Did We Read the Same Plan?

Apollo, Obama, and the Real Deal

Few have been more enthusiastic about Obama’s recovery plan than the Apollo Alliance, which sees it as the culmination of their hopes to re-energize the US economy through “green” technology. Will they be rewarded? The Alliance channels a vision of restoring growth and world leadership to the US by investing in technology which is less polluting and less dependent on fossil fuels. The Apollo does not acknowledge a crisis in energy based on resource depletion, although they do acknowledge a crisis based on global warming.

The President-elect himself spent much of his energy between election and inauguration attempting to dampen those hopes and expectations, warning us that change will not come overnight, and asking us to bear with him with faith in his intentions. Still, he has maintained the rhetoric of “energy independence” and a positive response to global warming, in contrast to his predecessor.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, presumably drawn up with Obama’s blessing, would, to hear it described by Keith Schneider of the Apollo Alliance, usher in the green millennium. Keith Schneider’s comments on behalf of the Alliance can be read here. http://www.e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2110

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite do that. It does not even fund Green jobs specifically. It suggests neither a change in the direction of the economy, nor that we need to change our expectations of what constitutes a good life, i.e., a continually expanding level of consumption. (See commentary below the link to the press release for the Act) Considering that renewable energy, particularly wind energy, has been growing geometrically over the past few years, and is now collapsing very quickly with the onset of the depression, the priorities of the Act will not revive it.

Those of us who understand that the limitations of resources and technology, and the danger to our future from the consequences of continued use and dependence on finite fossil and living fuels, need to be very worried, and in the streets, about the direction we are being taken.

The Real Deal from the Post Carbon Institute, in contrast to Schneider’s paean and Obama’s plan, is profoundly concrete about both the likely consequences of our current course as a nation, and what would really be needed to change that course. http://www.energybulletin.net/real-new-deal

The problem here is that while the Apollo and many elements of the mainstream green economy movement are still in denial about the limits of growth, the role of the US in the world economy, and the need to change our expectations, Post Carbon is so far unable to address the daily concerns of American citizens in ways which bring them to an understanding of the relationship between global warming, peak resources and their immediately pressing needs for security of employment, housing, and healthcare. While neither Apollo nor Post Carbon are household words, the former, with links to prominent Unions and politicians, is much better known and has some recognition in the halls of power. Green for All, the project of Van Jones, a member of the Apollo Alliance, and the leader of Green For All begins to bridge the link between social justice, peak resources, and global warming better than anyone else I’ve read.

I don’t know that the leaders of Apollo accept or understand the limitations of energy and resources. Perhaps they simply don’t think they can hold their constituency by acknowledging that very inconvenient truth and its consequences. The topic is entirely absent from their weekly e-newsletters, while the commitment to technical solutions is omnipresent. I believe they share with Post Carbon an understanding of the seriousness of the threat of global warming. To have real success, these two aspects of the movement must both complete their sense of reality and join forces.

While Apollo and Green for All are thus far giving full support to Obama and withholding any doubts they may have about his agenda, Post Carbon has been forthright in challenging his assumptions and priorities, although clearly it is much less likely to have his ear than Apollo or Green for All.

As an organizer, I see three things that need to happen to take advantage of the opportunities the new administration and Congress present. First, support for the new programs must be supportive without withholding criticism and challenge. Second, public education must be stepped up, with the respect for the public that they will understand the complexity of the situation, particularly that the depression cannot be ended by a return to the status quo ante for those who were well off then, or the achievement of that standard for those who weren’t. Third, there must be mobilization, in the streets, not just on the web, in conferences, and in legislative visits, of that critical support to demand the change we still need.


It is worth everyone’s time to take a look at the lengthy press release. There is much that is admirable in the act, but there are larger problems with its failure to go in new directions. Understanding its unspoken premises is helpful.

What the Act does primarily deferred maintenance on existing infrastructure and social programs ignored during the Bush years, and clearly many of these upgrades are needed. A look at transportation funding, however, finds 3x as much, $30 billion, for highways compared to $10 billion for transit. Symmetrically, airports get three times as much as Amtrak, although the admitted backlog need is highest for Amtrak. The underlying assumption is that we will not, and should not move away from the primacy of the private automobile. This is underscored by the huge proportion of research and science funding devoted toward developing electric cars. Missing is the arithmetic of energy consumption not only in cars but in an automotive based land use pattern, and an understanding of the realistic potential for renewable electricity.

Speaking of energy, the press release does not define renewables, but we know that “second generation” agrifuels are high on the list, and Obama is pushing for increased ethanol, despite the rapidly growing global consensus that any generation of agrifuels is a disaster on several levels. The logic is very simple – since these fuels at best have a dramatically lower net energy than fossil fuels, and growing them will accelerate the destruction of fertile land, because all the nutrients are removed, not to mention the natural ecosystems destroyed, they cannot meet the need.

By continued to fund the chimera of fusion power, among other points, the report underscores what it says, in fact very directly: “the next great discovery” is needed to bail us out. This is a classic example of expecting to solve problems using the same ways of thinking which created them. What is really being pursued, or hoped for, is a perpetual motion machine. It’s not there.

$7.8 billion is allocated for military projects. While most of this is for hospitals and veterans facilities, and not directly for weapons, it is still war spending, hidden elsewhere in the budget, when it should come from the Pentagon budget, which is still 50 cents of every tax dollar.

The education funding does not include funding the Green Jobs Act, and is overwhelmingly devoted to college education. With increasing numbers of college graduates finding no place to use their education, we need education funds for green jobs, and especially for non-industrial, organic agriculture. How many MBA’s does it take to sell pretzels on Wall St.?

Over $120 billion is devoted to health care, as supplemental funding for Medicaid, with $30 billion in subsidies to laid off workers to pay their COBRA….in other words, to pay private insurance companies. For that much money, we could establish Medicare for All national health, (HR 676) and put many more billions back in the pockets of workers, and the coffers of state and local governments, and make a real contribution to economic recovery.

Finally, the Act talks of $275 billion in tax cuts. With government revenues dropping precipitously as a result of shrinking economic activity, increased government spending needed, and the dollar at risk of becoming a junk bond on the world market, tax cuts are not part of the solution. Over the past five decades our taxation system has become more and more regressive, placing higher and higher burdens on the poor relative to the rich. Restoring the balance means increasing taxes on the rich.

The most unconscious and fundamental premise of this bill is that within a short time, the US economy will “recover” – new jobs, more cars, increased housing starts, and more energy consumption, albeit with some portion from “renewables”. This is the fundamental premise, and it’s a premise which guarantees its failure.