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Author Topic: Climate Destabilization: Tragedy of the Markets or Imperial Defence ?  (Read 1364 times)

Lewis C

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The economist Lord Stern has described the absence of effective action as “the greatest market failure in history” – in effect “a Tragedy of the Markets,” where self-restraint is in no corporation’s interest, but this overlooks the many anomalous acts by both US government and corporations. What is needed is an exploration of the evidence of US policy under Cheney and of it being adopted by Obama, and of just why it still prevails in the preparations for the Paris CoP.

I've tracked several dozen acts of commission and omission by Obama over the last six years, and some of them are simply antithetical to a wish to resolve AGW. On the contrary, they have quite brazenly obstructed the essential global agreement of emissions control to mitigate AGW. At the same time activists' approval has been upheld by a media controversy over his (very limited) renewables support, which few recognize as being largely irrelevant without that global agreement, since decarbonization in the US means that any fossil fuels nationally displaced are simply bought, shipped and burnt elsewhere.

A brief review of Obama's track starts with his focus on the climate issue in the Dec 2008 election, his flagging up of “Healthcare and Climate” as The key issues in his victory speech, and his adamant address to the "Governors' Climate Summit" a few days later, promising strong WH action and every help to states' actions.

Yet by March 2009, there was a reversal. Besides reneging on the US Kyoto commitments (which by a 'best efforts' approach could have earned the US strong kudos globally and encouraged positive responses) he also echoed Cheney in reneging on the US signature of the UNFCCC mandate - by rejecting the legal 1990 baseline and adopting Cheney’s illegitimate 2005 baseline. While these points went over most Americans' heads, they intentionally signalled to all foreign govts that Cheney's policy of a 'Brinkmanship of Inaction' with China would be maintained.

In the same month he had reps of the top 20 green NGOs invited to the WH where they were instructed to stop talking of Global Warming and instead campaign of 'Clean Energy'. McKibben to his credit was one of only two or three who dissented. The closing down of the climate issue had begun. From being one of the two key priorities it was pushed out of sight by “Economy, Health and Immigration” as the 1st term focus, with Obama's use of the word 'climate' falling at times to only one passing mention in two months.

In December 2009 he was manoeuvred to the Copenhagen CoP, after his spokesman had declared with calculated rudeness that "he might attend if he could be sure that all other parties were acting in good faith." There he proceeded to deliver a massive calculated snub to the Chinese premier with maximum publicity, knowing this would mean the premier would have to withdraw due to his own right wing at home. He then demanded a take-it-or-leave-it deal from the substitute that meant each American would have three times the emissions rights of each Chinese in 2050, which predictably crashed the conference. With prepared press briefings steering the media long before Airforce 1 reached the US this again went unseen by most Americans.

During 2010 he played a personal role in the administration's quite blatant sabotage of the Senate climate bill, as was forensically detailed by Ryan Liza in the New Yorker article This closed down any prospect of the swiftest, most economically efficient mode of US decarbonization known as Allocate, Cap & Trade until at least 2017. It also obstructed any discussion at the UNFCCC of this approach as the necessary underpinning of a global carbon price.

At the Cancun CoP in Dec 2010 the rubble of Copenhagen was shaped into a system of "voluntary national pledges" on emissions cuts by 2020, with the EU pledging 20% off the legal 1990 baseline and the US pledging 17% off Cheney's 2005 baseline - which is 0.7% off 1990. By this point it was clear that the WH was running a dual messaging system - one to Americans and one to everyone else and their govts, and that the corporate media were complicit.

A singularly callous message was next sent to us foreigners when Obama outdid Cheney's gratuitous raising to 30% the part of the corn crop banned from export for the null excuse of ethanol-output - by raising that to 40%. This came on top of historically low world grain reserves and the resulting spike in world food prices as all grain prices were drawn higher caused massive hunger, and doubtless many deaths, as were reflected in food riots and unrest in many countries, notably including Syria. In an unprecedented response not one but two Democrat ex-presidents broke with protocol (presumably having been rebuffed privately) by publicly demanding that the policy "must" be cancelled. They were entirely ignored, and given minimal media coverage, until, for the sake of Obama's image, a hopelessly deficient post-dated constraint of financial speculation on grain prices was announced. The message to foreign govts was crystal clear: the US was willing and able to use food supplies as a lever of geopolitics as it gets strengthened by climate impacts on global food production.

Apart from minor actions, such as repeated put-downs of the climate issue - for instance, telling an post-middle-age audience that "We know young people get passionate about issues like climate change . . . .", Obama's next coup was the strategy in the re-election campaign. Despite polls showing strong Democrat and Independent voters' support for action on climate, and around half of GOP voters too (as Joe Romm publicized at the time) the massive classic wedge issue of the climate was totally excluded from the campaign. The fact that it was a rather tight race is the measure of how important it was to Obama to avoid raising the profile of the climate issue. Had it been used as it should have been, the Democrat party would have shredded with ridicule and sober scientists the Republican denialism that provides the political cover for Obama's inaction, and he'd have been committed to doing much more in his 2nd term.

