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Obama Administration Adapts to Climate Change Amid Warning Signs

The White House announced a new initiative, presented by two science advisers, to provide resources on the impact of climate change with

For the future. The White House announced a new initiative, presented by two science advisers, to provide resources on the impact of climate change with

By presenting such information, citizens and companies would be able to plan what to do in response to climate change threats. Data would be provided through federal agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Coastal areas were a reason for the initiative as simulations will be shown on the website to show the impact of rising sea levels. A post dated March 19, while announcing a joint NOAA and NASA “Coastal Vulnerability Innovation Challenge,” emphasized the impact in the opening lines:

Coastal communities are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the risk of damage from coastal inundation. We only have to remember the recent impact of Hurricane Sandy on communities in the northeast to see the potential damage that a single storm can cause.

Overall, the announcement was to place focus on getting citizens to focus on global warming in contemporary times. John Podesta, a special science adviser to President Barack Obama, told reporters that civilians “need to understand what is happening and what is likely to happen.”

A March 13, 2014 Gallup poll found 36 percent of Americans believing climate change would “pose a serious threat to [their] way of life.” Among age groups, 43 percent of Americans between 18 to 29 agreed it would pose a threat to their way of life. Still, a Jan. 16, 2014 Gallup poll found only 55 percent of Americans citing climate change as an extremely or very important issue the federal government should act on.

In a post on the White House blog, Podesta and John Holdren—director of the White House Office of Science and Technology—spoke more on the significance of the global warming in the U.S. since it “caused more than $110 billion in damages and claimed more than 300 lives” in 2012. Furthermore, as they elaborated on the devastation brought by climate change, they focused on the main reason why the website was created—change:

Every citizen will be affected by climate change—and all of us must work together to make our communities stronger and more resilient to its impacts.

Interestingly, the post said the country would need to “work to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and expand renewable energy generation.” Podesta has gone on-the-record for criticizing environmental groups on their protests against the Obama administration’s turn to non-renewable energy, such as natural gas. Podesta told the Wall Street Journal:

“We remain committed to developing the resource and using it, and we think there is an advantage, particularly in the electricity generation,”

Podesta has also defended the administration’s efforts to support the use of fossil fuels and rejected any plan to drop its “all-of-the-above” strategy.

It seems more likely the use of climate change will be used as a tool to ensure the election of Democrats as a few weeks ago Senate Democrats held an all-night session on the issue of global warming. However, that was in response to both Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who both spoke on drone strikes and health care respectively. Both saw a surge in campaign contributions as a result of their speeches in the Senate that garnered media coverage. Even Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), who organized the all-night meeting, referenced both Senators and their filibusters as a model:

[They] showed the power of the Senate floor and reminded us the Senate floor is where the issues of our time ought to be discussed and debated.

What is even more outrageous, however, is the lack of effort by the Obama administration to be serious on the issue of climate change as, in the State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2014, President Obama cited this year to be a “year of action.” It would be a year filled with changes with or without Congress as he said:

Some [issues] require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you.  But America does not stand still – and neither will I.  So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.

But the Obama administration has not taken steps to “expand opportunity” for millions of Americans who will suffer as a result of climate change. Yet, the point may be that it’s a characteristic of an administration destined to fail for Americans on the issue of global warming.

A report sponsored by NASA examines the potential consequences if no effort is made on preventing the significant effects of climate change. Led by Safa Motesharrei, the report is striking as it discusses the power of the “Elites” in causing destruction of states. By referencing empires, what is written is a warning to current governments that if no significant policy changes are made, then society will collapse as it has done in the past. It further notes the status of inequality:

[A]ccumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.

The element of class warfare, along with bourgeoisie and proletariat, certainly comes to mind after reading this passage. It may have been something Motesharrei and his team may have thought, yet it certainly places contemporary society in an important lens.

The report found, based on a model “closely reflecting the reality of the world today,” the prospects for a collapse in society “is difficult to avoid.” Furthermore, in one scenario, a famine would erupt after abnormal consumption levels by the elites. Thus, it would produce a famine born out of inequality, rather than by nature.

The recommendation on how to avoid a collapse based on different models is certainly a solution worthy of discussion:

Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.

No major media outlet provided close coverage of this groundbreaking report. Perhaps it may have been the probable class analysis found in the study or there may have been more urgent news to report like MSNBC asking “What exactly is Sen. Rand Paul up to?” or CNN incessantly reporting on “breaking news” involving the missing MH370 plane. Fox News is, as journalist John Pilger once said, “cartoon journalism.”

Meanwhile, the idea of accumulated surplus not being evenly distributed is a feature of the capitalist system. While the traditional Marxist view of capitalism is one of “primitive accumulation,” David Harvey, a professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, updated it to be one of “accumulation by dispossession.” In other words, in order to gain, the elites in society would have to take from someone or some group. As he writes in “The New Imperialism,” events we see in current times are true examples of accumulation by dispossession:

Some of the mechanisms of primitive accumulation that Marx emphasized have been fine-tuned to play an even stronger role now than in the past. The credit system and finance capital became … major levers of predation, fraud,  and thievery. The strong way of financialization that set in after 1973 has been every bit as spectacular for its speculative and predatory style.

He goes on to elaborate the “stock promotions, ponzi schemes, structured asset destruction through inflation, asset-stripping through mergers and acquisition” and other events we continually hear about are “central features of what contemporary capitalism is all about.”

If the current federal government does not address the numerous financial events stamped into the minds of the Americans public, then it shouldn’t be expected they would provide a serious effort on addressing global warming.

This is an administration allowing the deaths of U.S. citizens without trial, escalated the use of drone warfare, allowed mass spying to occur, provided millions to financial institutions, oversaw massive inequality to grow without anything to stop it and so much more. Are we to seriously expect communities will be strong and united against climate change?

Motesharrei and his team gave a chilling analysis that is common for us to expect on such a serious issue like environmentalism. What they wrote shows the power the elites have in our society:

While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.

Merriam-Webster defines “nothing” as “something or someone that has no interest, value or importance.” Through an analysis of today’s political climate in not only the federal government, but state governments as well, the environment is the least important topic placed on the agenda.

BP was reinstated as a legitimate company to go for oil in the Gulf, despite environmental destruction continuing in the region. West Virginians still do not believe claims from officials that the tap water is safe. It can certainly be argued the struggle to place importance on global warming can be defined as “nothing.”

With the new website by the Obama administration, it certainly will be useful for individuals and groups to understand what’s happening in their area. Perhaps journalists could use it as a story on an area at risk or an organization can focus its efforts on low-income neighborhoods at risk. But this should have been obvious through the massive amounts of talk by a myriad number of people on climate change. It did not require an additional model on a government website.

It seems the only part of government seriously considering climate change is the Pentagon. Journalist Steve Horn mentioned this contrast between the denial of it in Congress and the worry by Pentagon officials. The report reads like something scientists would write on the impact climate change would have:

Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs.

Instead of arguing more funds should be made to protect communities, the Pentagon thinks of “threat multipliers” that could cause terrorism or anything challenging the state monopoly on violence. The Pentagon is a major contributor to carbon emissions, something they recognize as they pull back their troops to reduce it.

Lying may very well be a part of the Obama administration  as Obama said in his State of the Union speech earlier this year on the profound impact of a lack of effort on climate change:

Climate change is a fact.  And 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, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

If this is what President Obama defines as “we did all we could,” then future generations should expect a world devastated by climate change. Because what is required is—as the current slogan on this issue goes—system change, not climate change.

Photo by Bob of Fairfax under creative commons license

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Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.