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The Vacant Climate Plan


Yesterday, President Obama announced his new Climate Action Plan in a nationally televised speech.

He described the emerging climate crisis and its impacts–both past, present and future, while be suffered the heat of an abnormally warm June day in Washington, DC.  His arguments for climate action were compelling and hard to argue with.  Unfortunately his actions do not match his words.

Unlike Bill McKibben, I do not believe that “the solutions agenda [Obama has] begun to advance moves the country in a sane direction.” (Did you read the actual Climate Action Plan, Bill?!?)   No, what I read in Obama’s Action Plan was a rehashing of the same old dangerous false solutions that many of us have been fighting for years and years.  But what’s really criminal is that even though Obama clearly understands both the science and implications of climate change, he still pushes an agenda that will drive us all over the climate cliff.

First the plan’s “Case for Action” reiterates Obama’s pledge to decrease carbon emissions by a paltry 17% below 2005 levels by 2020–but only if all other major economies agree to do so as well.  Climate scientists are not calling for 17% reductions by 2020.  In fact, countries like the US need to reduce our emissions by 80-90%.  And not in seven years, but immediately.  Last year preferably.

The main takeaway from Obama’s horrific bit of greenwashed nonsense? We can continue our unsustainable way of life indefinitely with just a few key tweaks.

“Deploy clean energy.” Ain’t nothin’ clean about this.  Obama’s “clean energy” plan includes more fracking, more oil, more nukes, more biofuels and “clean coal.”  Yes, Obama wants to stop climate change by screwing over rural communities through promotion of more hydrofracking and increased natural gas exports; expanding domestic oil production–including the hellish Bakken shale oil fields (but don’t worry, it will be clean Bakken oil­–no really, that’s in there); devoting more land to growing feedstocks for plant-based liquid fuels (i.e. less land for biodiversity, growing food or for peasant communities to survive on); protecting forests that store carbon while cutting down trees to burn for electricity production; building more nuclear power plants (apparently never heard of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima); and maintaining the fantasy of that wonderful oxymoron “clean coal.” Sane direction?

Spur Investment in Advanced Fossil Energy Projects.  Like “clean” coal, we can burn our fossil fuels and stop climate change too!

Maintain Agricultural Sustainability. For this one, Obama wants us to trust the vehemently pro-GMO US Department of Agriculture to “deliver tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.”  ‘Climate ready’ GMO crops anyone?

Negotiate Global Free Trade in Environmental Goods and Services.  Right, cuz global free trade has served biodiversity, ecosystems and the 99% so well!

But the most ludicrous item is the last on the menu: “Leading efforts to address climate change through international negotiations.”  (I know, I know, stop laughing)

This section excels in its newspeak.  It highlights the disastrous 2009 UN Copenhagen Climate Conference as “historic progress,” and insists that the secretly negotiated Copenhagen Accord (that was booed even by reporters when Obama announced it late in the negotiations) was a breakthrough in developing “a new regime of international transparency.”  Omitted is the fact that this Accord was never actually consensed upon, but merely “noted” by the official body.  Well history is “his story” after all…

The section goes on to trumpet the accomplishments of the equally disastrous UN Climate Conference in Durban in 2011–about which Nature Magazine wrote “It is clear that the science of climate change and the politics of climate change, now inhabit parallel worlds.”

Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International similarly condemned Durban’s outcomes, “developed countries, led by the US, accelerated the demolition of the world’s international framework for fair and urgent climate action.  And developing countries have been bullied and forced into accepting an agreement that could be a suicide pill for the world.  An increase in global temperatures of four degrees Celsius, permitted under this plan, is a death sentence for Africa, small island states, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide.  This summit has amplified climate apartheid whereby the richest 1% of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%.”

But Obama’s Climate Action Plan insists Durban was “a breakthrough”–because countries agreed to come up with some kind of new climate agreement that would not go into force until 2020.

Gee, guess who won’t be in office anymore in 2020…

This article first appeared at

Anne Petermann is the Executive Director of the Global Justice Ecology Project.

Anne Petermann is the Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project and the Coordinator of the International Campaign to STOP GE Trees.  She has been working on the problem of GE trees since first learning of them in 1999.

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