Delivered at Georgetown University to a crowd of students whose own futures hang in the balance, President Barack Obama’s highly anticipated speech on climate change certainly sounded like a clarion call to real and measurable action.
Except that is wasn’t.
For despite the fact that he does seem get the message about coal and greenhouse gas emissions, he has bought wholesale into the absurd, debunked industry manufactured hornswaggle transition argument for “clean burning natural gas”:
“The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs,” Obama said. “It’s lowering many families’ heat and power bills. And it’s the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.” (Obama Targets Coal in Energy Speech, Praises Gas | PoliticsPA)
““We are pleased that President Obama once again underscored the clear environmental and economic benefits tied to the safe development of clean-burning natural gas,” she said. (Obama Targets Coal in Energy Speech, Praises Gas | PoliticsPA)While the President’s broader energy and climate strategy will be further framed in the weeks and months to come, we remain focused as an industry on protecting and enhancing our environment through the responsible development of job-creating American natural gas,” said Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Klaber in a statement. (Obama Touts Role of Natural Gas in Addressing Climate Change | StateImpact Pennsylvania)
Nick Akins, CEO of American Electric Power, one of the nation’s largest utilities, said in an interview Tuesday that as long as utilities like his are given enough time to transition to a cleaner fleet of power plants, Obama’s plan can be carried out “without a major impact to customers or the economy. (What Obama’s climate change proposal means for consumers and energy companies | StarTribune.com
And–sending a little thrill up the backs of CEOs at Exxon, Shell, Anadarko, EXCO, Range Resources, Consol, WPX–and fossil fuel gas charlatans everywhere:
Obama repeatedly leveled praise on natural gas, casting it as a “cleaner-burning” alternative to coal that could help the U.S. transition to greener energy sources, despite some environmentalists’ skepticism. “Sometimes there are disputes about natural gas,” Obama acknowledged, “but let me say this: We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term, at least, it not only can provide safe cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.” (Fuel Fix » Obama’s climate plan spares oil and gas from big changes)
“We’ll keep working with the industry to make drilling safer and cleaner, to make sure that we’re not seeing methane emissions and to put people to work modernizing our natural gas infrastructure so that we can power more homes and businesses with cleaner energy,” Obama said. Obama is directing executive agencies to develop a comprehensive strategy for tackling methane emissions. A 21-page document outlining the president’s climate plan noted that “efforts to build and upgrade gas pipelines could “reduce emissions and enhance economic productivity.” That could include work to build more natural gas pipelines near surging oil production in the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana, where the dearth of such infrastructure has encouraged drillers to burn off the fossil fuel when it accompanies extracted crude. (Fuel Fix » Obama’s climate plan spares oil and gas from big changes)
But as was readily available for the president’s attention way back in February 2012, methane emissions are
(a) a substantially greater greenhouse gas than CO2: “Methane is 25 times more efficient than CO2 trapping heat over 100 year — but it is 100 times more efficient than CO2 trapping heat over two decades” (Bombshell Study: High Methane Emissions Measured Over Gas Field “May Offset Climate Benefits of Natural Gas” | ThinkProgress).
(b) emitted in substantially greater quantities than the natural gas industry is prepared to admit, and
(c) subject to massive and systematic cover-up by the industry.
As Joe Romm of Climate Progress reports:
The industry has tended kept most of the data secret while downplaying the leakage issue. Yet I know of no independent analysis that finds a rate below 2%, including one by the National Energy Technology Laboratory, the DOE’s premier fossil fuel lab. (Bombshell Study: High Methane Emissions Measured Over Gas Field “May Offset Climate Benefits of Natural Gas” | ThinkProgress)
Moreover, however, maligned by the attack drone-bots at Energy in Death (Depth), the journal Nature reports that Cornell professor Robert Howarth’s claims concerning methane emissions have been confirmed in at least one scientific study:
When US government scientists began sampling the air from a tower north of Denver, Colorado, they expected urban smog — but not strong whiffs of what looked like natural gas. They eventually linked the mysterious pollution to a nearby natural-gas field, and their investigation has now produced the first hard evidence that the cleanest-burning fossil fuel might not be much better than coal when it comes to climate change.
