US Is The Largest Historical Polluter: Capitan America Unmasks US Climate “Action”
By Farooque Chowdhury
12 October, 2015
12 October, 2015
Climate crisis (2C) is deepening with each passing day. Capitalism's dominance makes it harder to counter the 2C. At the same time, a lack of actual initiative bewilders the aware part of society. “The sad fact is that the inconvenient truth is not that climate change is happening, but that what we are doing is too little and too late”, write Sunita Narain and Chandra Bhushan of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, in the recently released CSE report Capitan America, US climate goals: a reckoning. The report assesses US-climate position, and unmasks the gap between US words and work. The gap is a grim reality.
Capitalist economy is the main culprit behind the crisis. The system's interests stand against countering the 2C. And, the US, today's principal imperialist power, plays its role, appropriate to its position. “The US”, finds the Capitan America, “is largest historical polluter; 2nd largest emitter annually; has very high per capita CO2.”
A necessary fact that very often gets obscured by imperialist propaganda is told in the report: The people in the US “cannot be fed the story, repeated by their leaders and the powerful media of the free world, that it is the emissions of China and India that are frying the world. The American people cannot be told that they needn't act, because other countries — opting for the right to development — refuse to make a move. The ‘right to development' of the poor, who need carbon space and ecological space for their growth, cannot be equated with the ‘right to pollute' of the rich. The burden of transition cannot be shifted because the rich of the world are rich and so powerful.” Unfortunately, friends of the imperialist camp in the periphery of the world system “forget” to raise this issue: the rich-poor gap, the burden the rich create, the over-burdened poor can no more be burdened. With this “forgetfulness”, these friends confirm their identity: comprador. A comprador gets benefits from master.
This comprador-fact gets outlined in the report as the CSE-leaders write the bitter sentences: “Raising the issue of America's lack of action, we really fear, might justify similar renegade steps from countries like India. Everybody will use the US as a cloak. Argue: first the US, then us. This is not our intention. As environmentalists, we are pushing our government to take aggressive steps to reduce emissions, not only because it is in the interest of the world, but also because it is in our interest to do what we can to re-invent growth without pollution.”
Here, the messages are:  Aggressive steps to reduce emissions, and  growth without pollution. These two steps are related to fundamental political and economic issues.
Shall the rulers, the elites with their thrones on the heads of the multitude take real-life action other then sermonizing the poor people, and stop demolishing the essential climate space? No, never until this group is compelled. They can't. Their survival is dependent on this act of demolishing the climate-space, an act of loot.
These looters copy their masters, and influence others in the broader society. “US lifestyle and consumption patterns are”, write Sunita and Chandra, “aspirational and addictive. Quite simply, everybody wants to be an American. Every citizen of the developing world wants to either live in America or live like an American.”
The 9-chapter report by CSE, the internationally renowned organization, presents “a few inconvenient truths … that might throw cold water on the celebration” with the US Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). “The US climate action plan”, write Sunita and Chandra, authors of the report, “is dramatic. But it is neither ambitious nor equitable. Worse, it is but business-as-usual. If implemented, we have analysed, emissions reduction will be marginal. Whatever reduction is achieved, whether due to increased efficiency or a shift in fossil fuel use, will be run over by runaway gluttonous consumption.” The climate-policy researchers conclude: “for the sake of the world's future”, “American lifestyle can no longer remain not-negotiable.”
Sunita and Chandra sound caustic as they write a few bitter, but undeniable facts: “Our friends in US civil society are sure to accuse us of playing into the hands of the Republican Party — that fearsome free-market gang of raucous climate sceptics. … [F]or many years now, we have been told, by our same friends in the US civil society, that we must always fear the return of the Republicans, for they will destroy even the vestige of US climate change policy. And when a Democrat president is elected, the advice is we need to ‘tone down', be pragmatic and allow that ‘liberal' person to steer the climate course. Actually, for many years, their Game of Thrones has held us to ransom. Decades have gone, and deadly greenhouse gas emissions still continue to rise. … So, it is time we stopped tiptoeing around the US. It is time to call a spade a spade: US obduracy on climate change has ensured the world today is in the danger zone and will go critical soon. Since 1992, when the framework convention on climate change was signed, the US has played offense — finger pointing at others and justifying its own lack of action. It is time the rest of us stopped playing defense.”
With this reality of imperialist onslaught on climate, the world power bargains with others. Its claims and pronouncements are full with propaganda, full with inaction, full with actions that aggravate the 2C. The CSE report exposes this US-reality as Capitan America presents many useful US-economy facts that include:
The perception is that after peaking in 2005, US total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) have been reducing. Not true.
Compared to 1990 levels, GHG emissions are up 6 per cent.
In 1990-2013, carbon dioxide emissions are up 7.4 per cent. Carbon-dioxide emissions comprise 82 per cent of all US GHG emissions.
