Author Naomi Klein and film maker Avi Lewis interview Bob Ferris about coal in his pre-Cascadia Wildlands days (C Ramus)
Naomi Klein in her book Shock Doctrine laid out a recipe for our destruction: Take a real or manufactured crisis, add economic interests with political clout, and apply both towards a bend-over-backwards Congress and a panicked public. The end result being economic interests allowed to cause us more harm and make even more money in the process. And nowhere is this doctrine more in evidence than the current efforts to make our beloved Cascadia the carbon export capital of North America.
In our set of carbon scenarios the extractive industries—coal, oil, gas, and timber—are using the current economic and energy crises to get sweetheart deals to make their economic schemes work. It does not take a Nobel Prize winning economist to understand that for raw natural resources from North America to be competitive with their Asian equivalents in Asian markets, our governments have to sell them for less than they are actually worth. (If you want to delve into the economic nuts and bolts of this I would suggest skimming The World's Greatest Coal Arbitrage: China's Coal Import Behavior and Implications for the Global Coal Market
by Richard Morse and Gang He from Stanford—their basic messages being that China has coal and they only buy it from us because we are willing to sell it cheaply.)
But a low return from deeply discounting our shared assets is only one of the impacts. All of the export schemes also endanger our health, safety, and quality of life and compromise wildlands and wildlife. Take the Coos Bay LNG boondoggle
, for example. To make this beast work we not only have to sell our future energy security cheaply but we also must sacrifice the water quality in areas of the Rockies where the natural gas will be extracted by fracking; condemn private land and further fragment public lands with 320 miles of pipeline; and put an entire community at grave risk with the siting of the explosive LNG terminal in the flight path of a local airport.
When looked at in totality these schemes begin to look like a demented game of Mad Libs where you simply substitute the offending carbon commodity—e.g., coal, tar sands, LNG, timber, shale oil–and then fill in the blanks regarding human, community, and ecosystem impacts. There would likely also be an irony blank where the wonder of private enterprise and job creation come face-to-face with the reality of the massive public subsidies and investments required to enable these projects and the job losses in the manufacturing sectors associated with the supplying of underpriced raw materials to a competing economy.
While we are on the topics of private investment and job creation, two issues should arise. First, private is an interesting term when looking at funding coming from investment banks such as Goldman Sachs—in the case of the Cherry Point coal terminal—just how “private” is that capital from an institution holding broad deposits and still making profits because of federal intervention and tax-payer investment. And as for job creation, the extractive industries are really not very effective at translating capital in to jobs or even delivering on what relatively scant jobs they promise to create.
To those watching and studying this collective phenomenon, it really feels like we are being attacked on all fronts at once. That is often demoralizing unless you start to also see the little dots of resistance emerging from Alaska to California and from Washington to Montana. It is good to see the coal folks working together both in the US and Canada. The same is true for the oil pipeline people and LNG opponents too. But we really need to all understand that this collective rush to ship needs to be met with collective and responsive opposition.
Bill McKibben and Bob Ferris in Bellingham, Washington at an anti-coal rally (P Anderson)
I have talked to many about the efficacy of forming what I have called a Carbon Curtain Coalition that coordinates and enables all of these individual and regional initiatives. The Carbon Curtain Coalition’s mission would be a simple one: Oppose carbon exports from ports in western North America. Whether or not this coalition is a good idea or if it gets formed, we should all act like it exists. We should all watch this important set of issues and be ready to support any and all efforts. We should all have instant membership by virtue of the fact that these projects will fundamentally change our world for generations to come.
The Carbon Curtain Coalition’s message to politicians would be: If you really want a crisis to take action on, how about the one that is frying Americans to death in the East? Or how about the crisis that is acidifying our oceans? Or what about the one that is likely influencing the severity of storms and property losses? This list goes on and on, but all of these tendrils lead back to carbon in some way. So get involved and make some noise.
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