Letter from the United States: Full steam ahead for gas, oil and coal!

BP is running ads with the message that the Gulf of Mexico, and its fisheries and beaches, are actually better off now than befo

This election year has seen some of the most extreme weather in the US for some time. Heat records were topped in many cites for a prolonged period. The most devastating drought in decades has ruined crops in a large area of the country.

Yet there has been hardly a peep from either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney about global warming and climate change.

Both have championed dangerous new methods of drilling for oil and natural gas, and promoted the very dirty tar sands oil from Canada.

The plans for the Canadian tar sands oil include piping it across the US from north down to the refineries on the Gulf Coast, close to 2000 miles. The TransCanada oil giant will build the pipeline, known as Keystone XL.

Late last year, there was a huge demonstration in Washington, DC against the XL pipeline, part of the big mobilisations around the Occupy movement. The anti-pipeline movement forced Obama to declare that he would not decide on approving the pipeline until after the election.

But this was a ruse. Surreptitiously permits were given to begin clearing the path for the southern leg of the pipeline in Texas. Farms, homes and forests were confiscated under “eminent domain” and bulldozing began.

Backtracking on his previous promise of a full environment review, Obama in March pledged to “cut through the red tape” of environmental laws and “get it done”.

Getting the southern leg ready where the pipeline will be laid means that it has already been approved, just not openly. It will be approved openly by whoever gets elected.

The clearing operation has met with resistance from people whose homes and land have been taken from them. Some protesters have set up camps up in trees destined to be cut down. Their supporters have been arrested and beaten. One of those arrested for opposing the pipeline was actress Daryl Hannah.

Extracting the oil from the tar sands uses vast quantities of water that becomes highly polluted in the process and is dumped into large ponds, centers of toxic sludge which works its way into water supplies.

The process releases three times as much greenhouse gases as conventional oil drilling. The oil produced is quite dirty, and the threat of leaks damaging land and major rivers is real.

Refining the tar sands oil, because it is so dirty, also produces more greenhouse gases and other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides.

The burning of the refined oil results in more greenhouse gasses that drive global warming.

NASA physicist and climatologist Dr James Hansen, an expert on global warming, warns that if all the Canadian tar sands oil is extracted and burned, which is the plan, it would by itself be a “tipping point” for runaway global warming.

The other major project being fast-tracked is hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, to produce natural gas. This process also uses vast amounts of water and toxic chemicals, which can then seep into fresh water supplies.

This is why more than 250 communities in the US have passed resolutions to stop fracking, and the state of Vermont has banned it.

Natural gas (methane) also gets into the water. At times, news programs have shown flames shooting out of water faucets in homes near fracking operations. Such images have disappeared in the past year or so.

The industry is fighting back. It has already won exemptions from legislation protecting clean water and air. It is buying off politicians and launching expensive law suits against communities that try to restrict fracking.

But both capitalist parties are championing fracking as a godsend for abundant natural gas.

Obama also recently approved new permits for British Petroleum, which brought us the Gulf disaster, to resume dangerous operations. Along with the tar sands pipeline fracking is being hailed as “energy independence” and “job creation”.

We are being inundated with TV ads for both parties. They expect to spend $1 billion — each — in this election. Interspersed with these ads and the regular commercials, we are experiencing a new kind of advertising from the energy industry.

These ads do not try to sell a particular brand of gasoline or other product. They are pure propaganda for more fossil fuel production.

One series of ads is by BP, which tries to alleviate fears resulting from its giant leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The message is that the Gulf, and its fisheries and beaches, are actually better off now than before the leak!

Another is by the coal industry. Not different coal companies, but the industry consortium, lauding “clean coal” as “America’s most abundant energy resource”. There is no such thing as “dirty coal” — only the “clean” variety, according to the ads.

Then there are the ads for fracking, although that term is never used, since it has negative connotations such as creating water that burnw.

These ads are about natural gas. New technology, we are told, has made it almost completely safe, with the caveat that “all energy production has some risk”. Moreover, we are assured, natural gas is even cleaner than “clean coal”.

All these ads run off and on throughout the day, every day, on all commercial TV stations, on all kinds of programs from sports to police shows, on news programs whether “liberal” or “conservative.”

As well as reassuring us that fossil fuels are “clean”, the ads emphasise that they “create jobs”.

In the context of an economic depression and intensifying international competition, the big monopolists are driven to exploit new sources of energy from fossil fuels, which are still much cheaper than wind or solar.

This economic imperative is behind the politicians’ and capitalist media’s drive to whip up support. Full steam ahead for increased carbon-based energy!

Global warming? Not to worry, and it is better not to talk about it, especially if you are running for president for one of the two major parties.

[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party: The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books.]


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