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Friday, October 24 2014 @ 11:14 PM CDT

An "All of the Above" Solution to the Climate Crisis

Climate Change

Last night during his State of the Union address President Obama urged Congress to adopt an “all of the above” approach to climate change. Wind energy, solar power and other “bipartisan market based solutions” were offered up as the way forward alongside a pledge to rapidly increase domestic oil and gas production. Shortly before acknowledging the seriousness of the climate crisis with a fairly in depth recitation of recent trends in natural disasters, President Obama declared, “We produce more oil at home than we have in fifteen years...we produce more natural gas than ever before.”

An "All of the Above" Solution to the Climate Crisis

Last night during his State of the Union address President Obama urged Congress to adopt an “all of the above” approach to climate change. Wind energy, solar power and other “bipartisan market based solutions” were offered up as the way forward alongside a pledge to rapidly increase domestic oil and gas production. Shortly before acknowledging the seriousness of the climate crisis with a fairly in depth recitation of recent trends in natural disasters, President Obama declared, “We produce more oil at home than we have in fifteen years...we produce more natural gas than ever before.”

Like much of the speech, the portion focusing on the climate crisis and the solutions to the crisis contained the sort of Washington D.C. political establishment pragmatism dictated by deep rifts within the Houses of Congress. Within the national political establishment there are, tragically, heated disputes over the extent to which climate change is influenced by human activity, and outright climate change deniers occupying the extreme right wing of the spectrum are, as we know,  not without a significant level of political capital and influence.

So, when we hear President Obama speaking about the seriousness of the climate crisis while in the same breath touting increases in domestic oil and gas production it must be assumed that he and his administration are engaging in a kind of realpolitik.  It is true that within the context of the kabuki theater which passes for political leadership climate change deniers and those who are beholden to the oil and gas industry certainly do have the ability to derail the entire process and block much needed reforms. These pseudo-realities manufactured by the ruthlessly ambitious who dwell within the halls of power notwithstanding, as usual, the concerns of people, animals and ecosystems are eclipsed, disregarded and ignored. There's a reason why individuals impacted by the meteoric rise in popularity of hydraulic gas fracturing were excluded from the traditional “let's tug at their heart strings” denouement of the State of the Union address: focusing on the plight of people suffering collateral damage from those “market based solutions” would definitely undermine the President's assertion that the State of the Union is strong.

The “all of the above plan” and “market solutions” offered by the President which include cutting red tape to speed up oil and gas drilling permits are not only a nod to bipartisanship, they indicate a steadfast commitment to the fundamentally capitalist principles this country was built on. These capitalist principles are the bedrock foundation of the middle class which President Obama referred to as “the true engine of America's economic growth.” Ironically, the climate crisis we are now facing coincided with the rise of the middle class after the Industrial Revolution.

This morbid commitment to preserving and continuing the consumer driven and resource extraction dependent middle class way of life needs to be questioned and challenged; however, due to the massive persecution campaigns unleashed by the U.S. government against Communists, Anarchists and Socialists during the 19th and 20th centuries, we are lacking effective alternatives to the capitalist world view. Despite this, we must come to realize that if we want a living planet capable of supporting a relatively high quality of life we must seek out and resurrect those alternatives. We must do it quickly before it is too late, before countries like India and China with populations exceeding one billion fully commit themselves to achieving a carbon copy of destructive, Western middle class lifestyles.

When we examine what it would actually mean to speed up the burning of oil and gas, we see that given our current predicament the consequences of this kind of policywould be catastrophic. Feedback loops fueled by the continued burning of oil and gas are in fact already contributing to runaway climate change. The permafrost underneath the Arctic is melting, releasing CO2 laden methane into the atmosphere in ever increasing quantities. The Arctic ice covering the ancient permafrost is not just melting, it is withering due to the catastrophic increase in heat trapping gasses released during the past 250 years since the rise of the age of industry. Scientists, and even organizations like BP and the World Bank are predicting that, if we continue burning fossil fuels at current and predicted accelerated rates, we will experience an at least 4 degree C increase in global temperatures by 2030. With mass extinctions, food shortages, droughts and super storms already materializing after “just” 0.8 degrees C of warming, we can expect that by 2030 the situation will be quite nightmarish if the status quo is allowed to persevere. Traditional, land based communities, and those with limited access to resources are at the moment bearing the brunt of the crisis and will continue to do so until even the most privileged feel the effects. Mitigating the effects of climate change and preventing further damage is one of the most important human rights issues of our time.

In 2030 those who are now babies and toddlers will be old enough to ask some tough questions. What will their response be when we tell them that we did not properly address the climate crisis because of the demands of capitalist markets? Can you imagine the looks of disgust on their faces when we explain that small minded, backwards, science deniers were allowed to hinder progress toward a more sustainable way of life? As they begin to comprehend their reality and realize that it is a tragic and chaotic one that could have and should have been avoided, how will they cope knowing that an “all of the above” solution which included accelerating the burning of fossil fuels was the best we could hope for?

At this moment we have a multiplicity of environmental organizations at the forefront of the fight against climate change; these mainstream organizations are all operating from basically the same premise of wanting to protect and preserve the environment while at the same time preserving middle class consumer lifestyles. Because of the homogenized political scene where capitalism reigns supreme, those of us who are not capitalists, not middle class and not interested in consumer based solutions have been silenced and sidelined for far too long. Letter writing campaigns, petitions, marches, rallies and appeals to the political system are not bad in and of themselves, but the fact that the spectrum of acceptable action has become so narrow and impotent is a testament to the fact that people who care about the environment need our own “all of the above” approach.

If we accept the reality of the current situation and if we truly care about preserving life on this planet we will come to terms with the fact that we need the Black Bloc just as much as we need the Quakers; we need the letter writers and petitioners just as much as those who are willing and able to chain themselves to pipeline construction equipment; those who are in favor of armed struggle are just as necessary as those who consider themselves to be pacifists. We need the grassroots with its ability to rapidly adapt to changing conditions, and we need the mainstream with its access to much needed resources and political capital. We are entering a phase where some of us, those with less privilege than others, will be literally fighting for our lives. The disenfranchised and dispossessed in the industrial north, in the belly of the beast, will have to fight for and with those in the global south because we are the ones who have the most to lose if business as usual continues. Those with privilege will have to decide where they stand, and figure out how to use their privilege as an effective weapon in the revolution which must happen to save life on this planet from the ravages of unfettered, industrial capitalism and its associated maladies. Together, with everyone doing what they can and what they must without judging or hindering the work of others, we might be able to build the sort of world we can be proud to live in.

Centrists and radicals will not always agree on what course of action to take, but we should be able to arrive at a place where we all respect each others work enough to not call the cops on someone for destroying corporate property; we should also be able to refrain from publicly eviscerating someone for not holding to our same exact principles.

Differing world views, political affiliations and upbringings will make it impossible for everyone who cares about the environment to unite under the same banner; but who is really expecting that? Different tools do different things, but as long as we are all working towards building a more free, sustainable and just society, we should be able to put aside our differences for the greater good. The truth, like it or not, is that if we do not work together we will perish together. 2030 is not that far off and the 4 degree C warming mentioned earlier, while catastrophic, is actually one of the best case scenarios.

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