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How We Can Wrench Independence from the Corporate State

This week we learned what “extreme” in climate changed extreme weather means for human loss -- so what are we doing about it?

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Elizabeth Kolbert is one of the most respected environmental journalists working today. She writes environmental articles and op-eds for The New Yorker and is author of the widely acclaimed book on climate change, Field Notes from a Catastrophe (2006). So it is all the more troubling that she wrote what I’d call—a patla sorbot (roughly translates from Bengali to English—seriously diluted Kool-Aid) op-ed after Obama’s speech. She avoided the thorny issues (more on that soon) and instead focused on two things: a Democrat-Republican ping-pong match and regulating emissions from coal fired power plants.

What Obama’s “aides had billed as a major initiative to fight climate change,” Kolbert correctly observed “was not really news, since it had already been widely reported—was that the Administration will impose rules limiting carbon emissions from both new and existing power plants.” But if you take climate scientist Dr. James Hansen’s words literally: he says Washington is “coal-fired.” So the conundrum before us is: how could one coal-fired enterprise honestly regulate another coal-fired enterprise? It cannot. The issue here is not emission regulation but burning coal itself. A few days later Lauren McCauley pointed out on Common Dreams, “Energy Chief Confirms Critics' Fears: Obama Still Loves Coal.”

In 2011 Obama sold the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to Big Coal. In a fantastic piece, Jeff Biggers had dug up the poop and released the stink: “President Obama needs to be called out for his less than transparent catering to his long-time billionaire and coal-profiteering friends.” Biggers wrote that Obama’s buddies on this lucrative affair were—Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Precisely because of this greedy decision two years ago, today the activists in the Pacific Northwest are fighting the coal-port through which (if built) Wyoming coal would go to Asia. In an Earth Day op-ed Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly wrote: “[T]he anti-coal-port movement in the Northwest is growing in leaps and bounds.  It’s a grassroots effort based in towns through which mile-and-a-half-long coal trains would pass.  It has far outclassed an industry campaign consisting typically of TV commercials, an ‘astroturf’ front group and legions of flack-mercenaries.”

“But if the President deserves to be congratulated for finally taking action—and he does—then he also deserves to be admonished for having waited so long,” Kolbert continues. There are two serious problems with this statement. The use of “admonished” isn’t criticism but affectionate scolding that we do to a child (more on this below). The second issue is that it gives an impression that Obama indeed has finally taken action on climate change. That’s very misleading to put it politely.

Kolbert points out that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced the speech, even before it was delivered. McConnell wrote that Obama’s “climate change plan is a ‘war on coal’ and on jobs” (an example of ‘opponents sneer’). Referring to McConnell’s words, Kolbert wrote: “That reflexive political reaction goes a long way toward explaining why it took Obama so long.” This is what I’d call Democrat-Republican ping-pong while life on Earth races toward oblivion.

Kolbert’s op-ed is an example of—‘apologists veer.’

If you want to see an example of ‘supporters cheer’—take a look at executive director May Boeve’s response to Obama’s speech here.  

The reason I focused on Kolbert’s op-ed is to show the rot in mainstream American environmental journalism. Few journalists can be courageous like Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, but at a minimum a journalist’s job is to tell the truth and not become the mouthpiece of a particular political party.

Democrats are scared that if the Republicans take over the government all hope of climate change legislations would be doomed. Bill McKibben wrote earlier this yearon TomDispatch: “The movement is what matters; the Democrats are, at best, the eventual vehicle for closing the deal.” This too is hiding the truth and is an illusion (more below). A climate movement that is a mirror image of is not honest and will not succeed.

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