist driven economic policies.

I shouldn't need to remind everyone that it is capitalist driven economic policies that got us into this mess to begin with and they're not going to get us out of it. Capitalism is inherently destructive to the environment because of the following three innate characteristics:

  • (1) The requirement that profits to shareholders be maximized over the short term;
  • (2) The ethic of "growth or die"; and
  • (3) The outsourcing of social costs to everyone else.

There are trillions of dollars at stake here. The capitalist class is heavily invested in fossil fuels and they're not going to just sit by quietly and let Obama (or anyone else) deny them of their short term profits.

And they have an extra urgency in ensuring that they get their way. A growing number of analyses point to a possible carbon bubble. According to The Guardian:

The so-called "carbon bubble" is the result of an over-valuation of oil, coal and gas reserves held by fossil fuel companies. According to a (recent report), at least two-thirds of these reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed targets to avoid the threshold for "dangerous" climate change. If the agreements hold, these reserves will be in effect unburnable and so worthless – leading to massive market losses. But the stock markets are betting on countries' inaction on climate change.

This is a potentially dire situation for the capitalist class. True, they are quite prepared and well practiced for taking advantage of sudden crises (what Naomi Klein has coined as "disaster capitalism" ), but this may be significantly different, because this is a potential financial tsunami which could radically shake up existing markets and financial empires.

Renewable energy--though not without its own set of problems for both workers and the environment, can at least be delinked from capitalism due to the much smaller economies of scale. Furthermore, they cannot so easily be monopolized or centralized, thus making the concentration of the resources into the hands of the few who make up the employing class very easy or practicable. Quite the contrary, renewables offer the potential of leveling the playing field quite significantly. Finally, it would create many permanent jobs, substantially more than anything created by the Keystone XL Pipeline or anything similar to it. In fact, renewable energy--if deployed on the scale I suggested above--would create enough jobs to create full employment, a definite no-no as far as the capitalist class is concerned.

You see, capitalism depends not only on three aformentioned factors, it also depends heavily on scarcity, both scarcity of opportunities for workers to sell their labor (and the greater the scarcity of jobs, the more easily the ability of workers to organize as a class is eroded by the capitalists) and scarcity of materials available to the working class to liberate itself from the dictates of capital. Modern technology and widespread industrialization has eliminated a good deal of truly existing scarcity, but the capitalists have maintained their power by creating artificial scarcity and enforcing that with the power of the state at their disposal. One of the ways they have done this is by creating artificial scarcities in transportation, energy, and heating sources. The ability to widely decentralize energy generation into locally distributed networks greatly threatens that potential.

Obama is a capitalist and he serves the capitalist class, as do almost all members of the Democratic Party (it goes without saying that this is true of the Republicans). He is not about to rock the boat.

Like all good Democrats, Obama's role is to coopt dissent from the left and steer it in the direction of ineffectual and compliant support for the Democrats by offering the promise of a populist, social-democratic vision, perhaps a second coming of FDR's "New Deal". What people forget is that the actual New Deal of the 1930s was only made possible by the threat (to the capitalist class) of an anti-capitalist revolution--then led principally by the Communist Party.

Today the opposition is a polyglot of anarchist, socialist, and liberal-left tendencies, and the alliances between them--if they exist at all, is quite fragile. Obama's speech seems to be designed to do at least the following:

  • (1) Coopt dissent from more conservative elements on what passes for "the left" and the environmental movement;
  • (2) Create the illusion of opposition to fossil fuel dominated capitalist interests (which will be pilloried from the extreme right as being job killing, pie-in-the-sky, anti-business, anti-free-market communism, when in fact it's nothing of the sort) so that Obama can claim he is taking a progressive stand;
  • (3) Providing cover for the capitalists by splintering the opposition, which --until today, at least--has grown, albeit haphazardly.

And it's already working. My fellow workers have recently raised awareness [here and here] about the less-than-savory nature of the big environmental NGOs, and--as they would have no doubt predicted--many of them have jumped for joy at Obama's speech and neglected to mention all of the seriously big problems in it.

This will no doubt cause tension and fractures within what was a potentially powerful and growing opposition to the fossil fuel industry, and with it--quite possibly--capitalism itself. Our job is to make sure that doesn't happen, because if it does, we move yet one step closer to our collective doom, and we're frighteningly close now.

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