Oil Is Back! A Global Warming President Presides Over a Drill-Baby-Drill America

Yves here. It should come as no surprise that Obama’s rhetoric on climate change is sorely out of whack with his policies. Indeed, as Michael Klare reports, there’s been enough of a economic rebound in the US to lead to more driving, and hence more oil usage. And rather than regard that as a problem, the Administration has shifted from talking up clean energy to pushing more domestic oil production.

By Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Originally published at TomDispatch

Considering all the talk about global warming, peak oil, carbon divestment, and renewable energy, you’d think that oil consumption in the United States would be on a downward path.  By now, we should certainly be witnessing real progress toward a post-petroleum economy.  As it happens, the opposite is occurring.  U.S. oil consumption is on an upward trajectory, climbing by 400,000 barrels per day in 2013 alone — and, if current trends persist, it should rise again both this year and next.

In other words, oil is back.  Big time.  Signs of its resurgence abound.  Despite what you may think, Americans, on average, are driving more miles every day, not fewer, filling ever more fuel tanks with ever more gasoline, and evidently feeling ever less bad about it.  The stigma of buying new gas-guzzling SUVs, for instance, seems to have vanished; according to CNN Money, nearly one out of three vehicles sold today is an SUV.  As a result of all this, America’s demand for oil grew more than China’s in 2013, the first time that’s happened since 1999.

Accompanying all this is a little noticed but crucial shift in White House rhetoric.  While President Obama once spoke of the necessity of eliminating our reliance on petroleum as a major source of energy, he now brags about rising U.S. oil output and touts his efforts to further boost production.

Just five years ago, few would have foreseen such a dramatic oil rebound.  Many energy experts were then predicting an imminent “peak” in global oil production, followed by an irreversible decline in output.  With supplies constantly shrinking, it was said, oil prices would skyrocket and consumers would turn to hybrid vehicles, electric cars, biofuels, and various transportation alternatives.  New government policies would be devised to facilitate this shift, providing tax breaks and other incentives for making the switch to renewables.

At that time, a growing concern over climate change and the prospect of further warming due to increased emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels seemed to dim the long-term prospects for petroleum.  After all, oil combustion is this country’s single largest source of carbon emissions.  This, in turn, clearly meant that any significant attempt to reduce emissions — whether through a carbon tax, a carbon cap-and-trade program, or other such measures — would naturally have to incorporate significant impediments to oil use.  President Obama entered the White House promising to enact such a measure, and the House of Representatives passed a modified cap-and-trade bill in 2009.  (It failed in the Senate and so never became law.)

The 2008 financial crisis and global economic meltdown only put oil’s future in further doubt.  Suddenly cash-conscious Americans began trading in their gas-guzzlers for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, with the Obama administration adding its encouragement.  When agreeing to the bailout of General Motors, for instance, the White House insisted that the reorganized company focus on the production of such vehicles.  In a similar spirit, the administration’s $787 billion stimulus package favored investment in electric cars, biofuels, high-speed rail, and other petroleum alternatives.

The president’s comments at the time clearly reflected a belief that oil was an “old” form of energy facing inevitable decline.  “The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity, our long-term security on a resource that will eventually run out, and even before it runs out will get more expensive to extract from the ground,” he declared in 2011.  “We can’t afford it when the costs to our economy, our country, and our planet are so high.”  Not only did the country need to lessen its dangerous reliance on imported oil, he insisted, but on oil altogether.  “The only way for America’s energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil.”

Obama’s Turnaround on Oil

That was then and this is now, and Obama ain’t talking that way no more.  Instead, he regularly boasts of America’s soaring oil output and points to all he’s done and is still doing to further increase domestic production.  Thanks to the sort of heightened investment in domestic output his administration has sponsored, he told a cheering Congress in January, “more oil [was] produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world — the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.”  Although still offering his usual bow to the dangers of climate change, Obama did not hesitate to promise to facilitate further gains in domestic output.

In accord with his wishes, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced on July 18th that it would reopen a large portion of the waters off the Eastern seaboard, an area stretching all the way from Florida to Delaware, to new oil and natural gas exploration.  Under the BOEM plan, energy companies will be allowed to employ advanced seismic technology to locate promising reserves beneath the seabed in preparation for a round of offshore licensing scheduled for 2018.  At that point, the companies can bid for and acquire actual drilling leases. Environmental organizations have condemned the plan, claiming the seismic tests often involve the use of sonic blasts that could prove harmful to endangered sea animals, including whales. The truth is, however, that those seismic tests, by opening future fossil fuel deposits to development and exploitation, are likely, in the long run, to hurt human beings at least as much.

Here are some of the other measures recently taken by the administration to boost domestic oil production, according to a recent White House factsheet:

* An increase in the sales of leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands.  In 2013, the Bureau of Land Management held 30 such sales — the most in a decade — offering 5.7 million acres for lease by industry.

* An increase in the speed with which permits are being issued for actual drilling on federal lands.  What’s called “processing time” has, the White House boasts, been cut from 228 days in 2012 to 194 days in 2013.

* The opening up of an additional 59 million acres for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a disastrous BP oil spill in April 2010.

In other words, global warming be damned! 

In a turnaround that has gotten next to no attention and remarkably little criticism, President Obama is now making a legacy record for himself that will put the “permanent reduction of our dependence on oil” in its grave.  His administration is instead on a drill-baby-drill course to increase production in every way imaginable on U.S. territory, including offshore areas that were long closed to drilling due to environmental concerns.

