Basav Sen – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 30 Sep 2020 05:20:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 This Is a Climate Emergency. We Need More Than Half-Measures from Democrats Mon, 14 Sep 2020 04:02:28 +0000

How to get the Democrats’ climate policy from “better than the Republicans” to “sufficient to save the planet.”

By Basav Sen | –

( Foreign Policy in Focus) – From dere­chos in Iowa to duel­ing hur­ri­canes in the Gulf Coast, 2020 is promis­ing to be an elec­tion year shot through with cli­mate dis­as­ters. Even now, rag­ing wild­fires have spawned apoc­a­lyp­tic land­scapes from Wash­ing­ton State on down to the Bay Area.

In style and sub­stance, there are few issues on which the two major par­ties are as far apart as cli­mate change.

The Repub­li­cans have become the offi­cial par­ty of cli­mate denial­ism. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has rou­tine­ly cen­sored cli­mate sci­ence and gut­ted com­mon sense, often life-sav­ing reg­u­la­tions to ben­e­fit the fos­sil fuel indus­try. Under Repub­li­can lead­er­ship, the U.S. has become the only coun­try to quit the flawed but essen­tial Paris cli­mate accord.

The Democ­rats are dis­tinct­ly bet­ter. They’ve rolled out a raft of dif­fer­ent cli­mate plat­forms and promi­nent­ly cam­paigned on the issue. Grass­roots move­ments have pushed the Biden cam­paign in par­tic­u­lar to sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase the ambi­tion of its com­mit­ments on climate.

But the real test of even a ​“bet­ter” plat­form is whether it keeps glob­al warm­ing to with­in 1.5 degrees Cel­sius above pre-indus­tri­al lev­els. The answer is a mat­ter of life and death for bil­lions, par­tic­u­lar­ly the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

To go from mere­ly ​“bet­ter than the Repub­li­cans” to ​“suf­fi­cient to save the plan­et,” the par­ty needs to shift its think­ing in sev­er­al areas. Key among these are end­ing fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion, tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for U.S. emis­sions inter­na­tion­al­ly, and humane­ly wel­com­ing refugees impact­ed by cli­mate change.

Fos­sil Fuel Blinders

The Democ­rats’ com­mit­ments are spelled out in a range of doc­u­ments, includ­ing the House Select Com­mit­tee on the Cli­mate Cri­sis report, the Biden-Sanders Uni­ty Task Force plan, the Biden cam­paign plat­form, the offi­cial Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty plat­form, and most recent­ly, the Sen­ate Democ­rats’ cli­mate plan.

Broad­ly speak­ing, there’s a lot to com­mend in these platforms.

To start, it’s encour­ag­ing to see cli­mate rec­og­nized as a major issue at all — and not just cli­mate change, but cli­mate jus­tice. All of these plat­forms call for undo­ing lega­cies of envi­ron­men­tal racism and injus­tice and cen­ter­ing front­line com­mu­ni­ties in solu­tions. This is a major step for­ward, won by decades of envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice organizing.

But the first big stum­ble is their fail­ure to take on fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion. There’s grow­ing sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that cut­ting fos­sil fuel con­sump­tion alone won’t be enough to avert cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe — we also need to phase out their pro­duc­tion. That’s espe­cial­ly true for the U.S., the world’s largest pro­duc­er of both petro­le­um and nat­ur­al gas, and the third largest pro­duc­er of coal.

None of the plat­forms make a hard com­mit­ment to do this. They call instead for baby steps, such as elim­i­nat­ing fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies and cut­ting methane leaks. That’s nec­es­sary but far from suf­fi­cient, and they may already be back­track­ing. Dur­ing the con­ven­tion, the DNC qui­et­ly removed a plank call­ing for an end to fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies, though the Biden cam­paign insists it remains com­mit­ted to end­ing them.

