Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Maybe Obama Should Take Some Time Away From Dicking Around With Boehner And Deal With The Climate Cliff


I noticed a tweet the other day that pointed that that if December 31 sees us fall off the phony "fiscal cliff," Congress can heroically "fix" everything when it reconvenes in January. If we fall off a different kind of manmade cliff, the Climate Cliff, we could be irrevocably doomed as a species. The Oil and Gas barons don't care; they figure they'll die rich and the partisan conservative base is too dumb (average IQ of a Fox viewer is 80 so they are incapable of abstract thought and unable to comprehend a Climate Cliff) to understand what they're backing or why. Eventually I realized the source of the tweet was the above video from Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and an acconpanying article in Mother Jones by Chris Mooney, author of The Republican Brain and The Republican War on Science.
"If our country goes over the fiscal cliff," Markey explained, "we will be able to climb back up. But if our planet goes over the climate cliff, we will plunge into an abyss of impacts that we cannot reverse... We don't need to go over the climate cliff to know what that plunge would look like," Markey continued, adding that "the last two years have been filled with scenes of the other side of the climate cliff that look like they were out of the disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow."

...Presidential Climate Action Project head Bill Becker noted that the tools available to a president who really wants to get something done are pretty darn vast. "He's the commander in chief and the CEO of 15 departments, 3 million civil employees, 1,300 agencies and 2,600 programs," said Becker, whose organization has made a study of presidential power with respect to climate and energy policymaking.

So what kinds of actions could Obama take? Much of the climate agenda today focuses not on cutting carbon, but on adaptation and resilience-- because we are already being pummeled in a new era of disasters. And here, there's a great deal the president can do. "There are clearly opportunities to engage with regard to adaptation, and to have Congress take action on disaster spending, to try and help communities rebound in a way that's different and more resilient in the future," explained Vicki Arroyo of the Georgetown Climate Center.

Among other actions, Arroyo called for reinvigorating the President's Climate Change Task Force, and for the White House to release federal agency reports on climate vulnerability across the breadth of the government. "A dedicated full time staff on the adaptation issue I think would be fabulous," she added.

Much attention was also dedicated, notably, to the president's recently lackluster rhetoric on climate change. Eric Pooley, author of The Climate War and a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, cited the example of how the president and White House press secretary Jay Carney recently dismissed any relationship between global warming and Hurricane Sandy. "Climate change didn't cause Sandy, but it did make the storm stronger," Pooley explained. "That is clear science linked to this specific storm, but the administration has not been-- yet-- very clear on that connection."

Pooley, Markey, and the rest of the panel agreed on the single largest thing the president can do without needing Congress's approval: direct the Environmental Protection Agency to toughly regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, the single largest source of US greenhouse gases. According to a recent analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, tough action by EPA could cut these emissions by 26 percent by the year 2020.

But for those who care about climate action, perhaps the most resonant message of the day was that the Obama administration has to be pushed along, in significant part by those who can furnish evidence and arguments behind the case for the action-- and maybe, more accurate talking points to boot. "We need to create a parade the president can jump in front of," said Becker. "But he also needs to educate, and cultivate that support. That's what leadership is."

British author and environmental activist, George Monbiot, got right to the root cause of why our political elites are incapable of dealing with the most horrifying and existential threat to mankind in history: greed and the impossibility of dealing with climate change "without a political fight against plutocracy." Yes, they are plagued with it in the U.K. too.

Humankind’s greatest crisis coincides with the rise of an ideology that makes it impossible to address. By the late 1980s, when it became clear that manmade climate change endangered the living planet and its people, the world was in the grip of an extreme political doctrine, whose tenets forbid the kind of intervention required to arrest it.

Neoliberalism, also known as market fundamentalism or laissez-faire economics, purports to liberate the market from political interference. The state, it asserts, should do little but defend the realm, protect private property and remove barriers to business. In practice it looks nothing like this. What neoliberal theorists call shrinking the state looks more like shrinking democracy: reducing the means by which citizens can restrain the power of the elite. What they call “the market” looks more like the interests of corporations and the ultra-rich. Neoliberalism appears to be little more than a justification for plutocracy.

The doctrine was first applied in Chile in 1973, as former students of the University of Chicago, schooled in Milton Friedman’s extreme prescriptions and funded by the CIA, worked alongside General Pinochet to impose a programme that would have been impossible in a democratic state. The result was an economic catastrophe, but one in which the rich-- who took over Chile’s privatised industries and unprotected natural resources-- prospered exceedingly.

The creed was taken up by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. It was forced upon the poor world by the IMF and the World Bank. By the time James Hansen presented the first detailed attempt to model future temperature rises to the US Senate in 1988, the doctrine was being implanted everywhere.

As we saw in 2007 and 2008 (when neoliberal governments were forced to abandon their principles to bail out the banks), there could scarcely be a worse set of circumstances for addressing a crisis of any kind. Until it has no choice, the self-hating state will not intervene, however acute the crisis or grave the consequences. Neoliberalism protects the interests of the elite against all comers.

...So Barack Obama pursues what he calls an “all of the above” policy: promoting wind, solar, oil and gas. Ed Davey, the British climate change secretary, launched an energy bill in the Commons last week whose purpose was to decarbonise the energy supply. In the same debate he promised that he would “maximise the potential” of oil and gas production in the North Sea and other offshore fields.

Lord Stern described climate change as “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.” The useless Earth Summit in June; the feeble measures now being debated in Doha; the energy bill and electricity demand reduction paper launched in Britain last week (better than they might have been but unmatched to the scale of the problem) expose the greatest and widest ranging failure of market fundamentalism: its incapacity to address our existential crisis.

The 1000-year legacy of current carbon emissions is long enough to smash anything resembling human civilisation into splinters. Complex societies have sometimes survived the rise and fall of empires, plagues, wars and famines. They won’t survive six degrees of climate change, sustained for a millennium. In return for 150 years of explosive consumption, much of which does nothing to advance human welfare, we are atomising the natural world and the human systems that depend on it.

The climate summit (or foothill) in Doha and the sound and fury of the British government’s new measures probe the current limits of political action. Go further and you break your covenant with power, a covenant both disguised and validated by the neoliberal creed.

Neoliberalism is not the root of the problem: it is the ideology used, often retrospectively, to justify a global grab of power, public assets and natural resources by an unrestrained elite. But the problem cannot be addressed until the doctrine is challenged by effective political alternatives.

In other words, the struggle against climate change-- and all the crises which now beset both human beings and the natural world-- cannot be won without a wider political fight: a democratic mobilisation against plutocracy. I believe this should start with an effort to reform campaign finance: the means by which corporations and the very rich buy policies and politicians. Some of us will be launching a petition in the UK in the next few weeks, and I hope you will sign it.

But this is scarcely a beginning. We must start to articulate a new politics: one that sees intervention as legitimate, that contains a higher purpose than corporate emancipation disguised as market freedom, that puts the survival of people and the living world above the survival of a few favoured industries. In other words, a politics that belongs to us, not just the super-rich.

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