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This Earth Week: Stop the Extraction Economy, Create a New World

April 24th, 2013

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese

This week is Earth Week, and while many are saying “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” we think key topics should be the extraction economy and the corporate-controlled political system that permits destruction of the environment. We live on a finite planet with finite resources and we are seeing the disastrous effects of continuing to extract resources from increasingly difficult and dangerous places. Reducing consumption is important, but greater systemic change that places sustainability and the needs of people and the planet before profits is necessary.

Thanks to whistleblowers and the current trial in Louisiana, information about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf is coming to light. Newly released video reveals how BP employees tried to hide the amount of oil that leaked from the deep water well by burning it.  And the chemical used to disperse the oil, Corexit, which has been banned elsewhere, is causing serious symptoms in humans and mutations in sea creatures that were exposed to it.

More people are directly experiencing the effects of extraction, transport and processing of oil. In just the past month, there have been 13 oil spills, over a million gallons released into the environment, most of them in the US. The building of oil pipelines for tar sands and hydro-fracking  continues despite protests across the country. Here are a few recent examples among many in Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas,  Utah, Vermont and across the country.

The current approach to limiting the effects of burning fossil fuels on the climate, carbon trading, have been shown to be a failure. The EU spent $287 billion of public money on carbon trading for a close to zero impact on reducing carbon in the atmosphere. It is estimated that if that amount of money had “been used in a targeted approach to replace the EU’s dirtiest power plants, emissions could have been reduced by 43 per cent.” Governments continue to insist on creating financial markets rather than actually reduce the use of carbon.

And a new report shows that two-thirds of the current stores of carbon fuels must remain in the ground if there is any hope of avoiding a disastrous rise in temperature, but the oil and gas industry is planning to spend $6 trillion over the next ten years on extraction. Will they be held accountable for the effects of extraction? So far they are not. In fact, this study shows that “Of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated.” Once again, government policy socializes the costs while privatizing the profit.

In “Capitalism is Dismembering America,” Paul Buchheit writes that “Too many Americans are unaware of the extreme disparities that have been caused by the unregulated profit incentive of capitalism.” As an example, speculation on commodities such as oil and food is estimated to account for 70% of the change in the price of these necessities, pricing them out of reach for many around the world. Private corporations engaged in commodity trading, without public oversight, made $250 billion in the past ten years from this speculation.

Corporations get away with risky behavior, including placing our health at risk, because they have the money to influence all branches of government, as this expose on the history of Monsanto demonstrates. And as we reported last week, Obama signed a bill that repeals a law he put in place last year to require disclosure of investments by members of Congress and executive staffers. With that out of the way, Democrats are engaging in “buckraking,” as this article shows, “In other words, influence peddling. It seems for most of the Obama Team ‘public service’ was just a pretext for private payoffs.”

Others are currently cashing in as well. In President Obama’s new budget, the Pentagon will regain all of the funds it lost in the sequestration.  And it looks like the Pete Peterson Foundation, which has been on a mission to cut social programs for decades, continues its push. The new Obama budget includes austerity measures, cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as well as other programs.

In the last week, there has been a significant backlash because of a study done by a U. Mass PhD student that exposed significant errors in a report by Harvard economists Reinhart and Rogoff who are linked to Pete Peterson.  The “errors” seem like intentional choices by the Pete Peterson economists to reach conclusions that support Peterson’s views. The Reinhart-Rogoff study was used to justify the concept of a ‘fiscal cliff’ of deficit spending that must be avoided through austerity measures. But the U. Mass study reveals that there is no such ‘fiscal cliff.’

Dean Baker summarizes the new findings and concludes, “We know that spending on infrastructure, education and other areas could boost growth and increase employment. At this point there is no reason other than personal prejudices against debt not to pursue policies to increase growth and create jobs.” Baker also argues that we should increase Social Security instead of cutting it and that we can afford to do so. And Dr. Don McCanne illustrates the grim public health effects of austerity measures in Greece.

Will the US take the same path as Greece, the UK and other nations where austerity has been imposed? Under the current political situation, it appears likely unless there are massive protests that stop business-as-usual. So far, while Progressives are willing to protest the cuts, they are not willing to criticize the President and take effective action.

That is why an alternative government, a government that represents the will and needs of the people and planet, is necessary in the US. The many crises that we face, environmental, economic and social, require urgent action that just isn’t coming from those currently in power.

On Earth Day, a new government was launched, the Green Shadow Cabinet. This alternative government builds on the tradition of opposition shadow governments in the UK, France and around the world. The Green Shadow Cabinet was appointed by the Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala campaign for President and Vice President on the Green Party ticket. It brings together more than 80 scientists, advocates, health professionals, lawyers, labor leaders, artists, students and more to provide alternatives to what is currently being offered and to show that there are people ready to serve in an alternative government that will address the crises at hand through effective solutions.

Visit the new Green Shadow Cabinet website to see who has joined so far and to read their bios and statements. Disclosure: Kevin Zeese serves as Attorney General and Margaret Flowers serves as Secretary of Health in the cabinet. We interviewed members of the cabinet on Clearing the FOG yesterday. The Cabinet will publish position papers and respond to current events. And the cabinet encourages local communities to create their own local shadow governments.

Another world is possible; another government is necessary. This article is based on our weekly newsletter for ItsOurEconomy.us. Click here to sign up for the free email newsletter. Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host ClearingtheFOGRadio.org on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC and on Economic Democracy Media, co-direct It’s Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC. Their twitters are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.

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