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Let Us Now Sing About the Warmed Earth

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Posted on Jul 29, 2013
Subhankar Banerjee

By Subhankar Banerjee, ClimateStoryTellers

(Page 2)

Dystopia is the antithesis of utopia, and is usually framed with literary imaginations. “An imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty–Four is a good example. But it doesn’t have to be literary imaginations only, it can be visual imaginations as well; and it doesn’t have to be about the future, it can also be about the present, as Spanish painter Francisco Goya made evident in his print series The Disasters of War (1810–1820). Susan Sontag observed in Regarding the Pain of Others:

The ghoulish cruelties in The Disasters of War are meant to awaken, shock, wound the viewer. Goya’s art, like Dostoyevsky’s, seems a turning point in the history of moral feelings and of sorrow—as deep, as original, as demanding. With Goya, a new standard for responsiveness to suffering enters art.

Art historians have suggested that Goya created the series “as a visual protest against the violence of the 1808 Dos de Mayo Uprising, the subsequent Peninsular War of 1808–14 and the setbacks to the liberal cause following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814.” Goya kept both his intentions and the 82 prints he created private during his lifetime. It was finally published in 1863, thirty–five years after his death, when it was deemed “politically safe to distribute a sequence of artworks criticising both the French and restored Bourbons.”

Is it possible that climate change experts in the US are keeping their feelings private and not speaking out with outrage against Obama’s petro–imperial and pro–coal energy policy—for the fear of—…?

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Emission vs. Extraction

On July 22 the Yale Environment 360 published an article in which nine climate change experts, including Michael Mann, Bill McKibben and Carol Browner gave their comments on “Obama’s New Climate Plan.” Eight contributors provided a more or less supportive view of the plan. The ninth contributor, however, a policy analyst from the Heritage Foundation, unsurprisingly took the discussion in the opposite direction, “President Obama’s climate plan would have a chilling effect on the economy.” For a more critical analysis of the Obama climate plan, you can see Chris Willams’ article here and mine here. Broadly speaking the comments on Yale Environment 360 focused on emission reduction from coal–fired power plants and natural gas as a good “bridge fuel.” No one mentioned a word about the “climate time bomb” that Obama had set off with his “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” in May. And no one said anything about the grave eco–cultural and climate consequences of—his support for expansion of fossil fuels extraction—across the American land and the oceans.

It was a déjà vu for me. In 2010, the phony cap–and–trade bill had focused on emission reduction and was limping through the dysfunctional US Congress, and then failed. To bring the focus back to extraction, later that year, I wrote an article on Common Dreams, “Another One Hundred Years of Fossil–Digging in North America?”

Obama in the US, and Harper in Canada, in tandem, are turning North America into a petro–imperial and petro–despot continent. This does not bode well for solving the climate crisis. It’s worth reviewing briefly some of the extraction projects taking place now. Since there has been a lot of discussion about tar sands in Alberta, I’ll focus on a few others:

•  Shell’s drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in Arctic Alaska (in 2011 I wrote that permits were rubber–stamped, and despite repeated appeals, the Obama administration refused to do an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)—a blatant violation of the National Environmental Policy Act).

•  Massive expansion of gas fracking—onshore that Tara Lohan of AlterNet has been writing about all summer, and also offshore off of the coast of California that we learned last week from a Truthout investigative report (no EIS was done for the California offshore fracking project either).

•  Hyper–deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (earlier this year Shell announced plan to drill the deepest offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico—almost two miles below the water surface, which is twice the depth of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well that caused the worst oil spill in US history).

•  Expansion of coal mining in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.


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