What explains this dramatic turnaround?

The Rekindled Allure of Oil

The most significant factor behind the renewed popularity of oil has been a revolution in drilling technology.  In particular, this involves the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract oil and natural gas from previously inaccessible shale formations.  These techniques include the use of drills that can turn sideways after penetrating thin underground shale layers, along with high-pressure water cannons to fracture the surrounding rock and liberate pockets of oil and gas.  Until the introduction of these techniques, the hydrocarbons trapped in the shale were prohibitively expensive to produce and so ignored both by industry and the many experts predicting that “peak oil” was in sight.

Most domestic shale “plays” (as they are called in the industry) contain both oil and natural gas.  They were first exploited for their gas content because of the greater ease in extracting commercial volumes of that fossil fuel.  But when the price of gas collapsed — in part because of a glut of shale gas — many drillers found that they could make more money by redeploying their rigs in oil-rich shales like the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Eagle Ford in West Texas.  The result has been a sudden torrent of domestic crude that has brought gasoline prices down (with a resulting increase in gasoline consumption) and created boom-like conditions in several parts of the country.

Prior to the utilization of horizontal drilling and fracking technology, U.S. crude production was indeed facing long-term decline.  According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the Department of Energy, domestic crude output fell from a peak of 9.6 million barrels per day in 1970 to a low of 5 million barrels in 2008.  With the introduction of fracking, however, the numbers started to soar.  Total U.S. crude output jumped from 5.7 million barrels per day in 2011 to 7.5 million in 2013.  Output in 2014 is projected to be 8.5 million barrels per day, which would represent a remarkable increase of 2.8 million barrels per day in just three years.

The increase is, by the way, the largest posted by any of the world’s oil producers from 2011-2013 and has generated multiple economic benefits for the country, along with significant environmental consequences.  For one thing, it has kept gas prices relatively low.  They are now averaging about $3.50 per gallon — a lot more than Americans were paying in the 1990s, but a lot less than most experts assumed would be the case in a post-peak-oil economy.  This has, of course, spurred both those SUV sales and an increase in recreational driving.  (“We were able to take a day-cation because of the lower gas prices,” said Beth Hughes, of a four-hour roundtrip drive with her husband to San Antonio, to visit the Alamo and do some shopping.)

The increased availability of relatively affordable oil has also spurred investment in ancillary industries like petrochemicals and plastics.  Petroleum is the basic raw material, or “feedstock,” for a wide variety of subsidiary materials, including ethylene, propylene, and benzene, which in turn are used to make polyesters, plastics, and numerous consumer products.  Many chemical firms have built new facilities to convert shale oil and shale gas into these commodities, a spur both to new jobs and greater tax revenues.  In addition, with crude oil selling at around $100 per barrel, those extra 2.8 million barrels produced daily will add about $100 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014, a substantial contribution to an otherwise tepid recovery.

Of course, the environmental downside to all this, already significant, could be staggering for the future.  The use of hydro-fracking to release all that shale oil has resulted in the diversion of vast quantities of water to energy production, in the process regularly posing a threat to local water supplies.  In some drought-affected areas, oil drilling is now competing with farming for access to ever-diminishing supplies of fresh water.  The growing use of railroads to carry shale oil — an especially volatile hydrocarbon substance — has also led to several lethal explosions, triggered by accidents involving old and inadequately reinforced tank cars.

Of course, the greatest environmental fallout from the domestic oil boom will be a continuing deluge of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, further bolstering the greenhouse effect and ensuring higher world temperatures for years to come.  While emissions from domestic coal use are likely to decline in the years ahead, in part due to new rules being formulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the expected rise in emissions from oil and natural gas use will wipe out these gains, and so total U.S. emissions are expected to be higher in 2040 than they are today, according to the EIA.  As a result, we can expect little progress in international efforts to slow the advance of climate change and a steady increase in the frequency and intensity of storms, floods, fires, droughts, and heat waves.

As seen from Washington, however, the domestic oil rebound is largely a feel-good story and an essential part of an otherwise anemic economic recovery.  Putting people back to work, Obama declared in May, “starts with helping businesses create more good jobs.  One of the biggest factors in bringing jobs back to America has been our commitment to American energy over the last five years.  When I took office, we set out to break our dependence on foreign oil.  Today, America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades.”

“A Stronger Hand”

For the president and many other politicians, increased oil output, however important as a source of economic vitality and job creation, is far more than that.  It is also a source of power and prestige, guaranteed to give the United States greater leverage in international affairs.

As Tom Donilon, then the president’s senior adviser on national security, explained in April 2013, “America’s new energy posture allows us to engage from a position of greater strength.  Increasing U.S. energy supplies act as a cushion that helps reduce our vulnerability to global supply disruptions and price shocks.  It also affords us a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals.”

One area where American energy prowess has given us “a stronger hand,” he suggested, was in negotiations with Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program.  Because the U.S. is importing less oil, there is a larger pool of foreign oil on which our allies can draw for their needs, which has made it easier to impose tough sanctions on Iran’s petroleum exports — and so wring concessions from Iran’s leadership circle.

Another area where many Washington pundits and politicians believe increased oil and gas production has strengthened the president’s hand lies in the administration’s efforts to impose multilateral sanctions on Russia’s energy companies as a punishment for the Kremlin’s covert backing of anti-government rebels in eastern Ukraine.  Although still dependent on Russia for a large share of their energy intake, America’s European allies are feeling somewhat less deferential to Moscow because of the growth in global supplies.