Not long after another victory speech with its rousing section on climate, a new set of priorities was announced for the 2nd term: “Economy, Immigration & Gun Control”, with climate being again excluded. However the WH 'Office of Budget Management' finally ran into trouble after five years of gagging the EPA from meeting its legal duty to regulate carbon dioxide when a small NGO (kudos!) filed suit against it. A hasty announcement of EPA action was made and the consultation volume on regulating coal firing was eventually released. It is framed in a manner which may well be stopped in the courts and which wouldn't even start until 2020, assuming the next president doesn't gut it. Like the CAFE standards changes in the 1st term, it doesn't achieve anything much at all before the second half of the 2020s. The lack of urgency is palpable.

The 2nd term has been quite active on the foreign policy front, as exemplified by the US climate negotiator Stern declaring that "A climate treaty is unnecessary and undoable!" In this he made clear to foreign govts once again that the US will not sign any treaty, though the message to Americans was that "the foreigners won't sign a climate treaty but it doesn't matter because we don't need one." The upshot is that Paris will list only voluntary "intentions" to make cuts, not (unless the EU and others achieve a surprise) any sort of binding commitments to make cuts.

It is worth noting here that any US president is at liberty to sign a treaty that the senate would have to ratify, such as one including automatic global tariff penalties for nations signing but failing to ratify and for compliance failures.

As a means to suppress the ambition of other govts' proposed intentions for the Paris CoP, Obama used his trip to China as a high profile platform for backsliding. China had begun deploying the efficient Allocate, Cap & Trade option for decarbonization in a number of its regions and was well on the way to peaking its emissions around 2030, and was willing to declare this as the basis of its Paris 'intention'. In response Obama chose to use the occasion to renege on the second part of his own Cancun 'pledge' by cutting the US 'intention' for 2025 from 30% off 2005 (16.25% off 1990) to ~26% off 2005 (~12.0% off 1990). With a world class effort to steer the corporate media, this has of course gone clean over most Americans heads. But this backsliding has not gone over the heads of foreign govts, who see the US once again discouraging the ambition of their declared cuts 'intentions' for the Paris summit.

Even skimming some of the main points of Obama's track - while excluding his radical support for increased fossil fuel extraction - has already made this a long post, but there is one other item worth considering. Since about 1988 it has been very clear to scientists, such as the renowned Dr John Holdren who keeps Obama fully informed of the climate predicament, that we are going to have to engage in massive 'carbon recovery' to cleanse the atmosphere and reduce the warming. America was very well endowed geographically in 2009 for Obama to launch an exemplary national program of afforestation, preferably of native coppice afforestation for biochar production with its huge employment opportunities, with the product being sold to farms as a valuable soil moisture regulator and fertility enhancer.

But since 2009, with not a sign of WH interest in forestry, the US has lost over 70,000 sq mls of forest killed by pest infestation due to milder winters and unabated ozone pollution. Those dead forests, holding over a billion tonnes of carbon, are now awaiting wildfire or rot, with the latter converting a rather high fraction of the carbon into methane, which is around 86 times as potent a GHG as CO2 over the crucial 20yr period. - In addition, had Obama acted on carbon recovery in 2009 when he had a legislative majority, many thousands of the farms now afflicted by extreme drought could have had their land made at least more resistant to drought and to its suppression of their crop yields and financial viability.

To get Obama's conduct in perspective and to make sense of his motivation for obstructing action on climate, we need to look at what motivated Cheney whose climate policy he adopted. In particular what motivated Cheney when he founded the 'Brinkmanship of Inaction' with China by reneging in Kyoto and putting a crass malicious buffoon to represent the US at the UN. Most of Cheney's decisions could of course be said to serve the oil industry that he was part of, but not all. For instance, raising the corn crop withheld from export for Ethanol from ~12% (IIRC) to 30% was directly against the fossil lobby preference - and that wasn’t done for the green vote.

More to the point, as a classic cold-war warrior serving American dominance right back to Nixon's day there is one huge gap in the policies he promoted from behind GW Bush - he failed to provide any policy to break China's predictable rise to global economic dominance over America - apart from facilitating AGW's mounting threat to China of crop failures and civil unrest leading towards regime change. Given that maintaining America's global economic dominance has been the paramount bipartisan policy priority since WW2, this failure is a very robust item of evidence for his trapping China into a 'Brinkmanship of Inaction' as the core a covert long-term bipartisan policy of letting AGW rip as the chosen means of breaking China's rise.

Obama’s conduct at the Governors' Climate Summit after he was elected in 2008 indicates that he was probably unaware of the covert climate policy and would have had to be persuaded it was the appropriate course regardless of how committed a small informed core of the US establishment was to it. There were two items that he would definitely have required, just as they would earlier have been required by that inner circle of the US corporate elite before they agreed to Cheney's proposal of the policy – of which the first was an acceptable assessment of the damages within America.

