Obama's Climate Action Plan: A Charade as We Face Climate Disaster

by Orpheus Reed | August 10, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On August 2 Obama announced a plan for climate change that would cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Obama, and the mainstream media, have called this plan the most significant step the U.S. has ever taken to "combat climate change." Obama said in a video statement, "Climate change is not a problem for another generation, not anymore."

Climate Scientist James Hansen on Obama Plan

Renowned climate scientist James Hansen says that Obama's "actions are practically worthless... They do nothing to attack the fundamental problem."

MSNBC reported:

"You've got to be kidding," he [Hansen] wrote, when asked if the plan would make continued climate activism unnecessary. Obama's plan, and for that matter the proposed plan of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, he continued, "is like the fellow who walks to work instead of driving, and thinks he is saving the world."

Some leading environmental commentators are casting Obama's plan as a potential "turning point," even a "game changer." Others, like Naomi Klein, say Obama is now "talking like a climate leader" but still has to follow through, and "act like a climate leader." Both these views reflect deep illusions about the reality of what this plan will actually mean for the climate, why the U.S. is doing this, and what interests are being advanced through this plan.

To put it simply: 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 them so it's unlikely they will be fully implemented; and 3) Obama's move is part of staying with—not moving away from—the energy program and interests of the U.S. capitalist-imperialist system that is destroying the earth.

Breaking Down the Reality Behind Obama's Plan

Power plants produce around one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gases. So Obama's proposed 32 percent power plant cuts, if fully implemented, would only amount to approximately an 11 percent cut of overall U.S. emissions compared with 2005.* Presumably, this is part of a larger plan Obama has put forward to cut all U.S. emissions by 27 percent by 2025. Scientists have said much more massive cuts are needed, possibly on the level of 60 percent by developed countries per decade. So Obama's proposal will not come close to the kind of cuts needed to seriously deal with the climate crisis. Instead, they're designed to take steps to "manage" the crisis but to do so in a way that is not damaging to U.S. capitalist-imperialist interests.

Further, official greenhouse emissions of the U.S. and other developed capitalist countries cover over the real amount of emissions these countries are responsible for. The big powers have shifted production to countries like China and other poorer countries because they can more profitably exploit labor, produce without worry about environmental regulations, etc. It has been estimated that as much as 50 percent of China's emissions, for example, stem from production of goods for the "developed" countries. So in effect, all the big powers are "off-loading" emissions to the poorer or "developing" countries. According to the Guardian newspaper, if emissions from such production in other countries are taken into account, U.S. emissions in 2011 would have been higher by 8.4 percent.

Also, none of the emissions from the U.S. military are even counted toward U.S. greenhouse emissions. The U.S. military is the largest institutional consumer of oil on the planet. Some estimates place the emissions from the U.S. military at fully five percent of the world's total emissions—the U.S. does not release such data. In international climate talks, the U.S. has insisted that these military emissions be excluded from U.S. totals! Yet the U.S. war in Iraq alone was estimated to produce more greenhouse gases than that produced by 139 other whole countries! This is on top of the other environmental devastation caused by U.S. wars and military operations. All of this continues under Obama.

Some have argued that Obama's plan will shutter hundreds of coal power plants in the U.S. And it is likely that many coal plants will shut down. This, though, is simply continuing a trend of less use of coal in the U.S. because coal is now less profitable given the enormous boom in fracking for natural gas. The U.S. under Obama has become the world's largest producer of oil and natural gas. It uses these fuels and its dominance of fracking technology as a weapon in its rivalry with other capitalist competitors, including in trying to strong-arm Russia in the war in Ukraine. On top of this, while the U.S. is moving away from using coal, export of coal has actually doubled since Obama came into office in 2008. Obama has opened huge swaths of the Powder River region in Wyoming to coal production. Coal trains are rumbling throughout the West to go to ports for shipment to Asia, and many other terminals are being planned to facilitate shipment of coal, gas, and oil. Clearly, none of these changes under Obama are consistent with "combating climate change."

The Real Record of Obama, the So-Called "Environmental President"

Here are just some of what else Obama has done regarding the environment:

*He expanded oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico—which in 2010 was the site of the most massive oil spill in U.S. history, a spill that is continuing to cause terrible devastation of Gulf ecosystems.

*Just a few years after the Gulf spill, Obama announced the opening of huge areas of the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern Seaboard for oil and gas drilling. In 2013, the Obama administration held 30 sales of leases for oil and gas drilling on 5.7 million acres of federal lands—the most such sales in a decade.

*Obama and his administration have opened up the Arctic to drilling, approving drilling leases and permits for Shell Oil. Shell is spearheading U.S. efforts to pry open this extremely rich natural region for oil exploitation and military power extension. These decisions went forward despite the high likelihood of a devastating oil spill according to Obama's own ocean bureau, and despite warnings from climate scientists that burning oil from the Arctic is incompatible with keeping climate change within safe levels. As Shell's moves to drill have met serious resistance from courageous activists, Obama's Coast Guard has worked with local police and federal judges to suppress the people who are trying to save the Arctic, while protecting those who are moving to destroy it. Obama hasn't said one world against this.