Fail­ing to address fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion seri­ous­ly dilutes the com­mit­ment all the plat­forms make to envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice. Fos­sil fuel extrac­tion, trans­porta­tion, pro­cess­ing and burn­ing have seri­ous envi­ron­men­tal, safe­ty, and health impacts, par­tic­u­lar­ly on mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. And even if we end­ed domes­tic con­sump­tion, these fuels could still be export­ed — and burned — abroad. That would allow the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice impacts to con­tin­ue, whether in extrac­tion-affect­ed com­mu­ni­ties at home or com­mu­ni­ties next to pow­er plants and indus­tri­al facil­i­ties in oth­er countries.

Instead of address­ing this direct­ly, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic plans wish away emis­sions by invok­ing Car­bon Cap­ture and Stor­age (CCS), a large­ly unproven tech­nol­o­gy to ​“cap­ture” car­bon emis­sions from ongo­ing fos­sil fuel oper­a­tions. The Biden plat­form, for exam­ple, calls to ​“accel­er­ate the devel­op­ment and deploy­ment” of the technology.

This is a dan­ger­ous delu­sion. CCS isn’t proven to work at scale — after years of research and devel­op­ment, there’s only one oper­a­tional CCS facil­i­ty in the Unit­ed States. It’s also inor­di­nate­ly expen­sive, which could take resources away from scal­ing up proven solu­tions such as solar and wind ener­gy, which are already cost-com­pet­i­tive with fos­sil fuels.

Even if one could cap­ture car­bon diox­ide from smoke­stacks eco­nom­i­cal­ly and at scale, those same smoke­stacks will still emit par­tic­u­late mat­ter and oth­er dan­ger­ous pol­lu­tants. Com­mu­ni­ties exposed to these pol­lu­tants — dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly low-income peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or — would con­tin­ue being treat­ed as sac­ri­fice zones.

Of course, craft­ing a just plan to wind down fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion is hard work. It will need exten­sive input from impact­ed work­ers depen­dent on the indus­try for their liveli­hoods, and impact­ed com­mu­ni­ties depen­dent on tax rev­enues from the indus­try, to ensure a thriv­ing future for them. But there’s no excuse not to do it.

Show­ing Respon­si­bil­i­ty, Not ​“Lead­er­ship”

The oth­er major blind spot in these plat­forms is their nar­row nationalism.

Green­house gas­es emit­ted by any one coun­try effec­tive­ly warm the entire plan­et. That’s why we have a U.N. Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change (UNFC­CC) process to deal with cli­mate action as the inher­ent­ly mul­ti­lat­er­al issue that it is. That’s why it was so irre­spon­si­ble for Trump to walk away from the UNFCCC.

But rejoin­ing the Paris accord isn’t near­ly enough.

Green­house gas reduc­tion tar­gets under the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment are non­bind­ing, with coun­tries mak­ing only vol­un­tary pledges. The pledges made by all coun­tries under the Paris accord would result in a 3.2 degree Cel­sius glob­al aver­age tem­per­a­ture increase, well over the 1.5 degrees upper lim­it sci­en­tists have shown we must stay with­in to pre­serve a liv­able planet.

At the 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­ven­tion, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State John Ker­ry cast the Paris agree­ment as evi­dence of Barack Oba­ma and Joe Biden’s glob­al lead­er­ship. But it was the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion itself that pres­sured the Paris sig­na­to­ries to make their com­mit­ments non-binding.

To their cred­it, the cur­rent crop of Demo­c­ra­t­ic plans go beyond promis­ing to rejoin the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment. But their con­tin­ued insis­tence on putting the U.S. ​“back in the posi­tion of glob­al lead­er­ship where we belong,” as the par­ty plat­form promis­es, isn’t just hubris­tic nation­al­ist rhetoric — it results in sub­stan­tive shortcomings.

To start, none of the plans rec­og­nize that the U.S. has among the high­est per capi­ta emis­sions of any coun­try, and an aston­ish­ing one quar­ter of cumu­la­tive emis­sions since rough­ly the start of the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion. Cumu­la­tive emis­sions mat­ter, because car­bon diox­ide can per­sist in the atmos­phere for cen­turies.

