**DISCLAIMER** By using my powers of quotation and sarcastic wit, here is a brief look at the President’s 21-page “Climate Action Plan”. I focus on highlighting only the new initiatives, statements or directives and leaving out sections relating to community/agency preparedness for climate change and severe weather events. I do this, a) to focus my critique on what is supposedly Mr. Obama’s new and exciting position on climate change (which it isn’t) and also, b) to focus on the administration’s expression of its understanding and analysis of what is to be done to mitigate the ongoing human impacts on climate change as opposed to how it will lead federal and more local agencies/communities to deal with changing weather patterns. I see emergency planning, funding, and training as a basic function of government and is therefore not worth discussing when we’re talking about the President’s position on human impacts on climate change and how to interrupt the crisis point at which we’ve arrived. You can read the President's Climate Action Plan as a pdf here:http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/image/president27sclimateactionplan.pdf
And now, on with the show...
So the biggest excitement, it seems, comes from these 2 Presidential Memorandums -- one directing the EPA to draft updated carbon emissions standards for existing and new power plants. The other directs federal agencies to streamline the process for energy transmission projects with the goal of making updating the energy grid possible. If you ask me, those are just requests from the President that other people get their butts in gear to do work that he asked them to do 5 years ago when he was elected. If these two memos are in fact the first time he’s given these directives to these agencies which have been reporting directly to him for 5 years, it’s too little too late, IMHO.
But wait, there’s more...
Much of the plan just puts into practice things which any thinking person would have expected the richest country in the world to already have in place, such as:
- Quandrennial Energy Review: "This first-ever review will focus on infrastructure challenges, and will identify the threats, risks, and opportunities for U.S. energy and climate security, enabling the federal government to translate policy goals into a set of analytically based, clearly articulated, sequenced and integrated actions, and proposed investments over a four-year planning horizon." Well it’s dumb that never happened.
- "...develop a comprehensive, interagency methane strategy" Seriously? THIS is a new directive?!
- And goals which may actually make a dent: "the Administration is establishing a new goal: The federal government will consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020." Meeting this goal is definitely an improvement if it involves cutting energy use and also transitioning to renewables rather than just increasing overall consumption so that renewables are a larger percentage of overall consumption.
- Information sharing with the public: “...launching a Climate Data Initiative to leverage extensive federal climate-relevant data to stimulate innovation and private-sector entrepreneurship in support of national climate-change preparedness." It’s unfortunate this info-sharing is designed to help some people make money, but it’s pretty alright if those are regular people and not the 1%.
In fact, there many other components which make it clear that the Obama administration will rely on profits as the vehicle driving a transition to renewables, as opposed to the global climate emergency which is a threat to all life on the planet:
- There’s money for landlords and insurance companies: "Federal Housing Administration will convene representatives of the lending community and other key stakeholders for a mortgage roundtable in July to identify options for factoring energy efficiency into the mortgage underwriting and appraisal process upon sale or refinancing of new or existing homes."
- And money for anyone who already has a pile of money: "in order to increase access to capital markets for investments in energy efficiency, the Administration will initiate a partnership with the private sector to work towards a standardized contract to finance federal investments in energy efficiency."
- And a plan to regulate this on the international level with yet another free trade agreement: "...launch negotiations at the World Trade Organization towards global free trade in environmental goods, including clean energy technologies such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal." Also included in these priorities are “negotiations towards achieving free trade in environmental services."
As far as extraction and the consumption of energy, Obama is still our DRILL BABY DRILL president. On natural gas, the President’s plan has it ALL WRONG.
- "...when it comes to the oil and gas sector, investments to build and upgrade gas pipelines will not only put more Americans to work, but also reduce emissions and enhance economic productivity. For example, as part of the Administration’s effort to improve federal permitting for infrastructure projects, the interagency Bakken Federal Executive Group is working with industry, as well as state and tribal agencies, to advance the production of oil and gas in the Bakken while helping to reduce venting and flaring."
