We need a real plan for the planet

July 4, 2013

System Change Not Climate Change, the Ecosocialist Coalition released the following statement in response to Barack Obama's recent speech on climate change.

FIVE YEARS after candidate Barack Obama made his first promises to "slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet," it has taken an alarming increase in extreme weather events and continued pressure from an unrelenting environmental movement to force President Obama to finally address the environmental crisis.

Obama's June 25th speech--outlining his plans to curb carbon pollution, prepare the U.S. for the effects of climate change, and lead international efforts to reign in greenhouse gases--would not have happened without months of organized pressure from tens of thousands of environmentalists.

Across North America, student fossil fuel divestment groups, First Nations, farmers and rural communities, labor unions, progressives and radicals have risen up in response to the growing climate catastrophe facing our communities and humanity at large. Our protests have exposed Obama's weak, pro-corporate climate policies and forced him to respond with a plan that pleases his base.

Yet we cannot in good conscience celebrate President Obama's speech Tuesday. Given the scale of the crisis, the catastrophic impacts of warming that are already upon us, and the fact that climate destabilization will only accelerate, the president's promises are too little, too late.

Marching for the environment in Washington, D.C.
Marching for the environment in Washington, D.C.

While some of Obama's proposals mark a welcome change from the utter inaction that has characterized the previous four years of his administration, they do not go nearly far enough. In other cases--such as his full-throated support for natural gas, including fracked gas--Obama remains firmly on the wrong side of history.

Top scientists have urged that global carbon emissions must decrease 80 percent by 2050 to prevent irreversible damage to the biosphere. In other words, our future must be fossil fuel-free--and soon. Seen in this light, real action on climate change demands more than just regulating coal plants--it means shutting them down. Likewise for oil and natural gas.

Obama claims to be leading us in that direction--yet he simultaneously applauds the expansion of domestic oil and gas production. Both cannot be true.

Furthermore, in a speech meant to highlight executive action that he can take immediately to address climate change, Obama's ambiguous remarks regarding the Keystone XL pipeline are a worrisome sign. This pipeline, and the tar sands industry behind it, represent a "carbon bomb" that must be rejected--and the president knows it.

The State Department's environmental review of Keystone has been exposed as a sham conducted by oil industry consultants. Given the overwhelming evidence against it from an ecological standpoint, the fact that Obama did not take this opportunity to unequivocally reject KXL can only mean that he is prepared to approve it.

On balance, Obama's plan preserves too much of our unsustainable transportation and energy infrastructures, puts off changes until years in the future, and leaves all the important details up to a market system built around fossil fuels.

WHAT COULD a real plan look like? Studies in reputable journals like Scientific American and Energy Policy have shown that we could transition to 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2030. The president should use EPA regulations to halt the expansion of all fossil fuel infrastructures, especially "extreme energy" sources such as offshore drilling, mountaintop removal, fracking and tar sands.

Instead of an "all of the above" energy policy, we should direct massive and exclusive funding toward renewable energy sources like wind and solar, with community input and control over local energy production.

The planet cannot afford to wait for the capitalist market to catch up with science--therefore the government must act, with or without private investors. We need a rapid transition to a sustainable infrastructure which could be funded by increased taxes on the rich and cuts in our obscene levels of military spending.

Such an initiative would immediately improve Americans' lives by directly creating millions of jobs and improving the cities and communities in which we live with expanded public transportation, more green space, and less air pollution from cars and dirty energy sources.

If we hope to see this type of climate plan--based on human need and sustainability rather than corporate profits--we must fight to make it happen. The movement has pushed Obama to act--and we must push further to force the changes that are truly necessary.

In doing so, we need to ally ourselves with workers struggling for a healthy and safe environment, such as the firm stand of the National Nurses United against Keystone XL, as well as women and racially oppressed people, who have long been at the forefront of the fight for environmental justice. Our struggle for a fossil fuel-free world is just beginning--we must not allow the president's half-measures to divert our course.

Another world is possible!

This statement first appeared at the website of System Change, Not Climate Change, the Ecosocialist Coalition.

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