A more hon­est approach would be to speak not of America’s lead­er­ship but its respon­si­bil­i­ty to reduce its own emis­sions rapid­ly on a scale that match­es its out­sized con­tri­bu­tion to glob­al emissions.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the U.S vol­un­tary tar­get bare­ly exceeds a quar­ter of the most con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mate of what a fair share of emis­sions reduc­tions by the U.S. should be. So when the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty plat­form says the U.S. will ​“seek high­er ambi­tion from nations around the world,” it’s fair to ask: Why not increase our own com­mit­ment first?

Instead, the par­ty appears to blame oth­er coun­tries for the cri­sis. The Biden cam­paign plat­form claims that coun­tries like Chi­na ​“game the sys­tem by becom­ing des­ti­na­tion economies for pol­luters.” But China’s sta­tus as the world’s fac­to­ry is in sig­nif­i­cant part attrib­ut­able to the cor­po­rate-friend­ly glob­al trade régime that the U.S. has con­sis­tent­ly pushed for. Chi­na is our third largest trad­ing part­ner, and U.S. com­pa­nies are respon­si­ble for much of the pol­lu­tion in China.

Then there’s the mat­ter of the U.S. debt to coun­tries impact­ed by our emissions.

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic plans do com­mit the U.S. to the Green Cli­mate Fund, which funds cli­mate action in less wealthy coun­tries. But absent spe­cif­ic mon­e­tary com­mit­ments, it’s an emp­ty promise.

The U.S. pledge under the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, for exam­ple, was only $3 bil­lion (Trump lat­er reneged on $2 bil­lion of this). This com­pares to an esti­mat­ed need for world­wide cap­i­tal invest­ment of 810 bil­lion Euros ($956 bil­lion) by 2030 annu­al­ly for bring­ing emis­sions down (“mit­i­ga­tion”), and anoth­er $500 bil­lion by 2050 annu­al­ly for adjust­ing to cli­mate change impacts (“adap­ta­tion”). Giv­en the out­sized U.S. role in caus­ing the cli­mate cri­sis, it’s only fair that the U.S. con­tri­bu­tion to glob­al mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion costs should be orders of mag­ni­tude larger.

“Fortress Amer­i­ca”

Final­ly, there’s the issue of migra­tion. More than 140 mil­lion peo­ple are expect­ed to be dis­placed by cli­mate change in the com­ing decades. Any seri­ous cli­mate plan demands a humane approach to this wrench­ing cri­sis, which is already begin­ning to unfold.

To its cred­it, the offi­cial par­ty plat­form com­mits to address­ing ​“the root caus­es of migra­tion,” includ­ing ​“the impacts of cli­mate change.” But the Biden cam­paign, House Select Com­mit­tee, and Sen­ate Democ­rats’ plans, with their empha­sis on ​“nation­al secu­ri­ty” and ​“prepar­ing” at the bor­der, hint vague­ly at what’s some­times called ​“Fortress America.”

Biden promis­es to ​“ele­vate cli­mate change as a nation­al secu­ri­ty pri­or­i­ty” in response to ​“defense and intel­li­gence lead­ers’ warn­ings about the threats cli­mate change pos­es to glob­al sta­bil­i­ty.” He plans to make ​“secu­ri­ty impli­ca­tions of result­ing large-scale migra­tions” dri­ven by cli­mate change a sub­ject of intel­li­gence gathering.

Sim­i­lar­ly, the House Select Com­mit­tee wants fed­er­al agen­cies to ​“pre­pare for cli­mate-dri­ven inter­nal and cross-bor­der migra­tion” in response to cli­mate risks to nation­al secu­ri­ty, while the Sen­ate plan warns that cli­mate-dri­ven migra­tion will ​“strain state capac­i­ty, fur­ther frac­ture soci­eties, and could cre­ate breed­ing grounds for radicalization.”

