Obama EPA Rules on Pollution... On a Path to Earth's Destruction

June 23, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Today an environmental crisis threatens the very fate of humanity and the Earth itself. Glaciers continue to shrink all over the planet, due to global warming. Summer sea ice in the Arctic has mostly disappeared. At the South Pole, the process of massive melt is now fully under way, with 10 feet of sea-level rise predicted in the near future. There are increasing human impacts from climate change—deaths from heat waves, floods, and cyclones, as well as impacts from increasing droughts and wildfires which hit poor people and poor countries the hardest. Seawater is 30 percent more acidic than just four decades ago, because of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the sea -- killing life in the ocean. 2012 was the hottest year in America’s history with a drought that caused the corn harvest to largely fail.

Burning pasture in deforested area of Brazilian Amazon.
Photo: AP

This is the EMERGENCY situation in which on June 1, the Obama administration announced new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules regulating life-choking carbon dioxide pollution from power plants in the United States. Obama claims these new rules are "one of the most ambitious steps that any nation has taken to combat climate change." But the truth is 1) what these rules aim to accomplish is puny in the face of the actual environmental crisis humanity faces; 2) even these rules will almost certainly be challenged in the courts, Congress, and at the state level, and powerful ruling class forces oppose such regulations; and 3) Obama's move is part of staying with—not moving away from—a whole energy program that is destroying the earth.

The rules are mainly aimed at cutting pollution from coal-fired power plants which are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. The burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gas) to produce energy, capitalist agricultural practices, and the cutting and burning of forests, etc. release carbon dioxide, which is the main "greenhouse gas." The buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is warming the planet and causing the climate to change—and this climate emergency threatens the future of humanity and life on earth.

The new rules on power plant emissions are part of the overall target Obama announced in 2009 to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels, only 4 percent below the levels measured in 1990. But this is next to nothing compared to what's actually needed. Scientists and climate studies have repeatedly pointed out that massive cuts in greenhouse emissions—in the range of 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and much more beyond—are needed if there is any hope of preventing the very worst impacts of climate change.

What is actually required is an end to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and a complete transformation to a new clean and sustainable energy foundation. Obama's move to cut coal-fired power plant emissions has nothing to do with this. Instead of moving away from the fossil fuel energy path that has created this crisis, Obama's action actually reinforces the current trajectory. This is because a key part of Obama's EPA rules are founded on the expanded use of natural gas, with some lessening of the use of coal in power plants. The further development and reliance on natural gas, which Obama's plan makes central, steers the economy, resources, and technology away from the urgent need to develop sustainable and renewable energy alternatives—like wind and solar—that is demanded right now to save much of life on earth. Instead, these rules support and expand the existing carbon-based energy infrastructure.

The new EPA regulations serve an ideological purpose—to put forward the U.S. rulers as being determined to "address" the climate crisis. At the same time, they are part of maneuvering to maintain the U.S.'s legitimacy and strategic competitive position over the rest of the world by portraying the U.S. as the world's "climate leaders." And this is also part of trying to seduce people into the idea that natural gas is somehow a "transition" to a carbon-free future. But the scientific reality is that natural gas is not a "clean energy" source. Natural gas, like oil and coal, is chemically a hydrocarbon.* The burning of natural gas contributes to the buildup of greenhouse gases, just like oil and coal burning, even if it produces somewhat less greenhouse emissions when burned compared to coal. Natural gas production and transport causes methane, another greenhouse gas, to leak into the atmosphere—further adding to global warming. And fracking** for gas causes widespread environmental destruction in other ways—including by the leaking of methane into water supplies that people use for drinking water.

Obama's plan underscores how fossil fuels are foundational to the profitable functioning and global strategic interests of the system of capitalism-imperialism. The U.S. has now become the world's largest producer of oil. It has vastly expanded production of natural gas and stepped up its export of coal, to be burned in other countries.

Some sections of the U.S. ruling class may be genuinely alarmed about the environmental crisis and want to do something about it. But major U.S. political figures must ultimately enforce the geostrategic interests of U.S. capitalism-imperialism.

The capitalists are driven to do what they calculate will be most profitable, and the current energy system of extracting oil, coal, and gas is tremendously profitable. This is why it is the overwhelmingly dominant form of energy use in the world, despite the fact that it is both unsustainable and tremendously destructive, and is now fueling potentially catastrophic climate change. Companies and countries must try to dig and drill for every last bit of fossil fuel because if they don't, some other competitor will grab it up and drive them under. And there is increasingly intense contention among capitalist powers in the world over control of fossil fuel sources and reserves, which is key to geostrategic power.

As the world faces an environmental catastrophe, the monstrous system that has caused this crisis is stepping up its search for new sources of more polluting fossil fuels! And it is incapable of diverging from this path because of the very rules that bind it. The fact is that whatever regulations and reforms are put in place under this system, even "green technology" that is developed or greater efficiency standards, take place on the basis of the continuing ravaging and destruction of the earth by this system of capitalism/imperialism, especially in the oppressed countries of the world.

What is actually needed to address the urgent environmental crisis humanity faces can't be done under this system. What is needed is a decisive restructuring away from reliance on fossil fuels; an end to an empire that dominates the world and contends with other rivals over raw materials; a whole new transport grid, sustainable cities, conscious planning for rising sea levels, unleashing and mobilizing people, and putting technology and knowledge in the service of confronting and tackling the climate emergency internationally. NONE of this can be done under the current economic and political system of capitalism. But it CAN be done in a new socialist society.


* The majority of hydrocarbons found on earth naturally occur in crude oil. Hydrocarbons are currently the main source of the world's electric energy and heat sources (such as home heating) because of the energy produced when burnt. Often this energy is used directly as heat such as in home heaters, which use either petroleum or natural gas. The hydrocarbon is burnt and the heat is used to heat water, which is then circulated. A similar principle is used to create electric energy in power plants. [source: Wikipedia] [back]

**. In fracking, wells are drilled vertically down to layers of shale, then horizontally into the layer. Millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are then pumped through the well into the rock layer at high pressure to crack apart the layers of shale rock. Through fracking whole new floods of unconventional fossil fuels are being drilled out, burned, and leaked into the atmosphere, spreading pollution of air and water, poisoning water supplies, threatening people's health. [back]


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