In other words, the striking spurt in domestic oil production has added a patriotic dimension to its already powerful allure.

Collective Schizophrenia

As polls show, most Americans acknowledge the reality of climate change and support efforts to reduce carbon emissions in order avert future climate-induced disasters.  California and other states have even taken significant steps to reduce energy-related emissions and the Obama administration has, among other things, announced plans to improve the fuel efficiency of American cars and trucks. 

In addition, the president and many in his administration clearly grasp the dangers of climate change — the increasing heat, drought, fiercer storms, rising sea levels, and other perils that, without serious curbs on the combustion of fossil fuels, will make the present look like a utopian moment in human history.  Nevertheless, the numbers — from production to consumption — are anything but promising.  According to the latest EIA projections, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from petroleum use will increase by eight million metric tons between 2013 and 2015; such emissions are then expected to level off, at about 2.2 billion tons per year, despite substantial increases in average vehicle fuel efficiency.

With emissions from natural gas expected to rise — the inevitable result of the shale gas boom — and coal emissions experiencing only a modest decline (some of which is offset by rising U.S. exports of coal to be burned elsewhere), total domestic carbon emissions from energy use in 2040 are still predicted to be a devastating 6% higher than they are today.  Can there be any question at this point of how this will help ensure the sorts of predicted global temperature increases, with all the ensuing side effects, that every expert knows will be devastating to the planet?

At a national level, such a situation — knowing one thing and doing something else — can only be described as some form of mass delusion or a collective version of schizophrenia.  In one part of our collective brain, we are aware that petroleum use must decline sharply to prevent the sorts of global catastrophes that we are only used to seeing in science fiction movies; in another, we retain our affection for driving and gasoline use without giving much thought to the consequences.  We have a global warming president presiding over a massive expansion of fossil fuel production.  Think of this as a form of collective mental compartmentalization that should frighten us all — and yet from the president on down, it’s remarkable how few seem disturbed by it.

Obviously, this is an unsustainable condition.  Eventually, excessive petroleum use will produce such frequent and severe climate effects that no president or energy executive would dare boast of increased petroleum output and none of us would even dream of filling up the gas tank to take a “day-cation” at a distant tourist site.  Until we identify and begin treating this state of national schizophrenia, however, we will ensure that a time of mutual pain and hardship is ever more likely.

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  1. mmckinl

    Obama’s new moves on oil leases are a direct sign of “peak oil”. The fact of the matter is that Klare plays fast and loose with the facts about conventional oil production, shale production and overall demand.

    Naked Capitalism has documented the Shale Bubble and the skyrocketing costs of oil production as well as the huge debt oil companies are now accumulating to get new reserves only to be falling short.

    Klare’s piece is nothing short of a coverup of our real predicament. Without the worldwide recession happening oil would already be in short supply. Central Banks have crushed demand to hide the truth.

    These Central Banks have also colluded with the oligarchy to privatize public assets on the cheap giving the wealthy even more wealth using the money stolen from the people to save their banking systems …

    Klare’s piece is making all the rounds and is a red herring to draw attention away from what can only be called the greatest problem humanity has yet faced… peak oil.

    1. Fiver

      While I’ve also read here and elsewhere with respect to problematic financials and production rates, so far as I’m aware there is no consensus re the ‘bubble’ in shale oil with respect to how many years’ production can be reliably counted on at something like the current level. But to give your position full due, let’s take the lowest estimate. I’ll make one up. Let’s say the whole US shale oil phenomenon is over and done by 2018.

      Is the more pressing problem a) to find and burn more oil (or gas, or coal, of gasified coal, etc.) or b) immediately begin a crash program to get off fossil fuels?

      I’m b) all the way.

      1. James Levy

        To be fair to Klare, he’s got to operate somewhere on the edge of the “debate” as it is or he will be excised from said debate. And although he’s turned into something of a cranky bigot, James Howard Kunstler was almost certainly correct in arguing all these years that Americans simply will not give up their suburban “happy motoring” lifestyle (it is, as America’s Id Dick Cheney declared, non-negotiable). It will be taken from them by events. This goes back to the fundamental “Jimmy Carter Principle” of American politics: if you tell the people the truth, the pundits will revile you and the electorate will hound you from office (that, I would argue, is the overwhelming conviction among our political class–and I don’t think they are far wrong). As a new book is arguing, Reagan versus Carter was not so much an ideological contest as a competition between a politics of something like the truth and one of pure fantasy. Fantasy won, hands down. And the people embraced it. We can blame the evil Power Elite all we want, but the voters screwed the pooch there and have ever since (see Hope, Change). Mondale was the last remotely honest person who could have been president, and he was crushed. Enough people in 1984 still remembered Vietnam, Watergate, and The New Deal (and knew Reagan was a dolt) for them to have soberly assessed the situation and not bought the Morning in America line. They were not children. But they wanted to believe. They wanted to be absolved of the guilt those evil “blame America first” liberals were pushing when they reminded us about Arbenz, Diem, Allende, and Mossadegh. They wanted to flee the responsibility of what 300 years of slavery and Jim Crow had wrought in the black community. And since that time we’ve had a politics of happy talk and spectacle devoid of substance. That this process has been a boon to the Power Elite does not change the fact that it was a majority movement from the start. Today, the electorate may be too addled and misinformed to change anything. But in 1980 and 1984, they were not.