- "...encourage the development of a global market for gas. The Obama Administration is partnering with states and private companies to exchange lessons learned with our international partners on responsible development of natural gas resources."
I was hoping to make it through this plan without having to read the dirty “clean coal” myth, but clearly Mr. Obama is still buying that corporate line hook, line, and sinker:
- “President calls for an end to U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas, except for(a)the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists, or(b)facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies. As part of this new commitment, we will work actively to secure the agreement of other countries and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies as soon as possible.”
- "advance the development and deployment of clean coal technologies."
And excited about the increased risk of radiation exposure, anyone?!
- “The United States will continue to promote the safe and secure use of nuclear power worldwide through a variety of bilateral and multilateral engagements."
It’s wild to see how other countries are factored into this plan. Painting the US as a leader and a negotiator for preservation of the planet and interrupting climate change is inconsistent with how we run our economy, how we live our lives, and what our culture considers appropriate behavior.
- For example, take "...the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, which brings together governments, the private sector, and civil society to reduce tropical deforestation related to key agricultural commodities." So the US (and other imperialist countries) ravage the world and force other countries into desperate poverty and starvation. Now that it’s politically inconvenient to be seen as connected to this environmental degradation, we’re now going to essentially blame them for the practice of deforestation and goad people to stop farming because it’s hurting the earth. Riiiiiight...
The Obama administration is definitely playing a game of do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do on the international level, working to negotiate agreements that involve emerging nations regulate and cut consumption across the board while only making commitments which apply to the federal government’s consumption in the United States. These commitments, while they are the most powerful proclamations and directives in the Plan, are the ones with the least clarity on how they’ll be implemented or whether they are even within the power of the President to deliver.
- "President Obama is calling for the elimination of U.S. fossil fuel tax subsidies in his Fiscal Year(FY) 2014 budget." Is is possible that this will happen, considering he and most of the decision makers at the table are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry?
- Is this gonna be another loophole for the 1% to pay their way outta accountability? Looks like it: “...the Environmental Protection Agency will use its authority through the Significant New Alternatives Policy Program to encourage private sector investment in low-emissions technology by identifying and approving climate-friendly chemicals while prohibiting certain uses of the most harmful chemical alternatives.”
- “In addition, the President has directed his Administration to purchase cleaner alternatives to HFCs whenever feasible and transition overtime to equipment that uses safer and more sustainable alternatives." ‘Wherever possible’ seems like it’s open to discretion and a loose interpretation of ‘cleaner.’
To be brief in summation, the President's plan doesn't actually do much to TAKE ACTION on the climate. It's a recommitment to planning and strategizing, to helping the rich continue to be rich by moving their money from coal to natural gas and/or renewable technologies, and to bluffing his way into a "leadership" position internationally without tackling the problems caused by the United States. While I can hope that this plan is less than satisfactory because the Administration is being politically cautious (though I don't know why it would have any reason to be), it really doesn't address what I see as the most pressing practices escalating climate change.
A plan which addresses the following few criteria would be a START towards a REAL climate action plan:
- An end to all extreme energy, specifically fracking, tar sands, mountaintop removal, and deepwater drilling.
- Closing all loopholes for polluters to pay their way out of accountability for intentionally violating human and civil rights, as well as knowingly causing massive environmental "accidents". These people deserve civil and criminal charges with personal and financial consequences.
- Public divestment of all fossil fuels, including a real end to all fossil fuel subsidies made by the US globally.
- Defense of the right to food, shelter, water, and air for all people globally, and especially living in the US. This means taking immediate action which not only open access to foreclosed-yet-vacant homes and unused public land and private lots but also demands preventative and enforcement action be taken to protect all natural spaces and block private and public interests alike from further development impacts on or pollution of natural resources.
- Banning inherently toxic processes like nuclear power and reliance on unstable and unstudied chemicals to maintain our energy grid, food system, waste management, water treatment, transportation system, reclamation/remediation processes, and building construction.
- Increased public scrutiny to the point of directly democratic, intergenerational structures which involve communities directly affected by existing and new projects which pose an environmental or health risk of any kind.