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Kerry's "Energy Plan" (A leftist analysis of energy and the environment)

(Despite the title, the article is really a long analysis of energy, the environment, and capitalism from a Marxist viewpoint. The first few paragraphs are given here.)

"Imperialism is the political expression of the accumulation of capital in its competitive struggle for what remains still open of the non-capitalist environment"

-Rosa Luxemburg, "The accumulation of capital," 1913

"Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington told delegates to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday that John Kerry would help America reduce its dependence on foreign oil if he is elected president. The Democratic senator was tapped to give a brief speech on Kerry's energy policy. Cantwell is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee... Cantwell touted Kerry's support for alternative fuels such as wind energy, which she said will help the United States wean itself off foreign oil. She said the development of alternative fuels also could help create jobs... She compared Kerry's commitment to alternative fuel technology to President Kennedy's efforts to land a man on the moon... 'This Massachusetts senator is going to lead our generation of Americans to energy independence,' she said."

-Erin Kelly, Gannett News Service, August 12, 2004

John Kerry smells environmental blood these days. The Republican's eager biospheric vandalism would alarm even the most phlegmatic observer, and this is a perfect seg for the Kerry strategy--proving he is not George W. Bush. While the Republicans leverage our fears of the menacing Dark Other, the Democrats leverage our fear of Republicans. Now Kerry has engaged the Battle of the Bonesmen with a new ally--the eco-capitalists. He has become the proponent of tax subsidies to energy snake-oil salesmen and has eagerly joined the think-tank neocons in ritualized public Saudi-bashing as part of the "energy independence" delusion.

I'm going to repeat a theme here that doesn't get much play elsewhere--Counterpunch's value is that we can speak plainly here and don't have to pretend we support capitalism here in order to legitimate ourselves--that our "energy problem" cannot be solved by capitalism. The sooner those of us who want to preserve some semblance of a viable biosphere for future generations understand this, the better. Our environmental and energy crises are caused by capitalism. That's not original, but it is controversial.

John Kerry, just as much as George W. Bush, is as full of shit as a Christmas turkey on energy. Still, well-meaning environmentalists will flock to the polls this year to elect this charlatan... because we are afraid. And because we haven't looked closely at capitalism, which is an expansionary system at its very core, and which--in my considered opinion--must be taken apart root and branch, or the planet upon which we all depend will be converted, as it is being converted right now, into a microtoxified industrial trash heap... under the John Kerries every bit as much as under the George W. Bushes.

I'm not a scientist, but I can read and search the internet, as anyone reading this can. Figuring out this energy business is certainly harder than studying for an undergraduate mid-term, but it's not something that requires years of disciplined study. A little curiosity and patience will yeild a wealth of information about 'energy,' and can quickly disabuse us of the eco-capitalist swindle. Here is my own admittedly didactic account of what I have discovered.

The Warning Shot

"Energy... is certainly linked to, or behind almost any international event, crisis. war, military adventure or environmental catastrophe that we are forced to witness almost any day," points out Andrew McKillop, a founding member of the International Association of Energy Economists, "and which are due either solely or mainly to our urban industrial civilization and fossil energy habit...Attack of New York's Twin Towers can best be thought of as a warning shot. Three airplanes crashed into three nuclear power plants will produce three Chernobyl catastrophes--this true catastrophe being deliberately downplayed, even lied about by such UN agencies as the World Health Organization until 2002 nearly 16 years after the event, because nuclear power, absurdly, is still 'believed in' as a solution to expensive oil and gas. As with so many of the myths of the neoliberal age, the myth of nuclear energy being 'cheap', and oil and gas being 'expensive' is the complete opposite of reality."

McKillop puts his finger on the fact not only that nuclear is expensive and dangerous, but that the question of energy itself is so basic, so all pervasive, so universal, so widely misunderstood, so misrepresented by capitalists and their professional publicists, and so profound in its implications if we are to be at all serious about it, that we have to rely on independent macro-analysis of energy to put the issue in some kind of context.

The Centrality of Energy as a Geophysical, Economic, Social, and Political Issue

"Energy has always been the basis of cultural complexity and it always will be. The past clarifies potential paths to the future. One often-discussed path is cultural and economic simplicity and lower energy costs. This could come about through the "crash" that many fear -- a genuine collapse over a period of one or two generations, with much violence, starvation, and loss of population. The alternative is the "soft landing" that many people hope for--a voluntary change to solar energy and green fuels, energy-conserving technologies, and less overall consumption. This is a utopian alternative that, as suggested above, will come about only if severe, prolonged hardship in industrial nations makes it attractive, and if economic growth and consumerism can be removed from the realm of ideology."

- Joseph A. Tainter

The failure to grasp the full significance of energy is based largely on our understanding of it as a seemingly endless commodity. I turn the ignition key, and the car starts. I flip the switch, and the lights come one. But we cannot understand the significance of energy, or how our consumption of it is irrevocably changing the entire biosphere, without understanding energy in a more basic and essential way.

(For the remainder of the text, see the original article.)

Editorial Notes: Another Marxist thinker on the environment is John Bellamy Foster, interviewed in the November Monthly Review at www.monthlyreview.org/1104soron.htm ("Ecology, Capitalism, and the Socialization of Nature"). -BA

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