        1. Banger

          Excellent comment James! But why do people prefer fantasy? In my view, it is because they are already so deep in denial that the shock of reality or even coming close to reality would cause a kind of nervous breakdown. This is why every significant event can be so drastically distorted with little opposition from the populace. My question to you is what has to happen for this trend toward fantasy begin to come back to something close to the truth?

          1. James Levy

            When the fat has burned off and the props have been knocked away, people will then face reality. Then you can 1) sit down and die, 2) kill your neighbor and steal his stuff, or 3) demand justice and work with your neighbor to reorder things in a human way. They’ll be plenty of all three, and which will be the dominant ethos going forward is anyone’s guess.

        2. Fiver

          Agree with pretty much everything you said, and with Banger that you said it very well – it’s not like adults haven’t had the fundamental equation of US and global population and consumption growth vs resource and environmental limits in front of them for 40 years.

          The problem as I see it is that there’s more than enough ‘affordable’ fossil fuels left to utterly ruin the environment via all negative impacts of fossil fuel use even at current levels of growth with a ‘drop dead’ date in terms of a civilized, implemented US and global response 15-20 years out (15 to be safe). Not a lot of time. This would involve both a massive global program to convert to alternatives suited to any given geographical circumstance, with solar, solar/hydrogen, and hydrogen for example, providing the backbone, in close coordination with an equally massive effort to reduce consumption and waste, which necessarily involves a fundamental re-think of many social structural elements we take for granted, eg., the relationship between income and ‘jobs’.

          This cannot happen without the full buy-in of the US/developed world, nor can it take place in isolation from the rest of the world unless ‘civilized’ is dropped and fossil fuel consumption is actively suppressed in much of the world. Given the appalling record of US leadership since the appearance of the neocons, in partnership with a truly criminal financial/corporate class, I fear the latter will be the default position.

        3. Martin Finnucane

          But they wanted to believe.

          You have distilled the essence of what it means to be white in America.

        4. Jack Thread

          If you think voters are more misinformed now than they were in the 80s, try getting your new solely from television and newspapers for a week, then check your favorite internet sources and see how far you have gone askew. For instance, you would probably be certain that Russia invaded Ukraine with armored columns and artillery barrages, whereas nowadays people at least have the ability to confirm that impartial sources on the ground report that no such activity is taking place. And whereas Dukakis was obviously more qualified than Reagan, that was no guarantee that he was as principled as Carter, who was abandoned by the Democrats just as much as he was “ratf****ed” by the Republicans. There’s a good reason why Aristotle classified “representative democracy” as oligarchy, and the only reason to blame voters is that they keep on voting, which rather than give them political power only serves to legitimize the pre-selected front persons for unresponsive government.

    2. Synapsid

      Klare has it backwards, again.

      Fracking and horizontal drilling are not new techniques. They’ve been around and in use for more than twenty years. What is new, that allowed their application to the Bakken and the Eagle Ford (the sources of the surge in US oil production), is oil prices at around $100 a barrel year after year.

      The surge in US oil production is the result of high oil prices, not new production techniques.

  2. optimader

    “Of all the candidates who started running for President in 2007, none spoke more often or more pointedly about ExxonMobil than Barack Obama. He criticized the corporation’s profits and contrasted its wealth with the struggles of middle-class families. His campaign sought to link Senator John McCain to the pro-oil policies of Vice-President Cheney, a former chief executive of the oil-services corporation Halliburton. By the summer of 2008, sixty-two per cent of Americans surveyed had an unfavorable view of Cheney. “President Bush, he had an energy policy,” Obama declared. “He turned to Dick Cheney and he said, ‘Cheney, go take care of this.’. . . McCain has taken a page out of the Cheney playbook.”

    Off the campaign trail, Obama’s views about energy and climate policy were subtle. He studied the issues and learned the nuances of automobile mileage standards, international oil markets, and clean-coal technologies, and how different forms of energy production contribute to global warming. But his strategists knew that to many independent voters and disillusioned Republicans the idea of an ExxonMobil-Cheney complex represented all that had gone wrong in the Bush years: the Iraq war and the rise in American economic insecurity. And so Obama salted his campaign speeches with ExxonMobil references even when they were gratuitous. “It’s not going to be easy to have a sensible energy policy in this country,” he said at one primary debate. “ExxonMobil made eleven billion dollars last quarter. They’re not going to give up those profits easily.”

    The highest average retail price for a gallon of gasoline in American history—just over four dollars—was recorded in July, 2008. Obama seized upon ExxonMobil’s unprecedented profits at the time, about ten billion dollars per quarter. When McCain announced a plan to reform corporate taxes, Obama’s researchers figured out how much of the benefits would go to ExxonMobil. “At a time when we’re fighting two wars, when millions of Americans can’t afford their medical bills or their tuition bills, when we’re paying more than four dollars a gallon for gas, the man who rails against government spending wants to spend $1.2 billion on a tax break for ExxonMobil,” Obama declared. “That isn’t just irresponsible. It’s outrageous!”

    That summer, the Bush Administration and the McCain campaign studied polls showing that many Americans favored new offshore oil drilling as a strategy to reduce high gasoline prices. The White House and McCain’s strategists coördinated announcements to promote more domestic exploration in ocean waters; this inspired chants of “Drill, baby, drill!” at Republican campaign rallies. Obama promptly linked McCain’s offshore-drilling plan to ExxonMobil’s profits and denounced it as merely an “oil-company wish list.”