Almost as an after­thought, the Sen­ate plan does rec­og­nize that ​“indi­vid­u­als whose lives are immi­nent­ly threat­ened by cli­mate change may have a legal basis for refugee pro­tec­tion,” though it stops short of affirm­ing one itself. The Biden and House plans say noth­ing about cli­mate-dri­ven migra­tion as a human rights issue.

With­out a firm com­mit­ment to the human rights of cli­mate refugees, these vague approach­es could eas­i­ly presage a mil­i­ta­rized response to a cri­sis for which the U.S. is dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly respon­si­ble. The mes­sage to the rest of the world is: ​“We don’t care if our emis­sions parched your crops and dis­placed you — we’ll pre­serve our gat­ed community.”

A more humane response would neces­si­tate the U.S. open­ing its bor­ders to peo­ple flee­ing cli­mate dev­as­ta­tion, a core part of tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for the effects of its his­tor­i­cal emissions.

The Strength of Our Movements

The Democ­rats have got­ten a good deal stronger on cli­mate jus­tice in recent years. Still, their offi­cial posi­tions often remain stuck in the Oba­ma years, leav­ing the door open for an ​“all of the above” ener­gy agen­da at home, under­min­ing more mean­ing­ful action in glob­al cli­mate talks, and bar­ring the door to impact­ed refugees.

What they haven’t reck­oned with is the strength of our move­ments for cli­mate jus­tice. It’s the strength of our move­ments that has forced the Democ­rats to acknowl­edge the pri­ma­cy of envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice — and to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the par­ty more clear­ly from the denial­ist Republicans.

And it’s the strength of our move­ments that has deci­sive­ly shift­ed the cen­ter of grav­i­ty of cli­mate pol­i­cy from a neolib­er­al ​“car­bon pric­ing” approach to a focus on reg­u­la­tion, gov­ern­ment spend­ing, and social justice.

If a Demo­c­ra­t­ic admin­is­tra­tion takes office in 2021, they can expect mas­sive resis­tance to fos­sil fuels at home, and unre­lent­ing pres­sure to aban­don hubris­tic notions of ​“Amer­i­can lead­er­ship” and engage in good-faith in glob­al cli­mate action.

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and

Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

Featured Photo: Shutterstock

Americans want an End to Fossil Fuels, but Corporate Media won’t Tell You So Sun, 22 Dec 2019 05:02:38 +0000 ( – Last month, The Washington Post reported on the results of a poll it conducted with the Kaiser Family Foundation earlier this year. The poll had remarkable finding: nearly half — 46 percent — of American adults believe the U.S. needs to “drastically reduce” fossil fuel use in the near future to address the climate crisis, while another 41 percent favor a more gradual reduction.

If you think the result was only about political ideology in a highly polarized country, you’d only be partly right – a narrow majority of 51 percent of Republicans surveyed support phasing out fossil fuels, albeit at a slower pace.

In other words, a solid seven-eighths of U.S. adults — including half of the supporters of the unabashedly pro-fossil fuel Republican Party — support a phase-out of fossil fuels. And that population is based in the world’s largest oil and gas producer, third largest coal producer, and the only country to leave the universally-adopted Paris Climate Agreement.

You’d expect a media outlet to treat this as the immensely newsworthy (and headline-worthy) finding that it is – especially if that media outlet commissioned the poll! Yet, The Washington Post buried these numbers in the 14th and 15th paragraphs of the story about the poll’s findings on attitudes around fiscal policy and national climate action, one of the multiple articles they published around their survey.

How did the Post headline actually read? “Americans like Green New Deal’s goals, but they reject paying trillions to reach them.”

This assertion, while not outright false, certainly is misleading.

The poll had a single vaguely-worded question about the price tag for a national climate action plan, which asked whether respondents supported raising federal spending by unspecified “trillions.” Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they were opposed.

