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A Presidential Speech Won't Solve Climate Change -- It's Going to Take Major Demonstrations and Activism by the Public

The biosphere of which humans are a part cannot afford half measures or rely on dubious “friends” in high places.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Before we get teary eyed with joy or scoff with derision, we should take a closer look at President Obama’s June 25 speech on climate change, and set it within the context of his five years in power. This is a position he himself argued for during his speech when he said that we need to “be more concerned with the judgment of posterity” than short–term political considerations.

So is Obama,  in the words of World Resource Institute President Andrew Steer, really “resetting the climate agenda” and can we honestly say that “it’s a wonderful thing to see that he is really reclaiming this issue"?

While many other environmentalists, including Bill McKibben of 350.org, are fervently hoping that this is true, history and facts demonstrate otherwise. Obama’s dismal domestic and international track record on environmental issues—it was, after all, he who was the lead protagonist in wrecking the international climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009—and his commitment to U.S. imperial power as a representative of American corporate interests surely point toward the need for a greater and more thoroughgoing critique than a character assessment of the man himself allows for.

Furthermore, it’s hard to take someone seriously when that person has presided over the biggest expansion of the security state in U.S. history and relentlessly pursued government whistleblowers with unprecedented ferocity, when they say simultaneously in a climate speech that they are directing the EPA to generate new standards for the regulation of existing power plants in “ an open and transparent way.”

With a more systematic, broader analytical framework, unimpeded by misty visions of an Obama rebirth as a climate champion, one immediately recognizes the inadequacy of his  Action Plan On Climate Change to keep the planet below the critical threshold of 2 degrees Celsius of average warming.

This needs to be acknowledged, even as we welcome the fact that—after a five–year hiatus, including a re–election campaign where he never even mentioned climate change—Obama has been forced to re–engage with the central issue of our time by the power of grassroots protest, even to the extent of referencing the divestment movement and the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Rather than celebrating Obama’s renewed “commitment” to environmental action, we should recognize it for what it is: After five years of doing all he can to promote fossil fuel production, it’s the first, timid, grudging response of the U.S. state to the growing environmental movement against Obama and all that he represents: the economic, political and military priorities of U.S. imperial power.

The growth of the environmental movement and its threat to U.S. imperial and corporate interests has been well catalogued, tracked and, as we now know, extensively spied upon by the U.S. security apparatus. After reporting on a raft of documentary evidence to this effect, Dr. Nafeez Ahmed  writes:

The Pentagon knows that environmental, economic and other crises could provoke widespread public anger toward government and corporations in coming years. The revelations on the NSA’s global surveillance programs are just the latest indication that as business as usual creates instability at home and abroad, and as disillusionment with the status quo escalates, Western publics are being increasingly viewed as potential enemies that must be policed by the state.

There is, therefore, the overriding requirement that we continue to build the movement independent of the limitations imposed by the Democratic Party, until we achieve the kind of changes that are actually necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change, by stitching together all forces aimed at this objective.

The biosphere of which humans are a part cannot afford half measures or rely on dubious “friends” in high places. Nor can we set our sights any lower than the swift dismantling of the fossil–fuel infrastructure of death and its replacement with publicly owned and democratically controlled clean energy systems. As many studies have shown, this is eminently doable with current technology and will create millions of worthwhile jobs through the generation of genuinely renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar power, alongside massive energy efficiency and conservation measures.

Such a transformation is far less utopian than believing that capitalism can solve the problem that it created. Such a transition cannot mean a continuation or expansion of the criminal agro–fuel production, still less the increase in natural gas production through fracking, the continuation of nuclear power and the entirely ridiculous concepts of “clean coal” and carbon capture and storage, all of which Obama includes as part of his planned solution—his “all of the above” strategy.

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