Friday, March 17, 2017

The War on California Part II: The Struggle for a New Economy

Todayʻs Los Angeles Times describes the latest threats to California by a President bent on undermining the legal basis for much of the progress achieved with both reducing air pollution and the larger threats of fossil fuels and climate change (see "Trumpʻs Push to Ease Vehicle Emissions…by Tony Barboza). While appearing to demarcate a very different presidency, closer examination reveals an agenda shared with many of his predecessors. The distinctive feature of this presidency is a renewed effort to undermine the decades of achievements by Californiaʻs public interest advocates as they approach crucial junctures to launch a new economy.

President Trump’s pursuit of the themes of earlier Republican administrations (e.g., downsizing government, reversing wide swaths of regulatory law, promoting the privatization of public services and education, increasing support for prisons, police, and the American military, expanding the ties between select religions and the state, and endorsing tax schemes benefitting corporations and the wealthy) contrasted with earlier proclamations of “draining the swamp” of corruption in D.C. His vows to represent “ordinary Americans” quickly morphed into an agenda designed by and for Americaʻs elite, featuring cabinet appointees soon to be recorded as the most wealthy in American history -- holding personal assets reaching into the many billions of dollars. Prominent among his cabinet picks,
Donald Trump named the chief executive for Exxon Corporation, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State.

This appointment occurred at a moment in history marked by the filing of legal actions by New Yorkʻs Attorney General, seeking further evidence as to whether Exxon had engaged in one of the largest acts of fraud in American history. This legal case rested on documented evidence of corporate deception regarding the extraordinary global threats posed by the burning of fossil fuels, even as Exxonʻs own scientists accumulated evidence underscoring explicit hazards. Exxonʻs initial cooperation with the New York Attorney General quickly shifted to a counter-suit blocking access to its files. Exxon’s recalcitrance was backed by sympathetic Attorneys General from eleven other states. ExxonMobil and its precursors were responsible for directly or indirectly emitting 20.3 billion metric tons of CO2 and 199 million metric tons of methane, or between 4.7 percent and 5.3 percent of all of humanity’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1882. With the business of burning fossil fuels representing a doomsday machine, Trump could not have chosen anyone to better personify a negative image of America than the chief executive officer of Exxon corporation.

Others in President Trumpʻs cabinet openly shared Tillersonʻs support for petroleum. Conventional news sources effectively missed the most important financial and environmental story of the day when they failed to highlight a President, his cabinet, and a Congress largely dismissive of the unfolding global disaster, incontrovertibly identified by scientists from around the world. In addition to a Congress held captive by fossil fuel interests and their corporate lobbyists, cabinet officials with serious personal conflicts of interest, and presidential support for a dangerously outdated industry, fossil fuels had otherwise been on the cusp of losing competitive price advantage over clean energy alternatives.

Just prior to the inauguration, a dry financial news service reported a remarkable transformation in energy prices: for much of the world, clean energy would soon be cheaper than either coal or petroleum. The team of energy analysts implicitly defeated central premises of Trumpʻs support for fossil fuels. No one expected to find Republicans abandoning support for oil simply because it was opposed by nearly every climate scientist in the world. The daunting news for elected leaders holding firm to a dollars-and-cents reasoning that coal and oil afforded humanity with the cheapest sources of energy was that “renewables are robustly entering an era of undercutting” fossil fuel prices around the world.

The problem facing renewables in the United States, according to Bloomberg News as well as other energy analysts, commenced with the cost advantage already held by billion dollar coal and gas plants. In unraveling the premise of cheap sources one could discern the house of cards built by fossil fueled interests. Arguments for deregulating fossil fuels, for easing their path with discretionary choices afforded by pollution trading schemes, for allowing subsidies in the form of tax relief, or funding and fighting foreign wars to maintain cheap oil -- all of these devices delaying the arrival of a new economy now took an image of a Potemkin village (built solely to make things look better than they are), and led by imbeciles.

Many in the public were awakening to the truth of an economy, political structure and public manipulated to achieve private purposes with one extraordinary twist on an old theme: this time the manipulation entails a level of destruction unparalleled in human history. The absence of discussion regarding either fossil-fueled crises or the viability of clean energy alternatives yielded a growing conflict reminiscent of an earlier war between the states. Parallel to the destructive economy based on slavery in the 1860s, the current insistence by petroleros to continue with Americaʻs archaic fossil-fueled economy poses an existential threat to humanity on a global scale. In 2017 the emerging clash over the direction of the U.S. economy had no better poster child for opposition than the roughly forty million Californians.

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