    More than his profit-bashing, however, Obama’s climate and alternative-energy policies on the campaign trail got the attention of ExxonMobil’s public-affairs executives and the K Street lobbyists. Obama pledged to impose a price on carbon-based fuels such as gasoline, and to make large new investments in wind power and solar power. “We must end the age of oil,” Obama declared. By the fall, the ExxonMobil executive involved in political strategy recalled, the corporation had been scolded by name so many times that “we felt like a candidate.” He added, “We clearly knew that we were not electable.”

    ExxonMobil’s initial response to Obama’s ascendancy was to engage with Democrats and search for common ground on climate policy. Shortly before Election Day, Ken Cohen organized a meeting in Connecticut with about a hundred of ExxonMobil’s public-affairs and media-relations specialists. He invited Bennett Freeman, a former Clinton Administration official who had worked as a consultant on corporate-responsibility issues. Freeman had periodically addressed ExxonMobil’s political team over the years, offering the perspective of a respectful Democratic critic.,,,, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/04/09/gusher
    verbatim from this great book:

    And this is who Obama embraces : http://allafrica.com/stories/201408070792.html

    1. Banger

      Whether Obama was or is for or against taking action on Climate Change/Warming is largely irrelevant. But, I believe, he would genuinely prefer to move in that direction thus the rhetoric. It is my belief that the American Presidency is drifting more towards the direction of Head of State, not Chief Executive. Obama simply cannot make a decision and give an order and it will be obeyed. He, like Bush, is given a few alternatives that consist of options that, should he give the order, will be obeyed–other options his aides will tell them won’t work. The Energy Lobby, which I know rather well, is a major player in Washington politics like the MIC and the medical industry–you cannot go against their wishes–it’s not that the Prez thought his Obama care was going to be just dandy but the medical industry made him an offer he could not refuse. Plus, those three players are allied not just with each other but with various bureaucracies, regulatory bodies and the intelligence community (which permeates, to some extent, all Washington power cliques simply because they can act in an extra-legal way without consequence and so so regularly).

      The energy lobby makes U.S. energy policy like AIPAC makes ME policy end of story TINA triumphat! It’s not, like many believe, that American policy makers are stupid or don’t understand the issues–they aren’t and they understand the issues very well–they just can’t propose policies that would get them fired or killed (to be perfectly blunt–when billions and trillions are on the line the oligarchs don’t f-around and why people don’t understand that essential aspect of power shows the stunning power of propaganda).

      Climate change and the disasters ahead are inevitable barring intervention of angels or aliens or the power of prayer. I believe many Americans who are committed to doing something about it and hitting brick wall after brick wall are beginning to give up. What mechanisms can be used? The mainstream media is totally captured by the Washington power-elite–they are now an integral part of the government–there is no significant idependent media outside imperial control other than RT that is generally available–in fact, I think a lot of the anti-Russian sentiment in the media and in Washington is aimed because RT, which offers, a stunningly broad range of ideas and perspectives–far beyond anything in the other cable outlets offer–though I have some complaints about their production values and overly leggy hostesses–but hey, if it gets eyeballs then why not?

      We need a revolution, literally, to change anything in Washington–anything short of that is pointless in my view.

      1. James Levy

        I really don’t think they will shoot Obama, but I do agree he, like every person in a quasi-military hierarchy, fears the day their orders will not be obeyed, and so avoid ever getting themselves into a situation where they issue any order without first being sure it will be obeyed. I said the same the other day. And I think you have to consider the carrots–if Obama plays along, its the life of Bush, Clinton, and Tony Blair for him all the way to the grave. If he doesn’t, he’s shunted aside, ridiculed, and held in contempt by every person whose acceptance and approval he craves and it’s back to the house in Chicago and the college lecture circuit grubbing the lifestyle of a successful GP or CPA for him. It’s the carrots that drive the craven behavior, more than the sticks; that, at least, is my guess, as all we can do is guess (Obama isn’t going to tell us and, not being introspective, may not be completely aware himself).

      2. Big Picture1

        Banger nailed it better than I could. Obama is THE most Bought-And-Paid-For of all the BAPF pols out there.
        1-His “say one thing, do another” policy about Wall St. is well-documented here and elsewhere.
        2-Since the day the ACA was passed, the stocks of major healthcare and hospital firms have outperformed even the S&P 500.
        3-Now one of (if not) THE most profitable industries–oil–is getting its turn.

  3. Banger

    I have a question here on Climate Change/Global Warming for anyone here: do you believe that the issue is the defining issue of our time and, perhaps, the most important crisis humanity has faced yet? And if so, doesn’t that change your ideas about the political economy?

    1. beene

      No. Peak Oil has been since I was a child and that was many decades ago.

      Flacking, may be as the chemicals that are used will destroy ground water tables for some time.

      As Yves mention the real issue of drilling is about foreign affairs with Russia. We have been exporting gas for a long time. Regardless of what the USA does here to sell flacking it is not going to keep Europe on our side against Russia, as we cannot in short or long term meet Europe’s energy needs.

    2. Vatch

      Climate Change/Global Warming is a crucial issue, but I think that the real defining issue of our time is human overpopulation. Overpopulation affects or causes just about everything else.

      1. optimader

        Agreed, root cause of many problems but that can theoretically change in less than a generation. Just a higher mortality rate than birth rate will moderate.