The baseline for assessing US damages would have been a comparison with those predictable from the default strategy of breaking China’s rise by warfare, against which the impacts of unprecedented storms, floods and droughts look rather insignificant. This would have been affirmed by the widespread  assumption that developing nations, such as China, would be hit by extreme climate impacts far harder and sooner than would developed nations, such as the US, and that wealthy nations, such as the US, would be far better able to meet rebuilding and recovery costs. (In practice both of these assumptions are proving erroneous).

The impact on US food supplies could also be presented as negligible give its relatively massive food production per capita, meaning that while there might be some price rises affecting the poor there would be no serious shortages for home demand, but rather some level of cuts to food exports helping to raise global food prices. This offered a strong contrast with China’s relatively small food production per capita, which alongside its widespread incompetent damage to its farmland, has been increasing its dependence on food imports. In the event of a serious global crop failure those crucial imports will not be available.

The second predictable requirement in the policy’s evaluation would have been of an exit strategy. In this we may actually get to the policy's originator, for it was supplied in '95 in the form of a scientific paper on the potential of stratospheric sulphate aerosols to control global warming "should the USA someday consider that desirable." It was written by Cheney's longtime friend and close collaborator as far back as the star wars program under Reagan (for which he was originator and chief scientist) namely Edward Teller.

The fact that he had not taken any public position on AGW before publishing the sulphate aerosols paper, alongside the fact that he was renowned across the US right wing not only as an obsessive anti-communist, the father of the H-bomb and pre-eminent nuclear scientist, but also as the strategist that had 'won' the cold war, gives quite some credence to his being the policy's originator. As a means to bring down the sole remaining major communist power without needing to entice them into another arms race (which they were and are unwilling to enter) the policy has a certain genocidally callous elegance that is characteristic of Teller’s projects over the decades.

The one aspect of the present position of the climate issue not yet addressed here is the one some readers (if any get this far) may have had most to do with, and that is the role of denialism. The rapid ramping up of astro-turf denialism in 2009 was matched by really embarrassing flips by GOP legislators, some of whom had previously not only acknowledged AGW but had vocally supported action on it. Without the mounting astro-turf denialism their flips would have been untenable, and without their flips and the GOP taking denial as a badge of respectability, there would have been no political cover for Obama's inaction and obstruction over the last six years. That cover was essential for him to maintain the tribal loyalties for and against climate action and to maintain the good-cop/bad-cop climate circus of Dem & GOP presidents. That circus is also useful internationally where Obama can presented as being hogtied on the climate issue by the GOP, though it is unlikely that many govts are any longer deceived.

Perhaps the core issue of the deceit focussed against climate activists has been the persistent coat-trailing by the fossil lobby inviting the assumption that it is the originator and funder of the denialism across the web and the media. The disproof of that assumption is three-fold.

- First, the fossil lobby generates only about 8% of US GDP, with the majority of the rest, say 72%, coming from other corporations. If it was the fossil lobby driving the astro turf and GOP denialism against the majority's wishes, that majority would have around nine times the financial and political clout to put a stop to it, particularly as most have zero inherent loyalty to fossil fuels and all have the incentive of their profits being in the firing line of mounting climate disruption and damage. Alongside silencing the US fossil lobby, if they didn't approve the policy of inaction they'd predictably have torn down the WH gates by now.

- Second, American corporations' conduct is entirely at odds with those of the EU, where the fossil lobby makes clear it won't fund denialism, and unlike in America there are quite a number of corporations getting very vocal in concerted efforts for climate action - not simply in fitting renewable energy kit but in demanding global action - For instance, the group founded by Prince Charles of major corporations is demanding a "net-zero by 2050" commitment from the Paris Summit. The difference being that unlike US corporations their European counterparts have no great fraction of their profits dependent on the maintenance of America's global economic dominance.

- Third, the propagandas of denialism may seem crude at web level, but they are artfully applied across a host of different audiences and media and are maintained and rapidly updated in many countries' languages as the science and politics requires. The expertise to run such a massive and subtle operation is not readily visible in the US fossil lobby. To find the best assembly of such skills on the planet I'd instead look to the psy-ops capacity of US intelligence agencies. It may be mere coincidence, but with the increasing doubts since 2006 of the viability, let alone safety, of stratospheric sulphate aerosols for Geo-E, it was the bunch at Langley who put up $600k for the US National Academy of Science to provide an authoritative report on the full range of proposed Geo-E techniques, along with a rather timid call for research to be got under way.

In assessing the general cogency of this analysis of a covert US policy of inaction a question worth considering is the message Washington has been sending other govts - if you were an analyst serving the government of China who'd been focussed on the climate issue for the last twenty years, what would be your opinion of US climate policy ?

It is possible, though rather incredible, that all of the anomalous conduct over the past two decades that is noted above and that can be explained by a covert bipartisan policy of destabilizing China’s agriculture, is just the outcome of incompetence and happenstance. But if so, then America is probably the first empire in all of recorded history to be destabilizing its main rival’s food supply by accident.