Jun 232013

onaschoutsmall by Bill Onasch

Making Them Sweat In Berlin
The handlers of both President Obama and Chancellor Merkel couldn’t resist the serendipitous opportunity to put the current leader of the Free World on display at the Brandenburg Gate like JFK and Ronald Reagan before him.

President Kennedy drew as much laughter as applause when he solemnly declared in well rehearsed kaiserlich German that he was a Berliner. As cartoonists reminded the world, when Germans hear the word Berliner their first thought is of a popular doughnut.

Reagan didn’t get many laughs when he demanded the last head of state of the Soviet Union tear down the Wall in a city still, after more than thirty years, under occupation by World War II conquering powers.

Reflecting today’s heightened security concerns, the audience for Obama’s remarks last week was kept small and thoroughly vetted. Taking no chances, an eight-foot high transparent bullet proof wall–which no one demanded tearing down–also separated the President from the rich and famous who waited three hours in the baking sun for him. On both sides of the wall the temperature was in the sweltering nineties F–historically unseasonable for the German capital. The speaker won enthusiastic  response when he removed his jacket and invited the audience to join him in such daring informality.

This impromptu demonstration of adaptation to the effects of climate change was timely. The shirt-sleeved President got his biggest cheers from the sweating crowd when he said, “Our dangerous carbon emissions have come down, but we know we have to do more. And we will do more!”

Emissions from U.S. power plants have fallen in four of the last five years largely because of a dramatic switch from coal to marginally cleaner natural gas. This has nothing to do however with a goal of reducing discharges of greenhouse gases. It has everything to do with the episodic plunge in the price of gas resulting from the massive introduction of the environmentally destructive practice dubbed fracking. If, as likely, gas prices ultimately rise, King Coal may again be restored to the throne of fossil monarch. In any case, the gas switch in the USA wasn’t enough to keep global emissions from rising–or to challenge America’s firm lead in per capita emissions.

As the President was promising more in Berlin, a top Administration aide was explaining to a liberal gathering back home the status of that same pre-election promise made to American environmentalists. Associated Press reported,

“Obama’s senior energy and climate adviser, Heather Zichal, said the plan would boost energy efficiency of appliances and buildings, plus expand renewable energy. She also said the Environmental Protection Agency was preparing to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate heat-trapping pollution from coal-fired power plants….Zichal, speaking at a forum hosted by The New Republic in Washington, said that none of the proposals would require new funding or action from Congress….An orchestrated and well-publicized campaign to persuade Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, appears to be an uphill battle.”

Past efforts at appliance and building efficiency, which could play a minor indirect supporting role in reducing emissions, have had some success–but only with the inducement of tax credits and rebates that are no longer available. It requires more imagination than claimed by General Electric to envision how the decline in renewable energy projects could be reversed without enabling legislation and government funding.

Far from being the junkyard dog, the Obama EPA has been trained to act like a cowering stray in regulatory confrontations with Big Business. Comment periods on new regs are buried in corporate orchestrated paper bombs and extended indefinitely. Here’s a recent example of  this cowardly Sheppard turned sheep reported in the New York Times,

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has dropped plans to have outside experts review its theory that hydraulic fracturing may have played a role in groundwater pollution in Wyoming, and the agency no longer plans to write a final report on its research that led to the controversial finding a year and a half ago. Instead, the EPA announced Thursday that state officials will lead further investigation into pollution in the Pavillion area in central Wyoming, including ways to make sure people there have clean drinking water….The new research led by Wyoming officials would be funded at least in part by a $1.5 million grant from Encana Corp.’s U.S. oil and gas subsidiary, which owns the Pavillion gas field. The state will issue a final report in late 2014, Gov. Matt Mead’s office said in a news release.”

The dangers of fracking so well-documented in other regions are in Wyoming only a “theory”–like the theory of global warming. The alleged “bad science” of the EPA doesn’t even rate peer review by independent scientists–only careful scrutiny and final determination  by those paid by the gas industry.

The President’s rhetoric may have got rave reviews from the select audience in Berlin but most have come to suspect it’s all sizzle, no fajita. As noted in last week’s WIR, the new trend among many who recognize global warming is more than a theory is to adapt to the seemingly unavoidable catastrophes ahead.

A prime example is the seventh richest man in America, a long time generous patron of the Sierra Club, now in his final days as Mayor of the financial capital of the world. In the aftermath of SuperStorm Sandy, Michael Bloomberg commissioned a NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR). It accepted the likelihood that New York City will from here on out be facing  more flooding, rising temperatures and extreme storms as the result of still escalating global warming. The June 11 New York Times reported,

“Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg outlined a far-reaching plan on Tuesday to protect New York City from the threat of rising sea levels and powerful storm surges by building an extensive network of flood walls, levees and bulkheads along its 520 miles of coast. The mayor said the plan would initially cost about $20 billion, and eventually far more. The city would spend the money on fortifying infrastructure like the power grid, renovating buildings to withstand hurricanes and defending the shore, according to a 438-page report on the proposals.”

I lived in the Big Apple for a couple of years in the Eighties, in Alphabet City with a view of the East River. I came to appreciate the old adage that it’s a wonderful place to visit but you don’t want to live there. But while I was happy to return to my Midwest roots, I certainly wouldn’t want to see the place submerged. I also had the opportunity 25 years ago to spend three months in Amsterdam–and saw first hand the remarkable projects built by the Dutch to maintain peaceful coexistence between the Low Countries and the sea. I’m not qualified to express an opinion as to whether such methods proposed in SIRR can be a similar long-term fix for America’s biggest city.

But even if all goes well in saving Wall Street, Katz’s Deli, and Yankee Stadium, it’s fair to ask what about Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington–and all the rest of the Atlantic Seaboard? In fact a good part of the world’s population of all inhabited continents lives by the sea. At a time when existing infrastructure is crumbling in even the richest countries can we expect to protect all coastal residents throughout the world through massive projects such as those being tabled in New York? Might it not be cheaper and more effective to mobilize such resources to instead stop global warming that is leading to rising sea levels–and dangerously low levels of the fresh water Great Lakes–as well as a host of other disasters?

The next WIR will focus on ideas about what can be done and how it can be accomplished.

In Brief…
* Congratulations are in order to Dave Campbell, being honored at the annual awards dinner of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. Dave is the principal officer of United Steelworkers Local 675 (an old OCAW local) and respected for his contributions to a wide range of class and social justice struggles including US Labor Against the War and–where I got to know him–the Labor Party.
* From the AP, “President Barack Obama has championed two sweeping policy changes that could transform how people live in the United States: affordable health care for all and a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants illegally in the country. But many immigrants will have to wait more than a decade to qualify for health care benefits under the proposed immigration overhaul being debated by Congress, ensuring a huge swath of people will remain uninsured as the centerpiece of Obama’s health care law launches next year.”
* On the AFL-CIO Blog, “Some 6,000 hotel workers and community supporters rallied last Friday in front of The Cosmopolitan hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Members of Culinary Workers Union/UNITE HERE Local 226 picketed to support Cosmopolitan workers who have been trying to negotiate a contract with their employer for more than two years, since they first voted to join the union. Many Local 226 members are also in the midst of their own contract negotiations, as most contracts along the Strip expired as of June 1 and are now in extension as negotiations continue.”

Many other stories of interest appeared on our companion Labor Advocate Blog news updates posted by 9AM Central Monday-Friday.

That’s all for this week.

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