But the poll provided no context on how much the government spends on the military, or fossil fuel subsidies, or corporate subsidies more broadly. Pollsters gave respondents no specifics on the amount of “trillions” we’re talking about, or how they compare to the overall federal budget or the country’s GDP. They didn’t ask respondents whether they would support such a spending increase if it were paid for entirely by revenue increases.

What else did the poll find? More than two-thirds of Americans — 68 percent — support raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for climate action. Sixty percent support raising taxes on fossil fuel burning companies “even if that may lead to increased electricity and transportation prices.” The Post chose to ignore both findings entirely in the article.

Unsurprisingly, only 47 percent support a monthly $2 tax increase on residential utility bills, and only 35 percent support an increase in the gas tax 10 cents per gallon.

A more accurate portrayal of the poll results might say that U.S. adults support paying for climate action by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but they don’t want to raise taxes for working people. They might be uncomfortable spending “trillions” without any context or specifics.

American adults support fairness. But there’s little evidence that they support austerity, despite what the the headline of the Post may say.

Why, then, did the Post bury some of the most significant findings of their own poll, and highlight the most misleading finding instead?

I won’t speculate too much — that’s for The Washington Post to answer. But neoliberal political biases that equate government spending with waste, while evading or ignoring issues of tax fairness, run deep.

A more objective – and hopeful – reading might instead emphasize that the vast majority of Americans support phasing out fossil fuels. Large majorities also support other climate action and social justice objectives, like reaching 100 percent renewable electricity in 10 years (69 percent support), a job guarantee with good wages for all workers (78 percent support), energy efficiency upgrades for all buildings in the country (70 percent support), and major new regulations on businesses (61 percent support). A majority (55 percent) support a reduction of coal mining jobs, even though the poll failed to provide context about transition programs for displaced workers.

Two poll findings complicate the premise of the Post’s headline. Two-thirds of respondents support increased government infrastructure spending on climate resilience for communities who are vulnerable to disasters, and two-thirds also support a government program for universal health care.

Polls aren’t always trustworthy. But to the extent that they reveal public opinions, this one shows large majorities of Americans want serious governmental action on climate change that incorporates social justice and workers’ rights, all paid for by progressive taxation. They want more regulation of corporations and more government spending on community resilience. And they support a government program for universal health care.

This is great news for those of us who are organizing for a just transition from our extractive fossil-fuel driven economy to a safe, healthy future for all, Washington Post headlines be damned.



Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBS New York: “Climate Change Protesters Disrupt Football Game”

Dig Beneath the World’s Far-Right Governments — You’ll Find Fossil Fuels Sun, 13 Oct 2019 04:03:07 +0000 (Foreign Policy in Focus) – From Brazil to India to the United States, extractive industries have aligned themselves with authoritarian governments waging war on minority populations.

The world’s burgeoning far-right movements are far-flung and diverse, but in government they share a few core tendencies: They attack minority populations. They criminalize dissent. And they’re horrible for the planet.

The slide into extractivist authoritarianism in the U.S. is part of a worldwide trend, exemplified by the parallels between the U.S. and Brazil, where far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is presiding over an accelerated destruction of the Amazon, attacks on Indigenous Brazilians, and brazen profiteering by aligned corporate interests.

Another striking international parallel was on display recently in Houston, Texas, where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared the stage with Trump at an event that felt like a fascist rally.

I’m not using the term “fascist” lightly. Here’s a brief explanation for readers unfamiliar with Indian history.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi’s political party, is rooted in a much older organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a connection the BJP doesn’t deny — Modi himself is a long-time RSS member.

Early RSS ideologues were inspired by European fascism. B.S. Moonje, a mentor of RSS founder K.B. Hegdewar, visited Italy, met with Mussolini, toured fascist youth indoctrination camps, and was inspired to popularize an Indian version of these camps through the RSS.