    3. DJG

      Yes. The science of climate change gets grimmer and grimmer. I work with scientists, and the data that they see are worse and worse. So there is a physical crisis, with the potential of the Black Death in the 1300s. (Or even worse: potential extinction of Homo sapiens, along with so many other species.) My concern about the political economy is that climate change has arisen at a time when the U.S. is stagnating. There is no acknowledgment anywhere that the U.S. has stagnated, in particularly since Bush (Thousand Points of Light) and Bill the Husband of Inevitable. So you have the physical crisis of atmospheric CO2 going over 400 ppm and continuing its rise as the Anglo-Americano elite tries to make the little people pay for the consequences. The idea that there will be a fair dealing out of coming sacrifice in the U.S. is laughable. The elite will have its hired security guards shooting at people in gas stations so that they can continue to gas up the Escalade. We live in a baroque era of spectacle and religious hysteria, with war as entertainment and economic stimulus. How will we bring back virtues like probity and thrift and ride out the impending climatic horrors?

    4. vidimi

      peak oil is the defining crisis of our time.

      as cheap energy fades out of memory, resource extraction will ramp up to intolerable levels, causing irreparable damage to our ecosystems. increased competition for diminishing resources will lead to ever more conflict, and the wars will only use up more of the precious energy they’ll be fighting for, accelerating the death spiral. no cheap energy will mean that food will be too expensive both to buy and to deliver for the poor; etc, etc.

      peak oil makes the risk of every other existential crisis much greater.

      1. James Levy

        I would have agreed with Banger but reading the other comments sways me toward the peak oil and overpopulation cases, as they seem to be driving the Climate Change and are therefore primary and Climate Change a consequence. That doesn’t make Climate Change less a threat, but it does point towards deeper problems that are making our dealing with Climate Change a domestic and “imperial” impossibility.

      2. pretzelattack

        there is a certain amount of warming already in the system, as i understand it. dealing with that by switching to renewables meets the global warming problem as well as obviating a crisis with peak oil, imo.

    5. optimader

      No, IMO manmade nuclear pollution is a more likely endgame scenario.
      There is no viable remedial strategy for the waste we’ve already created while we forge along globally recertifying operating permits for past end of design life operating nuke plants. Global climate change will occur, albeit presumably w/ a steeper hysteresis with the influence of humanity, but IMO the economic model/population that supports our prodigious atmospheric influence will collapse long before the human race is extinct.
      I’m guessing there will always be a place on the planet to inhabit relative to the consequences of climate change. I’m also guessing less so the case with ionizing radiation, by virtue of the fact that if/when a prodigious global economic collapse occurs, the ability to contain ionizing radiation will go off the rails. When it is released into the environment, it’s on its own timeline.

      People that are NIMBY about altering behavior relative to consumption of hydrocarbons are even less able to grasp the existential threat posed by manmade ionizing radiation. It has no persistence in the short attention span consciousness of people.

      Which leads me to:
      “Obama’s Turnaround on Oil’
      There was no “turnaround” BHO merely pursued his intended agenda, not the BS he rapped about to get elected.

      “…When I took office, we set out to break our dependence on foreign oil. Today, America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades.”
      Energy independence is POLITICAL HOKUM. Its an unproductive illusion when it come to the petroleum bizmodel. Once out of the ground it is a global commodity that in the long term knows no geopolitical borders, it is a economically constrained global commodity that will seek the lowest level and most efficient pricing. The idiocy of developing relatively expensive domestic hydrocarbon resources is that it structurally imbeds uneconomic resources in the mix. Basic stuff of broken window fallacy.

      “Collective Schizophrenia
      As polls show, most Americans acknowledge the reality of climate change and support efforts to reduce carbon emissions in order avert future climate-induced disasters.’
      Less Schizophrenia and more like predictable Human Behavior. People will continue doing what they are conditioned to do until an unalterable external forces acts on them, then they accommodate or die, or do both simultaneously.

      1. pretzelattack

        i strongly agree about obama, his rhetoric about climate change was as fake as his rhetoric about supporting labor unions.

    6. Paul Niemi

      The defining issue of our times, from my point of view, is concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. Absent a predominating middle-class, little progress can be made environmentally, for population control, for peace, for health, or for much else.

    7. Rosario

      We’ll see. Global methane releases seems to have been the real killer in the past, and we are on track for that now. It’s either going to be the climate, resources, or a combination of the two that do us in unless we rationalize and optimize. Another thing, our weather patterns for thousands of years have been relatively stable. Imagine 100 year floods every year, 80 to 100 knot gales everyday. This has been the norm in the past not for periods of decades or thousands but millions of years. Its pretty difficult for Capitalism to operate in suboptimal climate conditions, and Shock Capitalism works only with regional catastrophes (not that this is a good or sustainable model), I don’t think a global catastrophe will work as well. Personally, yes, it is make or break for our species, and it’s not a matter of degrees of policy anymore, we are entering into a world that will require a Star Trek like scientific, planned, global government to pull us out of our mess so that we may keep all our gains without going back to thatch roofs, mud walls and wood fuel (though I’m becoming more inclined to living that life every day). Best of luck.

    8. Paul Tioxon

      Yes, This has been seen as a long term problem under widespread academic analysis since the 1960s and culminating in the widespread cultural phenomena known as the Environmental Movement. Earth Day, the political manifesto of this movement as systemic critical analysis of the political economy, came at the height of the Anti War Movement, the beginning years of Feminist protests and was one of the unifying points amid New Left, Women, older Leftists and Right Wing/Conservatives who did not want anything but pure water, i.e. no floride!