*Under Obama, as with every other U.S. president, international negotiations on climate change have been sabotaged and/or turned into meaningless charades. Since the danger of climate change was first made public in the '70s and '80s, absolutely nothing has been done by any U.S. president or other world leader to seriously stop this. Instead, greenhouse emissions have continued to rise to unprecedented levels causing a crisis that now threatens the planet's future.

What Does the Planet Need?

From "Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development," in the special Revolution issue on the environmental emergency:

This is our orientation. Revolution makes it possible to live lives worthy of human beings and to protect the environment. It is why socialist revolution, and the creation of a new socialist state in one or several countries, would have an incredible effect on the world. The establishment of even one new socialist state—especially in a significant country, in terms of geography and population—would dramatically change political alignments in the world. It would give hope and inspiration to people throughout the world. This heightens our determination to make that revolution and to call on others to join and contribute to this most vital undertaking.

What has been an accelerating climate emergency now looks to be taking dangerous leaps, possibly toward unraveling of our planet as we know it. The pace of acceleration and change is shocking: the smashing of all-time temperature records in 2015; studies that we have already entered the sixth mass extinction of species in Earth's four-billion-year history; unprecedented drought and wildfires ravaging western North America all the way to Alaska; studies indicating that the previously considered acceptable 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature rise could lead to up to 10 feet of sea-level rise this century, threatening the immediate future of many major cities; deaths of up to 80 percent of sockeye salmon this summer in the Columbia River because drought has made the waters too warm to live in; indications that life in the oceans around the world is being drastically shaken up and undermined, and could be headed for a possible unravelling of ocean ecosystems that could last millennia. Note well: These are just a few of the recent revelations.

What the planet needs, right now, are: immediate emergency efforts to drastically cut greenhouse emissions, a stop to the destruction of rain forests, big efforts to plant and regrow forests worldwide to take up carbon dioxide, beginning of urgent efforts to transform climate-destructive agricultural practices and radical transformations in the energy foundation of the planet, bringing forward green, non-carbon-polluting forms of energy, urgent transition away from use of fossil fuels and leaving new sources of fossil fuels in the ground.

This is what's required by the actual climate and environmental crisis. And these things are actually possible. The scientific and technical know-how exist to do them. And there is a plan for a new system with principles that could make these great needs come to life. (See "Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development.")

To move toward this, it is vital that people break away from tying our fight to trying to make those who rule this life-eating system listen to reason. We need the kind of struggle where people follow through on their convictions, and don't stop no matter what is thrown at them, until this destruction is stopped. This type of struggle, building up to involving millions, has the best possibility to force this system to back up on its sickening destruction. It can change the thinking of millions, and truly impact the direction of things, unlike all the attempts to pressure Obama or others like him to "do the right thing." And connected to building the movement for revolution, it can lay help the groundwork for a revolution and a new socialist system—the only thing that can fundamentally save our planet.

U.S.—the Largest Destroyer of the Planet

Obama's plan is not even on the same page as to what is urgently needed. It is intended to try to stuff an extreme crisis into the "manageable" tool box of the capitalist-imperialist interests of the U.S. This plan is crafted as part of an effort on the part of Obama and powerful sections of the ruling class, including sections of the U.S. imperialist military, to try to "manage" and "mitigate" the climate crisis to deal with what they increasingly see as a threat to U.S. strategic power and domination of the planet. Obama cites his plan as more evidence of the U.S. "leading on climate change," as the U.S. and other powers maneuver for best position in their rivalry leading up to the Paris climate talks in December of this year.

The reality is that the U.S. has long been "leading" on climate change—as the largest destroyer of the planet and the largest producer of greenhouse gases historically.

Sometimes people in the environmental movement have a hard time making sense of Obama's moves—finding it contradictory and inexplicable that he would seem to cut emissions substantially or protect certain wilderness areas, and then open the Arctic to drilling. But all of these moves, including his relatively puny cuts in power plant emissions, are part of a coherent strategy of advancing U.S. imperialist interests as his section of the ruling class sees fit. They may base their approach on accepting the reality of climate change, unlike the stone-age right wingers who idiotically deny this screaming reality. But this is still consistent with and proceeding from the interests of the system that is responsible for this crisis and cannot solve it. His plan is founded on continuing to try to dominate world fossil fuel supplies, use these sources as a weapon of competition and rivalry, and maintain strategic U.S. power. Trying to control this crisis, while appearing to the world to be seriously combating it, is also central to U.S. power positioning. They aim to get world public opinion on the side of the U.S., and try to maintain this system's legitimacy, even as this very system is the chief cause of the world being dragged into an enormous maelstrom.

Let's stand up and put a stop to this madness and horror, before it's too late.


* The U.S. has picked 2005 as the year to measure its emissions cuts against only because it is one of the years with the highest levels of emissions in U.S. history. So cuts the U.S. makes now compared to that year will be relatively small. To give an example, compared to 2005, U.S. emissions as of 2013 had dropped nine percent—but if 1990 is used (the base year most countries use), U.S. emissions as of 2013 had actually increased five percent! [back]


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