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Obama Didn’t Get the Memo: The Market Doesn’t Care About Climate Change

Obama just delivered his “state of the union” address and, at the very least, he has recognized that climate change is becoming more like a climate catastrophe with the 12 hottest years on record having come in the past 15, and with “heat waves, drought, wildfires, and floods… now more frequent and intense.”

Recognizing there is a problem is the first step. The problem has been his next step: to pursue solutions through the market. In his address, he stated, “I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change.” This indicates that Obama is willing to do what it takes to solve the climate crisis…as long as it doesn’t impact markets and profits.

Take another scenario. Let’s pretend that Obama’s speech read something like this: I urge this Congress to pursue a strategy to solve the climate crisis that involves communities to control the resources–including land, water, and air–that impact them most. This means that we need to stop blasting off the top of mountains to dig up coal. It means that we need to stop hydraulic fracturing which pollutes groundwater supplies. And it means we need to stop enabling the expansion of the tar sands. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy. This means that I am not going to approve the Keystone XL project which has faced clear opposition by those who are willing to get arrested at mass actions in the White House, office occupations, and at the point of destruction by running in front of, and chaining themselves to, machinery. This would indicate that the president has been listening to those involved in the Tar Sands Blockade, those who have signed petitions and written letters, those who got arrested, and those who are mobilizing for the February 17th Forward on Climate action in DC. It would mean that he is putting the needs and demands of communities and people first. It would mean that he is prioritizing safety of the environment, and consequently the safety of water, land, and air.

Unfortunately, more attention is being given to those who can fully engage in the market. You know, those who can buy, sell, and trade. And those who have the greatest ability to buy, sell, and trade are big business and governments. Climate change has simply become one more venue for capital accumulation at the expense of people.

The Indigenous Environmental Network has rejected carbon markets, saying that “the potential threat of climate change into an opportunity for profit…is a new form of colonialism. It creates CO2lonialism.” The reality is that CO2lonialism and CO2rporate exploitation has already been happening. Industries have already been profiting off of polluting. Fossil fuel industries continue to destroy the land, water, and air and they continue to ravage the land and resources of Indigenous communities, communities of colour, rural communities, and poor communities.

Some resources on carbon markets include the new documentary, the Carbon Rush which exposes some of the problems with purchasing “carbon credits,” which allow polluters to continue polluting. Their pollution is thus “offset” by companies that may plant trees, build dams, or creating waste-to-energy schemes. The reality is that this money goes to another company which finds loopholes and continues to pollute and exploit communities. In some cases, trees planted are harvested in large plantations, only to be burned again for energy; large mega-dams privatize water and displace entire communities and destroy food systems; and the “waste” that is being burned for energy is actually being done in energy-intensive incinerator plants that are also impoverishing millions of waste workers whose livelihood depend on sorting and recycling.

Rising Tide North America’s publication Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change goes into further detail about the fallacy of carbon markets and carbon trading, while also debunking the propaganda around Mega Dams, Incinerators, and Geoengineering. Carbon markets have caused forced displacement, water privatization, job loss, and continued carbon emissions in the Global South. You can also check out the Story of Cap and Trade which is “a story of a system in crisis.” The ever-so-engaging narrator tells us how “we are trashing the planet” and “we’re trashing ourselves.” More importantly, she tells us why you just can’t solve a problem with the thinking that created it–the market!

But take away all the background reading, if you really want pure confusion, ask yourself this: If there is someone profiting off of polluters, then who is going to demand that carbon pollution stop? Polluters profit off of polluting. Companies who receive money from polluters (although they may be engaged in projects that supposedly “offset” the polluting companies emissions) also profit off of pollution. The market has no interest in stopping pollution. Obama probably didn’t get the memo. Or maybe it is hidden under the one from TransCanada? For this reason, we need System Change, Not Climate Change. We need to rethink our current systems of organization, consumption and production, and energy use. Ensuring that our communities are vibrant and healthy means ensuring access to food, water, medicine, and shelter. Rising Tide North America’s post-Copenhagen report The Climate Movement is Dead, Long Live the Climate Movement sheds some light into what is needed to make that change including direct action against large-scale, carbon intensive projects; addressing how war and militarization consume copious amounts of fossil fuels; and effective community organizing which “builds the power of communities to fight back as well as implement sustainable solutions on their own terms.” On THEIR own terms. Not the market’s terms.

There may not be a silver bullet answer to solving the climate crisis, but the solutions are out there and they are local. Solutions rely on communities organizing and figuring out what works for them, whether it be community-controlled power production, local agriculture and food systems, or transition towns. Communities are often best suited to collectively determine what they need. Obama may have failed to see that, but what is worse is that the market has even convinced him otherwise.