      The biggest shot across the bow of the Establishment from within came from the Foreign Affairs article by Amory Lovins about the about future with less oil and growing demand for economic development by billions of people in China, India and the rest of the less developed world who wanted what the American middle class took for granted: a cornucopia of consumer goods all attached to electrical cords and cars, and vans and pick trucks and RVs, a material life of comfort and plenty based on a petrochemical industry. The Arab oil embargo was the first challenge to the US hegemony that did not come with the threat of tanks or nuclear missiles but with a cut off a critical, the most critical raw material of modern society, crude oil! This uncontrolled experiment showed the dependency of America and its way of consumer life in such dramatic fashion that the entire government and society was permanently shocked into knowing that with the cut off of oil, the party would be over in an instant.

      Plastics for the technology we use everyday, food supported by petro chemical inputs of fertilizers, weed and herb killers as well as insecticides as well as the mechanized equipment for planting and harvesting, all depended upon crude oil. And finally, the entire post WWII Interstate Highway world of cars and trucks moving everyone and transporting just about everything that used to go by railroads, all of this was dependent upon gasoline from crude. The massive bet on the automobile to drive the consumer economy was powered by the bet on the internal combustion engine that enrich Rockefeller and Big Oil. The electric motor, which just as easily could have powered the automotive world of post war America was shoved aside and what little electrical transit was operational was bought up by GM, the tracks torn up and gas powered GM buses replaced the mass transit trolley systems of America. Now, we a clawing our way, inch by inch into the electricity age and the renewable energy sources for the production and storage of electricity.

      Due to the schizo composition of America, politicians have to talk to people who really do not believe there is any reason why they can’t drive a gas power V-8 as fast as they please, in air conditioned comfort, own 4 cars and drive mindlessly around as a form personal pleasure and entertainment. And on the other side, the environmentally aware who are scared to death that if not in their lifetime, soon enough, disasters will happen when the gasoline stops flowing freely and cheaply. It does not have to completely dry up, it may just become beyond reach for over half the population, leaving the need for maintaining a national and local highway system for the haves and in some places, completely abandoning road networks due to high cost and the need to concentrate the road building and repair in the same way wealth is concentrated in smaller in smaller circles. Cross country drives may go away. The road system that united America spatially may disappear leaving only regional road systems and air flight for the long hauls up and down the East Coast or from West Coast to East.

    9. Gaianne


      I except your question.

      First, it ought to be, but it is not. Ought to be, because right now we are creating a new geological age, which will not be favorable to humans. Possibilities for mitigation–not prevention, not cure–but mitigation, still exist, but only in theory. So here we are, in the Anthropocene! What a fine word! No hubris here! But contrary to what its promoters believe, the Anthropocene is not a geological age or era, but a boundary–similar to the iridium boundary marking the meteor strike that killed the dinosaurs. The boundary will be marked by many things, but most likely most prominently by plastic trash. On the far side of the boundary lies what? Nobody knows. Humans may well exist. But the industrial civilization and the culture that goes with it will not cross the boundary.

      Second, let us put aside the many people who ignore or are merely annoyed by climate issues, and focus on those who are “climate aware.” Are they learning how to reduce their energy consumption by 90% and get more of that from renewable sources. Of my acquaintances, mostly not. Happy to change a light bulb, few of them are ready to drive less or forgo intercontinental flights. The idea that we might reduce energy use by 9/10 and still have moderately comfortable lives frankly appalls them–it is a nonstarter.

      So I believe nothing will be done. Well, forget mitigation, what about damage limitation? Well, people totally refuse to think about this in advance, and if I can trust the news I read, continue to refuse even after disaster has struck.

      The implication for the political economy is that it can only become increasingly malign. We may hope for some local exceptions, but they will be that, local, and a matter of good luck besides. Some places are better situated than others.


  4. optimader

    “Whether Obama was or is for or against taking action on Climate Change/Warming is largely irrelevant.”
    Of course the POTUS agenda relative to an Energy Policy (surrogate for Climate Policy ) is relevant.
    Obama? i’ll concede he lacks relevance in sofar as he has demonstrably zero political negotiating skills.

    “But, I believe, he would genuinely prefer to move in that direction thus the rhetoric.”
    Well, his ability to pull off duplicity is the one skill he does have that enabled him to be elected twice. During his campaign stumping Obama used Exxon Mobil as a conventional energy rhetorical punching bag because Polling led him in that direction w/ flashing neon lights, while he had an entirely different private agenda. If there was ever a posterchild POTUS infused w/ status quo while rapping BS, it’s BHO.

    “Obama (Bush) simply cannot make a decision and give an order and it will be obeyed”
    That’s demonstrably not true, but as far as forging a workable domestic energy policy, yes it requires some negotiating skills and tactics. BHO has none. If you recall EMobil was signing off on a

    “The Energy Lobby, which I know rather well, is a major player in Washington politics like the MIC and the medical industry–you cannot go against their wishes”

    Of course the POTUS can. It is not a requirement of office to suspend personal ethics, it’s just that we seem seem to be pretty effective at weeding out the people that have any in our modern electoral process. The phenomena in play w/ BHO is using elected office to position oneself over the horizon ( post official duties in the private sector). Counter intuitively, GWB, in his mentally retarded fashion delusional fashion IMO was a true believer in his policies that demonstrated how deep in the weeds a POTUS can take a country when persisting with a Policy (response to 9/11)..

