Obama’s State of the Union: fantasy, fact, fiction or all of the above?

by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

During Obama’s State of the Union address last night the presence of the star of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty might have been the most real part of a very surreal evening.

Of particular note were Obama’s comments on energy and climate change.

While the US Southeast was being hammered by a highly unusual winter storm which stranded thousands in the metro Atlanta area, (no, this does not disprove climate change you nitwits, climate scientists have warned for years that a warming globe means extreme and unpredictable weather) Obama was proclaiming a desire to address climate change so that “when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, [we can say] yes we did.”

This sounds wonderful until we consider the “all of the above” energy strategy Obama touted earlier in the speech, which gives a nod to some of the dirtiest, most polluting and destructive energy sources.  It includes shale oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota–the gas flares of which can be seen from space.  This shale oil is so extremely volatile that in the past year two trains carrying bakken oil have exploded.  It means more coal; it means more deep water offshore drilling of the type that caused the BP oil spill disaster.  It means more nukes, even in the shadow of the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima.  And it means more fracking.  Obama made a big show of his support for natural gas “if extracted safely,” which it is not.

Obama spent exactly one paragraph on climate change.  He declared it a fact.  That anyone even needs to do that in this day and age, decades after global warming was identified as a problem, after the Northeast US was smashed by not one but two hurricanes in two consecutive years, after Super-Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, after the record droughts in Australia, Africa and the US Midwest–to name just a few climate-related catastrophes of the past 8 years–is astounding.  However, climate change is not only a fact. In my opinion it is the single greatest threat to future generations of humans and most other species.  Yet it merited only a passing mention.  One paragraph out of a 13 page speech.

One sentence of that paragraph was spent celebrating the fact that since 2004 “the US has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on earth.”  He implies, of course, that this is due to US policy.

Having watched the US obstruct any positive forward action at the UN climate conferences from 2004-2011, however, I found this absurd.

If we look at the year by year numbers, in fact, we see a very different explanation for this carbon emission reduction.

An examination of the US total carbon emissions since 1990 shows a steady upward trend until it peaked in 2004 and 2005.  It then stayed steady until 2008, when it started to rapidly decline through 2012 where it reached its lowest point since 1993. (source: the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency)

2008 was the year of the economic crisis, and it was this crisis that drove down our carbon emissions, not actions by the Obama administration.  We saw the same trend in the mid-1970s during the oil crisis, and during other economic crises of the past.

At the same time, the per capita carbon emissions of the US remain some of the highest in the world, and we continue to be the second largest global emitter of carbon after China.

The fact is, economic growth–endless expansion of an economic system based on the transformation of natural resources (forests, grasslands, rivers, fossil fuels) into private profits–drives the destruction of the natural world and accelerates climate change.

And it was this same climate destabilizing economic growth that was the major focus of Obama’s SOTU speech.

But there was one more surreal and ironic moment that stood out. Obama defended the protesters in the Ukraine, stating that “we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future.”  Here in the US, on the other hand, such actions would leave you subject to illegal NSA surveillance and political persecution–especially if they are targeted toward ending dirty energy extraction or exposing corporate false solutions to climate change.

Sorry children’s children.  The economy comes first.


Filed under Climate Change, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Green Economy, Greenwashing, Oil, Political Repression, Pollution, Posts from Anne Petermann