Unlike many of my colleagues, I was not all that surprised by President Obama's announcement that he will open up specific locations to offshore drilling. The urge to demand a consistent position of the president when it comes to the climate seems like the right thing to do. But I have long been aware of the pragmatic and, quite possibly, cynical considerations that may have led to the president's decision.
It is about the climate -- not the long-term trends of weather and geophysics, but the political and factional climate currently in our country. A storm is brewing, come November, and it could make last August look like a picnic.
How is a president to deal with climate legislation in such a poisonous atmosphere? The rigs give a clue. Offshore drilling on the locations he cited could take years to put in place and longer to see results. By that time, if we're not getting our energy from alternative sources, those rigs will be the least of our problems.
The "drill-baby-drill" mantra, however, despite the evidence to the contrary of the advantage it would provide, has become a talking point that flares whenever gas prices rise. (Gas prices that rise in the summer also rise in conjunction with election cycles.)
Is it possible that certain industries might not want democrats reelected to the slim majorities they now hold?
With the initiatives President Obama will be putting through on energy in the next few months, as evidenced by the new fuel standards set the other day, and with the climate legislation that is coming up this summer, he faces an easy (for his opponents) talking point (among many) with drill-baby-drill.
Do you remember last summer? The demonstrations and town halls that turned into hate-fests? Behind many of those who protested was a group, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, whose chairman is David Koch (updated 4/6/10). That has received some publicity. What had not been widely publicized is Dick Armey of Freedom Work's prior connection to one of world's biggest polluters via his former position with a group known as the Citizens for a Sound Economy, that was founded by members of Koch Industries:
Koch Industries could be the biggest oil company you have never heard of -- unless, that is, you hang around the halls of government in Washington.
Koch Industries (pronounced "coke") is a huge oil conglomerate controlled by brothers Charles and David Koch, two of the country's richest men and among the biggest backers of conservative and libertarian causes. With estimated revenue of about $40 billion last year, Koch is bigger than Microsoft, Merrill Lynch and AT&T.
The tie to Americans for Prosperity (updated 4/6/10) should have been anticipated given Koch's history of using front groups to manipulate climate legislation:
From Promoting Acid Rain To Climate Denial: Over 20 Years Of David Koch's Polluter Front Groups.
The corporate-backed front group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), is again leading the charge for industry against environmental protections. Earlier this month, AFP kicked off its "Regulation Reality Tour" -- a roadshow through the states of pivotal senators, pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency not to regulate carbon emissions, as outlined by the Clean Air Act .
The campaign is part carnival, part sophisticated K Street lobbying. Attendees are welcomed by an inflatable moonbounce for children, free food and drinks, and AFP staff dressed as "carbon cops" distributing freebies to the crowd. The rallies serve as a platform for AFP to scare voters with stories of bureaucrats regulating churches and "radio controlled thermostats." Moreover, operatives from AFP collect names and train attendees on how to lobby Congress to defeat clean energy reform.
If they were willing to go far beyond the bounds of any sense of truth (or decency) to fight health care reform, it should not be surprising that they plan to similarly fight climate legislation which has more of an impact to their profit center.
Some have argued the president's decision was to get republicans to vote for the climate bill, especially in light of the special interests at work in this. That may have been a consideration. I wonder about it as the primary motivation. There are a few who have signed on (Lindsay Graham; Olympia Snow, maybe; Susan Collins, maybe), but the president has to know he can't count on their vote. At the same time, he may have to try for their votes, because some of the climate legislation may not be eligible for reconciliation and he doesn't have 60 votes without a few Republicans.
But I doubt that's the only reason.
President Obama (and many U.S. citizens) had a big win in a divided country on health care. What remained was the division. The President has to start bringing the country together to counter a very dangerous reality. That reality is the corporate interest behind the "death panels." The corporate interests that are primed to do worse during climate legislation and who have proven they have no conscience about what they will incite to get their way. The demagoguery that we've seen could turn into violence or something worse and it yet may.
