Obama's National Climate Assessment Report—NOT a Real Solution to the Environmental Emergency

May 13, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From a reader:

On May 6 the White House released its third national climate assessment report on the present and future impact of climate change in the U.S. (http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/). It's too soon after the release to digest all of its findings or to get a full picture of all it is saying, including by hearing from various climate scientists. But some things are clear.

The content of the report itself is based on scientific work of hundreds of climate scientists as well as others. It contains much basic scientific evidence about how climate change is already happening and seriously impacting the U.S. It details these impacts—increasing rainfall in some regions and increasing droughts and wildfires in other regions; more extreme weather events such as heat waves and powerful storms; sea level rise; melting of the Arctic; and acidification of the oceans. The report also predicts these trends, already having an impact, will increase and become worse over the next decades with serious consequences. There is also information in the report detailing the basic scientific evidence demonstrating how Earth is warming—and why this is the result of human activity, not natural variation in climate, and in particular is due to the rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The report also includes scientific predictions for how climate change will affect different regions of the country in different ways and some proposed steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

With this said, the "take-home message" or the intention of this report (and everything being done with it) is NOT to sound serious alarm about the truly global dangers and stakes of climate change and the urgent necessity of taking dramatic and radical measures to stop using fossil fuels and make big structural changes in the economy and society overall.

First of all, there is a way this report steers clear of the really horrific toll climate change is taking—especially on planetary ecosystems and the poorest people of the planet. It also steers clear of sharply drawing conclusions about the catastrophic ramifications for humanity and perhaps the entire natural balance on Earth if the current path is not quickly wrenched away from. (For more background on climate change, see "New UN Climate Report: This Criminal System Is Destroying Our Planet!"

This report was "rolled out" by the Obama Administration as a "key deliverable of the Climate Action Plan launched by President Obama last June," according to a White House fact sheet. According to the New York Times, "The White House... wants to maximize [the report's] impact to drum up a sense of urgency among Americans about climate change." Obama gave interviews to local and national meteorologists. "The goal was to help Americans connect the vast planetary problem of global warming caused by carbon emissions from cars and coal plants to the changing conditions in their own backyards. It was a strategic decision that senior White House staff members had been planning for months," according to the Times.

The message sent out from the administration, and picked up by the widespread mainstream media coverage, was a fictional story of Obama as a man now firmly committed to stamping his "legacy" as a president who did everything possible to combat climate change against big odds. The terms things are being cast in are of an enlightened administration battling the backward forces of "climate change denial" and seeking to win over those who are the real problem—the vast majority of people who just don't think climate change is real, or at least don't feel it's a big deal.

Yes, these things are problems. But the real problem, the big problem, is that we are dealing with a system of capitalism-imperialism that is driven by strategic concerns and intense competition for world economic position and profitability to drill, dig, and burn every ounce of fossil fuel it can to beat out other competitors. The real problem is that fossil fuels are key and strategic resources in the capitalist world economy for domination and a key focus of rivalry among capitalist countries and major corporations. None of these capitalist powers or companies, with the U.S. leading the pack, can afford to turn away from this, or else they will lose out to their rivals and potential rivals, and perhaps be driven under.

The truth, not uttered in any of the media coverage or official accounts, is that under Obama the U.S. has become the world's largest producer of oil and natural gas. It has continued to be a world leader in production of coal and has in fact increased its export of coal, which is the world's leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. Under Obama, large new swaths of the Powder River region in Wyoming have been opened up to coal extraction. Under Obama, there are big plans for expansion of coal, natural gas, and oil transport, refining, and shipping from ports in the Northwest to the "Asian market." Under Obama, new regions of the oceans and the arctic are being opened up to oil drilling.

Yes, U.S. emissions of CO2 (carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouses gases that are causing global climate change) have dropped 9 percent over the last four years or so. This is being portrayed as a truly significant change—but this is a drop in the bucket compared to the changes that are actually needed. And even this relatively small change is mainly occurring because the U.S. has begun extracting and burning more natural gas and less coal domestically, while increasing coal exports for other countries to burn. And this process of extracting natural gas, as well as shale oil, involves the incredibly destructive environmental practice of fracking, while the environmental impact of fracking that rips at people's lives is systematically covered up the U.S. government (see "Fracking: an Environmental Nightmare"). The U.S. now stands poised to spread this fracking destruction worldwide as it moves to turn its technological advantage into further geo-strategic advantage for their empire.

In the mainstream media discussion of the report and the administration's spin, there is no accounting for the fact that the U.S. is the leading contributor historically to the build-up of greenhouse gases that are destroying our planet. There is no accounting for the fact that greenhouse gas emissions in China, Indonesia, India, and many other parts of the world, are driven in large part by production of goods and resources for the international capitalist market, and not for domestic consumption in those countries. This means that the emissions the U.S., the European Union, etc. are responsible for are actually far higher than what they produce in their own countries. There is no accounting for the fact that the U.S. military is the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world.

While the danger of climate change has become much clearer and the science and reality more confirmed over the last two decades, this danger has been known since the late 1980s. But the U.S. and all the other capitalist countries have continued to vie with each other to find new fossil fuel sources and beat each other to the punch to extract them, while doing absolutely nothing in international negotiations except to contend for geostrategic advantage. Meanwhile, none of these countries have done anything of real substance to combat the mounting danger as greenhouse gas levels have continued to mount. Under certain administrations, like Clinton and Obama, they've done this while mouthing concerns about the danger. Under others, like George W. Bush, they've done this while disputing the existence of climate change.

This new report is being used by the Obama administration and the sections of the U.S. capitalist-imperialist ruling class who are "far sighted" enough to recognize that climate change is an impending world catastrophe. They are positioning themselves to try to "manage" this crisis by taking certain steps to mitigate and adapt to its impacts, particularly in the U.S. At the same time they are maintaining Obama's "all of the above" energy strategy, which includes things like wind and solar power but is still dominated by fossil fuel production and extraction and the search for "unconventional" fossil fuels that produce even more carbon pollution. They are starting to prepare for the upheaval and crisis climate change will mean, including by trying to maintain their legitimacy in the eyes of the world.

None of this is in the interests of the people of the planet, and will only worsen the damage to the world's ecosystems. Our interests are entirely different and require radical change at the roots—a real revolution—to deal with the climate emergency. Obama and the rest of the capitalist-imperialists are not capable of seriously combatting the climate crisis, even if they—from the interests of their class—are starting to recognize the danger. They and their system are not fit caretakers of the planet.


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