M.S. Golwalkar, another early RSS leader, openly praised Nazism in his writings. He wanted to create a Hindu nationalist India based on the ethnonationalist, militaristic vision of fascism. Golwalkar never apologized for or retracted these views during his lifetime, and the RSS waited 67 years to publicly repudiate them, making the repudiation not particularly credible.

But this isn’t just an ancient skeleton in the BJP’s closet. The violent ethnonationalism that RSS leadership admired and espoused in the 1930s is very much alive in the agenda of today’s BJP. This ideology views Muslims as the enemy of India’s national identity, and Muslims have been the main target of the Modi government’s politics of violence and repression.

The best-known example is the BJP government’s escalation of the decades-long conflict in Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution provided for a certain measure of autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35A, a provision of Article 370, restricted acquisition of land in the state by persons from outside it.

In August, the Modi government unilaterally scrapped Article 370 using questionable means. This was a prelude to the further militarization of an already heavily militarized territory, a communications blockade that eliminated all internet, mobile phone, and landline service, and worsening violence against Kashmiris, with reports of deaths, torture, and detention (including detention of children).

Eliminating Article 35A opens the door to changing the demographics of Muslim-majority Kashmir through settlement, much like Israel’s practice in occupied Palestine. Doing so would be completely consistent with the BJP’s ethnonationalism.

A lesser known example of the Modi government’s Islamophobia is its campaign to strip Muslims of alleged Bangladeshi descent in the state of Assam of their Indian citizenship unless they can prove their citizenship — in a country where most people, especially the rural poor, don’t have birth certificates.

Also excluded from the “citizens’ list” created by the Modi government are transgender people.

The Indian government is now building camps to detain people who are stripped of their citizenship. Mass detention of a civilian population, usually based on their ethnic, religious, or other identity, fits the definition of concentration camps.

There are obvious parallels with the U.S. here. The Trump administration’s horrific border policies include detaining children and families in concentration camps, as experts who’ve studied the history of concentration camps agree, regardless of what right-wing apologists say. And The Trump administration is engaged in a legal assault of its own against the basic rights of transgender people and LGBTQ people more broadly.

Then, there’s the Modi and Trump regimes’ deep-seated hatred of Muslims. The U.S. government has gone to the extent of banning people from specific Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. altogether. While courts have upheld this policy on the grounds that its stated intent is to keep out nationals from countries with ties to “terrorism,” Trump’s own statements point to the intent to exclude Muslims from the U.S.

Other parallels between the far-right political projects in India and the U.S. include their ties to extractive industries and their shared objective of criminalizing opposition to extractivism, particularly by Indigenous peoples.

In the United States, a recent investigative news report revealed that oil and gas companies have been lobbying Congress to insert provisions criminalizing protests against fossil fuel infrastructure into a pipeline safety bill. Similar laws are already on the books in states such as Louisiana and North Dakota. Besides being an attack on the right to protest, these laws are outright assaults against Indigenous peoples who have been in the forefront of struggles against fossil fuel infrastructure in the U.S.

These laws are being pushed by the fossil fuel industry — along with regulatory changes rolling back automobile fuel efficiency standards, making it easier for coal power plants to pollute, and more. The U.S. government increasingly acts like a tool of fossil fuel companies and oligarchs.

Similarly, Modi has direct ties with Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, who has benefited from public subsidies and deregulation for his fossil fuel, mining, and other business interests. Adani has also been a vocal supporter of Modi, including when the latter faced scrutiny for his role in covering up an anti-Muslim pogrom when he led the state of Gujarat. Adani’s company has a sordid record of destroying ecosystems and violating Indigenous rights, from Gujarat to Australia.

And like the U.S. government, the Modi government is also criminalizing Indigenous resistance to extractivism by equating it with “terrorism.”