The US INDC tells: it will reduce GHG emissions 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025. Just by using 2005 as its baseline year, the US has avoided cutting 500 million metric tonnes of GHG emissions.
On a 1990 baseline the US will reduce emissions by a mere 13-15 per cent by 2025. This is even lower than what it had pledged in 2010 in the Cancun climate meet, and in percentage as well as absolute terms, the US INDC is far less ambitious than that of the EU-28.
The US INDC says: it will depend on land use, land use changes and forestry (LULUCF) to reduce emissions. By so doing, it has avoided cutting 250 million metric tonnes of GHG emissions by 2025.
The report tears down a number of masks:
Mask 1: 2005 base year and not 1990: “Cleverly used 2005 as base year [as] it allowed emissions to grow, whereas as per Kyoto Protocol it should have cut. If the US had reduced emissions 26-28% below 1990 (and not 2005) levels by 2025, it would have to cut emissions in 2030 by an additional 500 MMTCO2e. So by changing the base year, it will emit 4700 MMTCO2e instead of 4200 MMTCO2e by 2030.”
Mask 2: Hiding behind forests: “About 14% of US emissions is sequestered by forests – roughly 900 MMTCO2e. In 2005, the US emitted 7,350 MMTCO2e of GHG, but by including carbon sinks of about 900 MMTCO2e in forests, it has reduced its net GHG emissions to 6,438 MMTCO2e. If the US had agreed to reduce its emissions by 26-28% excluding LULUCF, it would have had to cut 250 MMTCO2e more GHG in 2025. By changing base year and including LULUCF, the US will emit 750 MMTCO2e more in 2030.” Hence, the report throws a question: “Ambitious or creative accounting?”
The report says: The US INDC isn't equitable. It, then poses the following question: Is the US putting in places policies to move its economy towards low carbon? The report finds: “The US economy is not moving towards low-carbon growth.”
The report misses a basic fact: With dominating interests intact, the economy can't take a different turn unless pressed. The pressure can come either from its survival question or from people. The survival question has a number of aspects: diminishing  rate of profit,  prospect of self sustainability,  preys – labor and nature – on which it survives. Prospect of higher profit through a different approach – alternative energy, advancement in science, technology – can make its business as usual (BAU) less profitable. This will create pressure on its BAU. An aware peoples' movement/political initiative can press it.
The 132-page report says: “The US remains fossil addicted. It now produces more gas than Russia and more oil than Saudi Arabia. Its coal use has stagnated; but still per capita coal use is 5 times higher than India. The US economy consumes more fossil fuels than in 1990 while its use of renewables is marginal.” The economy is to continue its fossil addiction as the addiction is profitable to it. This addiction is its “famous way of life”, an essential condition to continue with higher profit rate.
The report presents further facts as it says: Fuel Switch – from coal to gas – has happened in the US economy as it's cheaper (average power plant operating costs) to operate gas plants. So the CSE report says: “The US Clean Power Plan is nothing more than business as usual. Switch to natural gas from coal happening because it is cheaper to produce and consume. The economy will, in fact, consume more energy and not less by 2030. Recent scientific evidence suggests that methane emissions could be much higher in gas. Switch to natural gas will delay the transition to renewable. So, in 2030, US will remain fossil fuel addicted.”
The climate policy researchers tell a fact overlooked by many: “What is even more worrying is that the US plan is largely based on improvement in efficiency. This is not enough. Our data analysis shows clearly that gains made by improvements in efficiency are being lost because of increased consumption – sector after sector.”
As the CSE leaders raise the crucial question of consumption, the question of capitalist economy comes. Sunita and Chandra write: “The world — the US and us — cannot combat climate change without changing the way we drive, build homes or consume goods.” The dominating way is the capitalist consumption.
Consumption pattern is not the same everywhere and in every case. It differs even in the US. It differs in all resource-rich and resource-poor lands. All rich capitalist countries don't have same consumption pattern. What the poor in the US consume is far, far less than the rich part of the US society. The poor simply doesn't have the power to consume a lot. Their consumption is a story of simple survival, an utmost effort for mere passing of everyday. Even the social group in the middle of the US society virtually struggles everyday to have a life free from all sorts of worries and uncertainties. It's not only the US-story. It's the story in all lands.
The researchers point out a very essential fact: “We have ... pointed out our worry about the lack of critique, indeed the tendency towards self-censorship and restraint in advocating big solutions, we found in the work of big and powerful US civil society groups. For instance, these groups are asking — rightly — for car restraints in many parts of the developing world. But in the US, they still push fuel economy standards and, at most, hybrid cars as the panacea to climate ills. There is no bus rapid transit (BRT) being built in the US, where over 70-80 per cent people commute to work in cars. This is where practice must also happen ...”
The fact-rich CSE report is a necessary reading for building up a clear understanding of the climate crisis. All aspects and questions related to the 2C can't be covered by a single report. One can cite that as a limitation of the report.
Farooque Chowdhury, a free lancer, writes from Dhaka.