Led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, the study estimates that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin are losing about 4% of their gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system. This is more than double the official inventory, but roughly in line with estimates made in 2011 that have been challenged by industry. And because methane is some 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, releases of that magnitude could effectively offset the environmental edge that natural gas is said to enjoy over other fossil fuels. (Bombshell Study: High Methane Emissions Measured Over Gas Field “May Offset Climate Benefits of Natural Gas” | ThinkProgress)
No wonder the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune–the director of a Big Fake Environmental Org.–
(a) still smarting from revelations that it comfortably accepted 26 million from Chespeake from 2007-2010 (After Disclosure of Sierra Club’s Gifts From Gas Driller, a Roiling Debate – NYTimes.com), and
(b) whose been trying to revive its reputation as an environmental organization ever since–especially with respect to fracking (Beyond Natural Gas)
felt compelled to remain virtually silent about anything industrialized extraction in the president’s speech. What can he say? Well, there’s this–and it’s a flat contradiction:
This afternoon, I had a short meeting with President Obama that left me more convinced than ever that he’s serious about tackling the climate crisis. Sure enough, later under a sweltering sun at Georgetown University, I watched him calmly and forcefully restate the case for taking action on the climate crisis in one of the most important speeches of his presidency. He also outlined a Climate Action Plan that will help curb carbon pollution, develop clean energy sources, promote energy efficiency, and assert American global leadership on climate issues.
But then there’s this:
Second, he [president Obama] declared that he will not approve the Keystone XL pipeline if it harms the climate, because to do so would not be in the national interest….The science on Keystone’s potentially catastrophic effect on climate could not be more clear. The rejection of this carbon pollution pipeline will be a major climate disaster averted. (Coming Clean: The Blog of Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune)
In light of Brune’s conspicuous silence on fracking and tar sands extraction, we can only conclude that the Sierra Club is completely ready to endorse the Keystone Pipeline the moment President Obama–whose is himself a “full faith and credit” participant in the BIg Gas mythology of jobs, clean energy, cheap and American”–says go.
And make no mistake about it, the president will say “go.”
In fact, the Georgetown speech is nothing more or less than the political infrastructure for giving the green light to the full-scale fossil fuel industrialization of every inch of earth on the shale fields. how else can the United States once again come to dominate global energy production?
How else can a president whose foreign policy is pock-marked by the blight of drone strikes, the failure to close Gitmo, and the otherwise dull performance of his second term in office generate a legacy that situates him as a global leader? Industrialized extraction is Barack Obama’s new foreign policy initiative.
And while it might look like a simple bribe–after all, we may really get some reduction of coal-fired power plant emissions–it’s still at bottom just extortion: the methane emissions made possible by the predicted 200,000 fracked wells in Pennsylvania alone will make the flaming faucets of Dimock look like a quaint parlor trick while the rest of the state, the region–and all of the other sold-out sacrifice zones of the world– burn.
Still, the Sierra Club is in no way alone in Michael Brune’s obviously greater interest in being invited to the White House than in joining with the real activists fighting for the fundamental human right to clean water and air out here in the shale fields. How many of the Big Fake Environmental Organizations are going to sign on to President Obama’s “Climate Change Initiative”?
Plenty–here’s just a few:
The Environmental Defense Fund (The President takes the lead on climate change | Environmental Defense Fund)
The League of Conservation Voters (President Obama’s climate plan – League of Conservation Voters)
The World Resources Institute (First Take: Looking at President Obama’s Climate Action Plan | WRI Insights)
The Natural Resources Defense Council (Obama’s Climate Action Plan Will Protect Our Health and Our Communities | Frances Beinecke’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC)
The fact that the Big Fake Environmental Orgs. function as public relations cheerleaders for industrialized extraction would be comic were it not so perverse. On the one hand, we have folks like Michael Brune falling all over themselves to applaud the president, while on the other we have the same folks–Michael Brune–actually participating (if not for very long) in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience to “to provoke the president to use his full executive authority in confronting the climate crisis” (The Fossil Fuel Resistance: Meet the New Green Heroes: Michael Brune: The Insider | Rolling Stone).
The problem is that MIchael Brune–and his buddies among the Big Fake Environmental Orgs doesn’t mean it. If he did, he’d have called out the president explicitly and forcefully on fracking, mountain top removal, and tar sands extraction. He’d have flatly condemned the Keystone Pipeline. he’d have publicly and loudly joined forces by name with the multiplying anti-extereme extraction organizations in the United States and elsewhere–and he’d have called n the president to do so.
He didn’t, and he won’t. Why? Because the Sierra Club is not an environmental organization; it is one more old boy’s club whose primary interest is the preservation of its existence, its salary scale, its benefit’s packages. The Sierra Club, in other words, is just another corporation. But unlike, say, Anadarko who has the dignity to not pretend that its anything other than in it for the money, the Sierra Club pretends to be in it for us.