Exploring these parallels isn’t an academic exercise. For cross-border movements for justice to successfully dismantle far-right ethnonationalism backed by fossil fuel and other corporate interests, in the U.S., India, Brazil, and elsewhere, we must start with a shared understanding of the common material and ideological foundations of the global far right. Sharper understanding can make our resistance more effective.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

India Today: “”Don’t Inaugurate Birbhum Coal Block” Rajya Sabha MP Shoots Letter To PM Modi”

Killing for Coal (Literally) Sun, 02 Sep 2018 04:37:51 +0000 ( – Shocking as this sounds, the U.S. government is — by its own admission — willing to murder up to 1,600 Americans a year to enrich a few coal billionaires. By | August 28, 2018

In August 1921, sheriff’s deputies in West Virginia — later joined by federal troops — massacred striking mineworkers using machine guns and aerial bombardment, in what’s now known as the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Nearly a century later, the government is again going to war in support of mine owners by deregulating coal-fired power plants. This time, the target of the war isn’t striking workers — it’s the public.

Casualties in this war are projected to be steep. By the government’s own estimate, up to 1,600 people a year are going to die from the additional soot and ozone pollution by 2030, thanks to its proposed rules.

They didn’t mention that in the press release or any of the fact sheets accompanying the proposed new rule. Instead, those estimates are buried in technical tables (on pages 169 through 171 of a 289-page document). But they’re there.

These deaths won’t be equally distributed, either. Consequences of ozone and soot pollution include asthma, and the disparities in who gets asthma — and who dies from it — are striking.

More than 11 percent of people in poor households have asthma, compared to under 8 percent of all Americans. Almost three times as many black people die of asthma as white people. And children are particularly acutely affected.

This doesn’t include the additional deaths from extreme heat or violent storms attributable to planet-warming emissions of carbon dioxide, which are projected to increase by up to 37 million tons a year compared to current regulations.

Yet the document proposing the deregulation mentions the phrase “climate change” only three times, and the press release and fact sheets don’t mention it at all. The estimates of increased carbon dioxide emissions are also hidden in a table (on page 142 in a 236-page document).

Shocking as this sounds, the U.S. government is — by its own admission — willing to murder up to 1,600 Americans a year, and still more Americans in other ways it doesn’t own up to. Since pollution crosses national borders, they will kill people outside the U.S. as well.

Why? The same reason as on Blair Mountain: to benefit the coal industry.

A combination of cheap natural gas, falling renewable prices, and state policies have battered the coal industry. Unable to compete, the industry has turned to the government for help.

Coal billionaires such as Robert Murray of Murray Energy and Joseph Craft of Alliance Resource Partners have bribed the president (or to sugarcoat reality, given him “campaign contributions“), handed memos with policy prescriptions to the president’s minions, and schmoozed with them at basketball games.

Unsurprisingly, one of the policy prescriptions from Murray was to deregulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. Trump and his team have obliged.

The government claims its motive is to help coal miners. Trump evidently loves photo-ops with them, so he went to West Virginia to promote his coal deregulation plan.

The propaganda doesn’t match with reality. While many in the audience were supportive, a sizable number weren’t buying it. “Will coal ever be what it was? Hell, no,” a maintenance worker named Charles Busby told E&E News. Busby’s father has black lung.

Indeed, black lung cases among U.S. coal miners have been growing since 2000, even as the industry tries to reduce its responsibility to miners suffering from the debilitating illness. Even after all those photo-ops with miners, Trump hasn’t gone to bat for them.

Trump and his cronies aren’t on the miners’ side — they’re on the side of their bosses. And the U.S. government is willing to kill its own citizens to enrich these billionaires.

This is class war. Unlike in 1921, it’s not being waged with machine guns and aircraft, but it’s just as deadly. Understanding this assault is key for us to organize and fight back.


Related posts:

  1. Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
  2. Let’s Face It: The Coal Industry Is a Job Killer
  3. How One Coal Baron Set an Entire Administration’s Energy Agenda
  4. King Coal Catches Black Lung

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Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by

Via, Creative Commons License.


Bonus video added by Juan Cole:

CBS News: “New EPA coal rules may lead to 1,400 premature deaths a year”