Climate Changes, Obama Loses: Climate Deniers and the Nuclear Lobby Start Up Again

The Republican rise to power during the midterm elections and the isolation of an uncertain President Obama, even among Democrats, has given strength to the lobby groups that influence American politics and will further problematize the snubbed requests of the less well-off social classes and environmental groups. I am examining here the consequences that this political episode will have on the other side of the Atlantic and on the climate and energy policies of the planet.

Precisely as polls were confirmed as not being in favor of the Democrats, and only a few days from the discussion in Congress about the position the U.S. should adopt at the next climate summit, the Pentagon published a new report that sounds the alarm on the threat to national security that climate change represents and foresees that the military forces — no kidding — will have to take up the challenge. According to the report, U.S. troops will be increasingly deployed outside the country, and many U.S. naval bases will become vulnerable to floods because of the rise in sea level and ever more violent tropical storms.

Even if it seems criminal to speak of global warming as a “threat to national security” rather than as a global emergency, whether in terms of international justice or intergenerational terms, this is the tone of the entire report; although, on the other hand, it is the first time the U.S. has shown concern about the irreversibility of the change. At a time when climate change denial still exercises an influence over the American political system, the focus has yet to shift to a binding treaty on the global climate, but rather grasps at preserving the quality of life and security of Americans.

And in such a way, the secretary of defense equips himself to confront a sea level rise of 1.5 meters “[in] the next 20 to 50 years” at the Norfolk naval base, and to study “scenarios of defense planning” faced with the reduction in the Arctic ice caps, which will give rise to new navigation routes and will open new areas for the extraction of natural resources. Definitely — as Eric Bonds affirms in October’s Foreign Policy in Focus — we are seeing increasing adaptation to change, including cutting emissions aggressively, an objective obtainable only with massive public investments, apt for the creation of a low-carbon emissions economy.

In her new book, Naomi Klein provides a series of possible financing sources for public investments, including the elimination of subsidies to combustible fossil fuel businesses, a carbon tax and taxes on financial transactions and property. In particular, this entails cutting 25 percent of spending on the defense of 10 countries, including Italy, in order to free up an additional $325 billion to spend each year on energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts.

Keep in mind that instead of continuing to pay for aircraft carrier groups to patrol the world until the end of 2050, the U.S. government could remove two of these groups and put the savings into solar panels for 33 million American houses. The Canadian essayist proposes an economic and industrial policy that bucks the trend and would provide savings, employment and equity. This policy was immediately defined by Republicans as “an attack on capitalism and the American middle class” and by the former colonel and NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt as “a Trojan horse for national socialism.”

The conservative elites of the whole world feel encouraged if we look at climate change through a militarized lens that goes by the name of “national security.” This could make us forget our debt to nature and diminish our collective political imagination, especially at a time when we need all the intelligence, creativity and innovation that we can muster in order to face the main challenge of our times.

After the recent electoral defeat, it will be even more complicated for Barack Obama to stick to the EPA plan for the reduction of CO2, which would demand a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. The plan was put together to replace carbon as the main source for the production of electrical energy with mostly natural gas use, more renewables, increased energy efficiency and a new decentralized system for the production and distribution of electrical energy. In response to the new difficulties, the big nuclear lobbies have recharged themselves — ready for the launch of three big projects at an additional $12 billion — and corporations have asked for very strong power stations (the nuclear industry asserts that loan guarantees are too low, while Edison made an immediate request for a gas powered plant of 1,250 megawatts.)

Just the day after the elections, the American nuclear industry declared that it needed major subsidies in the form of bank guarantees on loans: the same ones that Republicans had attacked on account of renewables. Bloomberg, not to be confused with Greenpeace, admits with some concern that a Republican controlled Congress will probably increase nuclear power. Pipeline builder Olio TransCanada Corp. can now find a way to get the Keystone XL approved from Canada to the refineries on the Gulf of Mexico for the bituminous schist sands, something Obama had vetoed until now.

In summary: the climate is bad but does not seem to disturb the political alchemies to which we are subjected every day in our little hole from where we look upon the world.

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