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Runnung a Temperature


Obama's greenwash won't wash

President Obama's much-publicised climate change speech this week was simply a smokescreen for the forthcoming decision to allow the second phase of the Keystone tar sands pipeline to go ahead.

Obama claimed to be boldly taking on the climate change deniers in Congress, by issuing a presidential memo instructing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use Clean Air laws to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

But there's little to get excited about here, because the level of the cap is unstated. It won't be announced until next year for possible implementation in 2015. No doubt the level will still be mired in political and legal battles long after Obama has left the White House.

Campaigners are convinced this is a sleazy trade-off to silence opposition to Keystone 2.
And it seems to be working, with the Sierra Club, one of the US's biggest environmental organisations and a key member of the anti-Keystone campaign, issuing a gushing call on its members to "thank the President".

But what Obama actually said was "climate change issues" will be "relevant" to the decision on the pipeline carrying heavy crude tar sand products from Canada to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Relevant maybe, but not decisive. As Tom Steyer, former hedge fund investor turned environmental activist said, curbing emissions will be meaningless if Keystone goes ahead.

Obama made much of the fact that the US is now the world's biggest gas producer. He failed to point out that this "natural gas" (sounds nice doesn't it?) mostly comes from fracking. Across the US, communities are being destroyed by this process, which pollutes water supplies and makes people ill. But he mentioned none of that.

Obama claimed the fact that the US is once again building nuclear power stations as a positive. But given that there are already some 65,000 tons of dangerous nuclear waste in temporary storage throughout the US, it is hard to see how this can be a good thing!

He used this speech to herald federal support for stepping up gas exports, but isn't that just what the Thatcher government did and look where it got the UK. The North Sea gas supplies are all gone, burned up or sold cheap on the world market.

Energy supply relies on Russian imports, pushing prices through the roof. No wonder the state is so excited about shale gas as an alternative. A new survey by the British Geological survey showing there is a greater quantity of shale gas than was previously thought is being presented as some wonderful bonanza.  

The boom in unconventional oil and gas is a mark of how desperate governments are to keep the fossil fuel market stable. The question is, do we want to pay the price in pollution and health risks? The British and US governments say yes, but then they would, wouldn't they?

Obama pointed out that since 2006 the US has made the world's biggest emissions reductions. But just as in the UK, most of this was achieved by switching power stations to natural gas.

He also claimed natural gas is a 'transition fuel' whilst the economy switches to renewables but that will turn out to be as much of a fraud as here in the UK where renewables still amount to just 7% of the UK energy mix. In fact the only fuel that increased its share in 2012 was coal!

What Obama described was a fantasy climate change policy. It delivers big profits, needs no significant public investment, pushes fundamental change far in the future and requires no change in behaviour by companies. This may be the corporate government's dream scenario but for the rest of us, it's a total nightmare.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
27 June 2013

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