by Patrick Walker
December 6, 2015
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It is important to find a candidate who will make it a priority to fight for the protection of our environment.
Just as pork producers successfully rebranded their product “the other white meat,” climate justice activists need to successfully rebrand Democrats “the other climate-destruction party.” Says who? No less a “judge” in climate matters than world-renowned climatologist James Hansen, formerly director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. By Hansen’s showing in a recent Carbon Brief interview, as long as Democrats remain frack queen Hillary Clinton’s party, and not fracking opponent Bernie Sanders’, they embody, almost as much as Republicans, a criminal conspiracy against responsible climate action.
Did Hansen actually name names and finger Democrats’ climate criminals? Of course not. As I pointed out in a recent article, climate activists like Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben are very reluctant to name names and get political, in the interest of building a big, nonpartisan “climate justice tent.” When Hansen retired early from NASA and joined their climate activist ranks (from a compelling sense of public duty), he substantially adopted their nonpartisan approach. Since that approach, all things considered, makes good sense, it’s unsurprising Hansen adopted it, since he’s shown a level of political savvy not often seen in scientists.
For example, Hansen, knowing how unpopular taxes are with Republicans, has advocated strongly for a carbon fee-and-dividend rather than a carbon tax (again see his Carbon Brief interview), buttressing his case with an Economics 101 textbook argument (one quite popular with Republicans), about taxes causing economic contraction. Bernie Sanders, who as a longtime Vermont politician also knows something about reaching across the political fence, helped incorporate Hansen’s fee-and-dividend scheme in the Climate Protection Act he cosponsored last year. Again unsurprisingly, since Hansen vetted the bill and McKibben lauded it, the Climate Protection Act is widely considered the “gold standard” of climate-protective legislation. Equally unsurprisingly, it has gotten nowhere in a Congress filled with climate-change-denying Republicans and fossil-fuel-funded Democrats.
The thought that both parties pose substantial obstacles to such an enlightened, essential piece of legislation as the Climate Protection Act should lead us to reflect. Among the things that should lead us to reflect on is whether Hansen, Klein, and McKibben should be as reluctant to name names, or as subtle and unemphatic about conferring individual favor (again see my article), as they’ve been to this point. Of course, avoiding partisan favoritism is a smart move, but the dangerous climate irresponsibility of both parties considerably mitigates the appearance of favoritism since there are compelling grounds for calling both on the carpet, each for its own sins. And the divide between climate saints and sinners is often within rather than between parties (this is predominantly true of Democrats; Republicans are almost universally bad), so pointing accusatory fingers at individuals and factions not only would avoid any appearance of partisanship, but is actually vastly more relevant to the problem at hand. Any serious U.S. climate action obviously must begin within the Democratic Party (assuming there’s any hope of climate action from the two major parties at all—an assumption I’ll revisit later in this piece), so castigating the climate malefactors in the Democratic Party (in hopes of converting or purging them) is really Job #1 for climate activists.
Sadly, McKibben and Klein do face constraints in blaming and praising, since both are board members of 350.org and would jeopardize its nonprofit status by open endorsements. For other reasons, perhaps related to protecting his academic need for perceived objectivity, Hansen is reluctant to do so as well. Instead, they tell us what urgently needs to be done and what public policies clearly aren’t “cutting it,” which, when we consider what a crime against humanity climate inaction is, amounts to a “criminal profile” of politicians promoting and enacting the malignant policies. Regrettably, this creates for the general public a gigantic information gap in identifying climate “criminals,” since mainstream media, with substantial economic ties to fossil fuel interests (just consider the fossil fuel industry’s omnipresent—and highly lucrative—ad campaigns) has little interest in informing the public about the real demands of climate science, let alone calling out political malefactors who constantly flout those demands. So even when a virtual climate guru like Hansen creates a damning “profile” of fracking as irresponsible policy—as he does in his Ecowatch video—mainstream media generally won’t even broadcast his condemnation, let alone identify the political malefactors responsible for that reprehensible policy.
In this, as in so many urgent political matters, it falls to concerned activists to play citizen journalists and “be the media,” reporting not just the damning policy “profile,” but naming names and applying that profile to the “criminals” responsible. In terms of Hansen’s remarks about fracking, there are scarcely graver criminals in the annals of climate justice than Hillary Clinton and the legion of Democratic politicians—even vaunted “bold progressives” like Alan Grayson and Sherrod Brown—endorsing her. Clinton and her endorsers constitute a virtual silent conspiracy—a mafia with its own code of omerta—to destroy the climate; their omerta entails an oath of silence over what top-notch climate scientists like Hansen actually say about the climate treachery of fracking. By almost unanimously endorsing global fracking cheerleader Clinton as our next president, Democratic pols richly earn themselves the stigma of “the other climate-destruction party.”
Starting by quoting directly from Hansen, let’s probe Democrats’ climate criminality more deeply.