    If you recall, even EMobil signed off conceptually on a Carbon Tax http://www.theguardian.com/business/2009/jan/10/exxon-mobil-carbon-tax, debating the wisdom of this approach is beyond the scope of my comments in this thread, but as a illustration of BHOs sincerity to do ANTHING beyond lipservice, what has he attempted to fashion w/ this policy tool endorsement handed to him by the conventional energy lobby??

    “there is no significant idependent media outside imperial control other than (of) RT (news/propaganda content) ”
    RT is outside of Imperial Control?! I want some of what you’re having. I think you grossly overestimate the efficacy of RT to advance an agenda.

    “I think a lot of the anti-Russian sentiment in the media and in Washington is aimed because RT”
    I think you are suffering from projection here.

    1. beene

      “Obama? i’ll concede he lacks relevance in sofar as he has demonstrably zero political negotiating skills.” optimader

      I would say there’re excellent, re-elected twice and despite keeping almost zero promises to the populist he’s still at above 40 per cent that still think he is great.

      1. Optimader

        You backhandedly make my point but ill point out that duplicity and a seamless ability to lie effectivly are not negotiating skills

  5. Carnouplous

    “It should come as no surprise that Obama’s rhetoric on climate change is sorely out of whack with his policies. Indeed,” — How polite, indeed!

    Can’t we just admit that we have been so dumbed down with race/sex/ethnicity sewage that we elected a president — with no experience, no achievements, no character, an obviously puffed up zero/nobody — based on his skin pigmentation (how primitive!) his and Barney-the-Dinosaur-like “hopey-changey” Sesame Street song — and called it “historic” and would up with a useless, “good at killing”, warmongering, empty sc**bag who puts little balls into little holes all day, and who will become a centimillionare celebrity on easy street and set up his “strong and independent” daughters on that same easy street? “Women can do anything men can do!….[pause]….. and better!!….[pause]…..and in heels!!!!!” Whoo – hooo!!!! How histrionic, er herstorical. We have a zero idiot as president because we have become zero idiots — we deserve each other.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, you really forget the times. This is revisionist history.

      He did a great job of seeming to be the most anti-Bush candidate that was still electable. The country was sick of Bush, desperate by virtue of the crisis, and a young, articulate, intelligent black who was culturally white looked to be the the antithesis of Bush. And John F. Kennedy was similarly young and inexperienced but was a not-at-all-bad president.

      But Obama did a massive bait and switch, well beyond normal political lying. He gave us W’s third and fourth term.

      And you also forget who his opponent was: McCain, who was old, a cancer survivor, which meant he could get it again, with a clearly incompetent VP in Palin. I voted for Obama mainly out of wanting anything but Palin as president-in-waiting with high odds of actually getting the job.

      1. Banger

        Why did McCain pick Palin? I’m sure she was well vetted and there is no doubt she was a complete loser and corrupt to boot–either RP operatives deliberately sabotaged McCain or McCain wanted to throw the election. Very odd event in history–btw, I used to know some RP operatives in the eighties and early nineties and they were not stupid but, rather, pretty smart and often pretty sophisticated. I can’t believe their culture would have changed that much.

        1. Gaianne


          I agree. I think McCain was chosen to run for office but not to win office. I think he understood this and accepted it, and managed things nicely.


        2. optimader

          “either RP operatives deliberately sabotaged McCain or McCain wanted to throw the election.”
          The Blueblood Rs I know chaulk it up to a thrown election. They underestimated that the economy would self right itself like a swamped sailboat w/ a broken mast and BHO would be able to basically kick the can down the road another 8 years. Romney succeeded in loosing the next election by expressing his thoughts candidly.

      2. Vatch

        In addition to what Yves has pointed out, we need to remember that Obama actually had more experience in government than George W. Bush had. Bush was elected governor of Texas in 1994, so he had about 6 years governmental experience. Obama was in the Illinois legislature from 1997 to 2004, and in the U.S. Senate from 2005 to 2008. That’s almost twice as much government experience as Bush had.

  6. Rosario

    Our culture is pretty obviously doubling-down on most or all of our bad long-term bets. Here in Louisville, KY we are slapping two new bridges on the Ohio River to “ease” traffic and “facilitate” commerce. It’s more investment in difficult to maintain infrastructure for inefficient transit models for inefficient city designs that just so happens to rely heavily on petroleum (from the gasoline to the asphalt). In addition, the whole project is cluttered with financial waste and gifting to contractors with absurdly overbid contracts. The cost will pass on to the backs of the poor through tolls (the road system’s sales tax) and the road will slowly deteriorate while “accommodating” increased traffic flows that were never there in the first place. That’s the big problem with fossil fuels and all of their birthed markets, including endless road building, they have humans chasing the world over (figuratively and literally) to acquire more while we could be investing in effective energy production/consumption technologies and concepts that actually serve the needs of communities.

    1. Banger

      I think the US has doubled down on the status quo and “stability” at all costsqqq as we descend into a very weird form of darkness, denial, and fantasy.

  7. Jay M

    Not trying to anoint Obama, but there were good reasons to think the 8 year stretch after W might be a mess. The incumbent president’s mix of delusions have created the current brew: I like the Empire of Chaos (not original) as a label. Post inhale POTUS, totally ironic.

  8. frosty zoom

    funny thing..

    obama will still be called a socialist after these lease deals go through, but it was ST RONNIE, THE ANOINTED ONE, who put the offshore drilling moratoria in place in the first place.

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