On a very cold day in February more than 40,000 people came together in Washington DC from across the United States and Canada for the largest climate rally in US history — Forward on Climate. They urged the Obama administration to take climate science and our energy crisis seriously. They called attention to devastating storms, freshwater shortages, community and ecosystem destruction, species decline and the need for honest acknowledgment of the environmental injustices of our fossil economy. Forward on Climate was clearly an informed and dedicated social movement demanding environmental action … while US president Barack Obama golfed with oil tycoons.
Last week, Obama outlined his plan for taking “bold action” on climate change in a speech at George Washington University. That plan is anything but bold. Obama claimed he would not okay Keystone XL if it would significantly affect the climate — very clever words. Ignoring the climate impacts of harvesting tar sands, he talked only about the pipeline — as a recent State Department Report claims pipeline construction will not have significant climate impacts. I think we can expect Keystone, a nod to Trans-Canada, and a green light for eminent domain (so much for property rights).
Also notable is Obama’s embrace of fracking. He touts natural gas as a clean burning bridge fuel without mentioning methane emissions (methane is 20 times the greenhouse gas of CO2). This is a nod to the natural gas industry — corporatism at its finest.
This is not bold action, it’s an embrace of the environmental history of industrialized nation-states.
Industrialized states have traditionally viewed natural resources as commodities to extract and sell. As these nations gained power in the world they continually waged campaigns to get more land and resources. Early US history (e.g. the Trail of Tears and the War of 1812) reflect conquest of land from indigenous people or weaker nation-states for more large tracts of land and new resources.
For all the “war on coal” talk, coal plants are still being built and the Department of the Interior is still approving mountaintop removal mining. What we are seeing is Obama trying to build his legacy as the great leader who turned us to the “bridge fuel” — a hand-out to the oil and gas industry. “Public” (read state) lands are auctioned off to industry as the administration ignores research suggesting that fracking poses a public and environmental health risk — example: Pavilion, Wyoming (goodbye, Lisa Jackson).
So what is the answer? It’s not government, it is all of us.
The environmental movement throughout the 20th and on into the 21st century has reached great heights and is discussed regularly in social, economic and political arenas. And it should be. Climate Change is just one of many environmental issues affecting global society and the politics that we address — from immigration to health care to justice and everything in between.
The environmental movement is deeply political. Climate change, environmental justice, sustainability and other issues dominate the movement. This growing social conscience has influenced western governments to work, though as government has reacted slowly, people’s movements have accomplished great victories. This social environmental movement has spanned centuries. That says a lot about how most people regard the natural world. In increasing urban development, perhaps we long to be close to wild places because throughout our human history the natural world has always been home. The human-nature linkage may explain the social forces that have for centuries moved towards preserving and restoring the environment. The nation-state is new, but our connections to the land run deep.
Ignore Obama, instead join the social power revolution — it’s the green thing to do.