In his Carbon Brief interview (which concerned climate policy in the UK), Hansen was asked whether the UK would do well to switch from coal to natural gas, to which Hansen replied bluntly,
“Well, that’s screwing your children and grandchildren. Because if you do that, there’s no way to avoid the consequences of multi-meter sea-level rise. But we can’t do that. And that’s what the science says crystal clear. And yet politicians pretend not to hear it, or not to understand it.” [emphasis mine]
In Hansen’s words about politician’s pretending not to hear or understand the climate dangers of fracking, we see the “profiling” of Clinton’s “climate mafia” activists need to apply: the code of omerta on fracking actually screwing our children and grandchildren results from (1) fracking cheerleaders like Clinton being utterly unwilling to rethink a policy so convenient to their big fossil fuel donors and from (2) progressives like Grayson and Brown, probably knowing better but intimidated by Clinton’s political machine, being unwilling to publicly acknowledge the climate danger of fracking, since it would expose what a fossil fuel whore their endorsed candidate really is.
But Hansen’s assessment of fracking only gets more damning. Considering the following excerpt:
“If gas were used as a very temporary bridge to replace coal … But that’s not what’s happening. If you build a new power plant, you don’t plan to shut it down in 10 years. There’s way too much gas in the ground. It would put us way over 2C, 3C, 4C. There’s a huge amount of gas in the ground. What political leaders have been unwilling to face is that you can’t burn all of that. They’re allowing, even bragging about, having found the technology to get more gas out of the ground with fracking.” [Emphasis again mine]
To really grasp the climate criminality of Hillary Clinton, it’s important to focus on the words I’ve placed in boldface. Though it may seem far from obvious, it’s of deep significance when Hansen, one of the world’s best climate scientists speaks of “2C.” The “2C” refers to a rise of two Celsius degrees in average global temperature (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the politically agreed-upon limit for safe global temperature rise, the limit now most discussed at the current Paris climate talks, for example. But, as Hansen has forcefully argued, the 2C “safe limit” was purely a nice round political figure and reflects no real science whatsoever. If we consider historically the increase in sea level associated with temperature rise, even the 1C rise (since the beginning of the modern fossil-fuel-burning era) is unsafe and, in Hansen’s own words, “2C itself is a very dangerous target to be aiming for.” So you know that when he mentions 3C or 4C, he is visually untold climate horrors. Yet 3C, 4C, or even beyond, in most expert analysts’ views, is the trajectory on which our status quo usage of fossil fuels is heading us.
If anyone has been a dedicated enemy of Hansen’s “you can’t burn all of that view,” it’s Hillary Clinton. If anyone was “allowing, even bragging about … technology to get more gas of the ground with fracking,” it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now if I cited a Grist article rather than the original Mother Jones article about Clinton’s global cheerleading for fracking Grist itself cites, it’s for a reason: the Grist article succinctly raises the incriminating points about global fracker Clinton I wish to take up and expand upon. The Grist piece specifically mentions Clinton’s keynote address at the 2014 National Clean Energy Summit, where she said, “With the right safeguards in place, gas is cleaner than coal.” And later in that same speech, she mentioned the key problem with fracking that troubles climate activists: the problem of methane leaks from the life-cycle production and use of natural gas. Her mention of the methane leaks shows she’s aware of the real issues with fracking but makes this a particularly nauseating case of greenwashing: Clinton has to know that (1) as Grist says, “there is no agreement on what the right safeguards would be, and some scientists doubt that any safeguards would be safe enough” and (2) even if there were agreed-upon safeguards, the political power of the fossil fuel industry is such that—especially with Republicans holding both houses of Congress and most state governorships and legislatures, there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hades of those safeguards becoming law.
Clinton’s calculating cynicism here is repulsive beyond belief. When Republicans adamantly oppose even the tamest attempts by Obama’s EPA to reduce greenhouse gasses, can she seriously think they’ll impose stringent regulations on methane leaks for the sake of a climate change they with equal vehemence deny? Yet just ask Clinton whether she’d favor a moratorium on fracking until such time as progressives are safely in power and science has figured out exactly what the appropriate safeguards are. Quite obviously, the answer is no, since Clinton was willing, as both Grist and Mother Jones note, to push for fracking in countries likely to have even far worse regulatory regimes than the United States.
The key to Clinton’s policy here, as with most issues, is what donors fund both her campaign and (through speaking fees) the Clinton’s personal lifestyle. And at least as far as campaign donation bundlers are concerned (most of her and Bill’s speaking fees are from Wall Street), the fossil fuel industry heads Clinton’s list, and she has not—as Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have—pledged to take no donations from fossil fuel interests. And of course, there’s also the corrupting “revolving door” tie to industry lobbyists: Tony Podesta, the brother of Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta, has lobbied for both “clean coal” and—tellingly, as regards fracking—for the fracking industry while then-Secretary Clinton was the industry’s biggest cheerleader.
Regarding fossil fuels, a favorite mantra of renowned climate activist Bill McKibben has been “keep it in the ground”—incidentally, the title of a bill recently co-introduced by Bernie Sanders to ban further fossil fuel drilling on federal lands. Hillary Clinton has declared herself opposed to such a ban. Face it, especially where fracked gas is concerned, climate criminal Hillary is no more willing to “keep it in the ground” than hubby Bill was willing to “keep it in his pants.” And every Democrat politician who endorses her (that is to say, most of them) is part of her criminal conspiracy to screw our children and grandchildren by climate-lethal fracking.