I'm not sure what the president can do about the hate that exists and has existed long before his presidency. But the way they're being ginned up? That's new. One of the calls planned during upcoming "ginning" was drill-baby-drill. By removing the mantra that democratic incumbents would have heard throughout summer -- a repeat of last August, but louder and with well financed opposition -- the president may have attempted to put all but his most shameless opponents in a vise.
The vise works like this: When the screaming flash mobs are directed to shout against the climate legislation, those who support it and who are running for reelection can say: Our opponents' corporate masters are against us finding new sources of oil at home. They don't care if we send our tax dollars to those who are trying to destroy us. They don't care if we're indebted to China and lose millions of jobs overseas. They don't care about our national security since they want to keep us dependent on oil from Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is us democrats and President Obama who are trying to keep us safe. Why don't our opponents care about the safety and well being of your children like we do?
I have to remind myself it's been a while since we had a president with such a significantly high IQ. We all want the candidate we voted for, but we also need a leader who can govern and who can get his incumbents reelected to, hopefully, keep a minimal majority that will enable him to put through his legislation. What we did not count on during the campaign -- though we had a hint of it during the bizarre Palin rallies -- was the extent to which the opposition would to go in their efforts to delegitimize an Obama presidency. We saw a hint of it with Clinton. But with race factored in, the situation has become almost untenable and clearly volatile.
So, what's a president of all the people, by the people, for the people, supposed to do while he is working to get legislation through a broken system. Does he stand on the side of right and get nothing done? Or does he function like a politician who has weighed his options and has taken the road that can lead to some progress while attempting to defang those inciting violence and race wars; opponents who will say or do anything in order to hold on to their corporate profits that are destroying the planet.
Some personal thoughts. Am I happy about those rigs? No. They're obscene. Do I think they will be as useful when they come online as they might be perceived now? I hope not, because we're in more trouble than anyone can deny (although they'll try), if we do not separate ourselves from our dependency on fossil fuels. T. Boone Pickens argues we should concentrate on natural gas. But it's not as clean, ultimately, either, when compared to solar, wind, or other upcoming technologies. As a bridge to other opportunities, maybe it is a valuable consideration. I prefer the idea of natural gas to nuclear (another subject), but feel that any dependency on fossil fuels in not sustainable in the long run.
I look at fossil fuels as not only a threat to our planet's ecosystem, but also to the world's security. If the climate becomes even more unstable, how many wars will be fought over resources? How much of a disadvantage will we find ourselves to countries like China, who are making a concerted effort to become the leader in green technology while taking advantage of shady currency practices that cost us millions of U.S. jobs -- a situation against which we are at a disadvantage since China holds our debt.
How will the world handle climate refugees that are set to explode in numbers and the lack of opportunity for their large and largely uneducated populations under twenty-five who are ripe for exploitation by extremists?
A group of respected military leaders testified before Congress last year that climate change presents a real and present danger to our national security:
A panel of 12 distinguished retired generals and admirals has just released the latest in a series of reports over the past two years warning that global climate change is not just an environmental issue, or an economic issue, or a public health and welfare issue. It's an urgent matter of national security.
Do I like that President Obama might be gaming the coastlines to a) put his opponents in a vise, to b) prove to independents who don't yet viscerally hate his presidency that he might be worth a second look? to c) make sure he at least holds onto the congressional districts that voted for him? to d) weigh the upcoming climate legislation with something that those legislators on the fence can grab onto as their reason to vote for it? to e) acknowledge our dependence on foreign fossil fuels funds those who want to destroy us?
There may be more reasons, which are currently unclear. The amount of money that special interests pour into our broken government and the reelection coffers of those who make our laws cannot be discounted. What must also be counted: the opponents to climate legislation have proven they have little or no allegiance to the truth. Whether the president's move to open up some areas for drilling will pull any of their teeth remains to be seen. By doing so, however, he may have at least blunted some of the cries of drill-baby-drill during the summer driving season.
More on this topic at THE ENVIRONMENTALIST