What Michael Brune knows is that President Obama is shaking a paper fist at one fossil fuel while offering a wink and a nod to the other–and of course, since these are all the same players, his friends in Big Energy and the Big Fake Environmental Orgs will all go out to dinner and a beer comfortable in the knowledge that their off-shore bank accounts are secure, their profits mounting, and their president firmly in their pockets.
President Obama’s speech should be read by all of us in the Anti-Extreme Extraction movement as a gauge of
1. Which of the Big Fake Environmental Organizations will sell us out first, evidence of just how corrupt is his administration,
2. How committed he is not to Americans but to a legacy of foreign policy built out of LNG tankers,
3. How fundamentally ignorant he is willing to remain about climate change. He claims that the science of climate change shows that there is an anthropogenic contribution to it, and that this is settled. Well and good. But he is simultaneously preparing to devote more dollars to deal with its effects–hotter temperatures and more catastrophic weather events–than to significantly mitigating it. We can only read that as concession to extraction-as-usual, and nothing more. New stricter carbon emission standards? Fine. But it concedes to carbon emissions when we should be aggressively pursuing the alternatives that already exist–and conservation.
What Michael Brune knows is that a call for divestment from coal is really a call for investment in unconventional natural gas extraction. This is one of those “Here’s something you can do!” pitches to college students–keeping them busy and feeling good about themselves all the while extraction industrialization continues unabated out in rural America. That President Obama is willing and ready to sacrifice rural communities and ways of life for his “progressive” voters in the cities is arguably the creation of the new underclass, an underclass not distinguished by color or sex–but by a geography named “shale.”
The president can claim until the cows come home that he’s not going to sign off keystone if it “increases greenhouse gas emissions,” but in light of the fact that he buys the patently absurd transition fuel argument, this must be read as code for “Hey Big Gas Friends, I need you to make some more ads that promote Keystone as safe. I need some cover here!”
And they will do just that: “Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck cited [industry funded] studies showing that the pipeline would not affect oil development in the Canadian tar sands, and therefore would have little environmental effect.”The standard the president set today should lead to speedy approval of the Keystone pipeline,” Buck said.”
We have been handed a pretty sparkly package of policy tasty treats–but offered no real food to satisfy our need for substantive policy change–and no real hope of mitigating climate change. The only hope we have is that the gas stays in the ground. All the regulation of coal and oil in the world will make little difference if we do not stop extracting fossil fuels in all their forms.
Moreover, Obama’s wink and nod to Big Energy is his tacit promise to look the other way when they refuse the sparkly tasty treat suite of regulations in exchange for violating the law as “the cost of doing business.” After all, didn’t we just learn from Wyoming that that cost isn’t very high? (Some residents oppose Wyo.-EPA frack study deal – Salon.com). Indeed, it’s not very high at all–and Big Bucks tasty treat are so much better–especially (as Big Energy enjoys a little S&M) when they come with a little spanky spank for being “Bad Boys.”
And the “bad boys” oblige–bitching and moaning that Obama has come down too heavy-handed on coal–but knowing all the while he probably doesn’t really mean it. Here’s John Pippy from the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance:
“It [Obama’s stricter coal-fired power plant emission standards] will have a devastating impact on the energy sector and thus businesses and residents, with very little (impact) on the total carbon emissions, because we are not the number-one source of man-made carbon emissions,” said John Pippy, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance. Pippy said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that the carbon-emission standards being proposed by the federal government aren’t achievable by current technology and there no effort being made to create that technology.
In other words, “we think these new emission standards are stinky because even though we know that carbon emissions have a devastating effect on the environment and human health we’d still rather make mountains of money. But, hey! We’re not really worried ‘cuz we know that the technology required to get to the president’s fantasy land of lower emission ain’t in existence anyways.”
And that’s apparently good enough for the Big Fake Orgs too.
Obama’s speech offers little more than a selection of bandaids for a gushing hemorrhage–and worse. If we’re convinced that we can staunch the climate change bleeding with the extreme extraction bandaids, we’ll just waste more time while our lives on the planet bleed out. Without a fundamental transformation of the very way we see our lives, our consumption, and our ecologies, there will be no future that is desirable–much less capable of offering us beauty.
This plan isn’t even going to get us to sustainable.
But even if it did, sustainable? Fuck that. I want much more for my kids and yours.
I want the world.