by Bill Onasch
Recovery For Whom?
Last Tuesday, President Obama took a break from rounding up coalition partners for an unholy war against the jihadist Islamic State to play his role as top banana at the Climate Summit portion of the annual United Nations General Assembly. He used the bully pulpit provided to preach to the mostly converted about the urgency of climate change. He bragged about reductions in carbon emissions in the USA on his watch. He recommended as an example to the rest of the world his new cap-and-trade initiatives–though they have not yet cleared all legal hurdles at home. He urged others, such as China, to take similar bold action.
But it turns out even this unnourishing thin soup bubbled from a stock with more than a pinch of deceitful exaggerations and omissions.
* The very day before the President spoke the World Bank issued a declaration in support of a global carbon price aimed at making emissions more expensive for polluters. Hundreds of corporations and governments signed on to what was clearly a PR gesture toward the Summit binding them to nothing. They included that corporate guardian of the environment Shell Oil. Among the 72 governments endorsing before the President’s appeal to them was the Peoples Republic of China. Missing from the 72 was the government of the United States of America. While the planet may be warming, putting a market price on carbon is deemed an issue too hot to handle by the President’s embattled party in the Midterm elections a little more than a month from now.
* In his speech the President declared, “The United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth.” It could be expected that the morbidly obese USA, who until being eclipsed by China about a decade ago was long the number one carbon polluter, could slim down their tonnage quicker than most. But U.S. capitalism hadn’t joined Weight Watchers. A crash belt-tightening coinciding with Obama taking office was an unintended consequence of the Great Recession–now being followed by a return to their previous gluttonous habits. A report released Friday by his own Energy Department shows the President’s boasting to be bogus. From Joby Warrick in the Washington Post,
“The Obama administration appears to be losing ground in its efforts to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, according to new government figures that show pollution levels rising again after several years of gradual decline. Data released Friday by the Energy Department show American factories and power plants putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the first six months of 2014 compared with the same period in each of the past two years. The figures confirm a reversal first seen in 2013, when the trend of steadily falling emissions abruptly halted. The higher emissions are primarily a reflection of a rebounding economy, as American businesses burned more gas and oil to meet higher demand.”
Of course, some of the higher demand is abroad. The USA has not just achieved a goal of energy independence but is now a net exporter of fuel. This was achieved through an epidemic of fracking of both natural gas and oil–a process that not only contributes to global warming but a host of other environmental problems as well.
China has been a hungry customer for metallurgical coal found in the Appalachians. Using a method accurately labeled Mountaintop Removal has greatly reduced the labor costs required in underground mining–and have left a fouled wasteland behind.
And American refineries handle the lion’s share of turning bitumen from the Alberta tar-sands in to oil.
The railroads have prospered from this energy bonanza as well. A recent McClatchy story datelined Kansas City reported.
“Missouri’s largest city has become a crossroads for trains carrying a type of crude oil that has ignited in multiple derailments, according to state documents that the railroads carrying the cargo didn’t want made public. Each week, as many as 10 trains pass through Kansas City, each carrying at least 1 million gallons of Bakken crude from North Dakota, reports released this month by the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency show. The railroads initially required states to sign agreements that they wouldn’t make the information public.”
BNSF, owned by Warren Buffet, leads all carriers in hauling this oil. As mentioned in the last WIR, BNSF had proposed a deal to the UTU/Sheetmetal Workers to allow one person crews on most trains. The union ranks rejected.
Many readers will recall that when the price of gasoline seemed headed for five dollars a gallon just before the Recession became apparent the Big Three auto makers signaled a u-turn to more fuel efficient smaller cars. Many people in a panic sold off their thirsty pickups and SUVs at a loss convinced they would save money on fuel with the new economy cars. An early move of the Obama administration–in conjunction with the truly job-killing bankruptcy imposed on General Motors and Chrysler–was the Cash for Clunkers program that subsidized sending gas-guzzlers to the junk yard when new replacement vehicles deemed fuel efficient were purchased.
Those days are long gone. Highly profitable pickups and SUVs, loaded with DVD players, GPS units and computer interfaces, again dominate suburban driveways. There was much joy in my hometown last week when Ford announced they were adding 1200 new jobs at the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, bringing total employment up to over 6,000. A new line has been added to build Transit vans in addition to the ever popular F-150 pickup truck. Ford estimates this new Transit model will get 14 mpg in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway.
Short term job creation is a poor trade off for permanent damage to our biosphere. In any case, the hiring at Ford is not typical in a recovery that has been slow to add jobs and new ones are usually low wage, or part-time, often both. Even the Ford expansion would not have happened without substantial subsidies and tax breaks provided by state and local governments–a new norm.
In fact, the recovery hasn’t much benefited anybody outside the One Percent. A New York Times article by Neil Irwin entitled The Benefits of Economic Expansions Are Increasingly Going to the Richest Americans presents some useful charts to back up the assertion in the headline. In the recovery from the 1949 recession 99 percent of the income gains went to the bottom 99 percent. In the present recovery 95 percent of income gains have gone to the top one percent.
An AP story posted today entitled School spending by affluent is widening wealth gap says.
“Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they’re widening the nation’s wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners — with incomes averaging $253,146 — went in a different direction: They doubled down on their kids’ futures. Their average education spending per child jumped 35 percent to $5,210 a year during the recession compared with the two preceding years — and they sustained that faster pace through the recovery. For the remaining 90 percent of households, such spending averaged around a flat $1,000, according to research by Emory University sociologist Sabino Kornrich.”
We are not actually faced with an agonizing choice of saving jobs or saving our environment. The ruling class is degrading both. The working class is taking a beating economically as our climate is changing in ways that if not soon stopped will make civilization as we know it unsustainable.
The UN Climate Summit failed to acknowledge global capitalism’s culpability for our dilemma much less come up with an adequate action plan alternative. The Peoples Climate March did an admirable job of forcing climate change back in to public discourse. But the march also failed to identify perpetrators or advance any concrete demands.
My friends at Socialist Action asked me to submit a brief article for a special issue of the paper distributed at the Peoples Climate March events. Others wrote some good pieces on fracking and distressed oceans. My topic was We need a plan to forestall climate disaster. It is a plan that includes full employment and a quality living standard for all. Its theme is familiar to regular readers of the WIR. If you continue to read this column you will hear a lot more about the urgent need to combine the struggles for class and climate justice.
That’s all for this week.
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