Do some members of the American elite fantasize that they can – like the alien corporate colonizers of Earth portrayed in John Carpenter’s classic left sci-fi horror film They Live (1987) – shoot off to another planet once they have ruined Earth, having baked the planet’s climate along the way? 
Last week, the Editorial Board of the supposedly (according to delusional FOX News Teapublicans) leftWashington Post used the significantly U.S.-generated Ukraine-Russia crisis to support calls by Republican Congressmen and the U.S. petroleum industry for the lifting of “irrational” restrictions on the export of domestically extracted oil and natural gas. The Web version of the Post editorial contained an approving and supporting link to a January 2014 commentary in the openly plutocratic Forbes magazine. The Forbes piece, penned by “free market” zealot Doug Bandow argued that “the export ban risks slowing or halting the increase in domestic energy production. U.S. oil production is at a quarter century high; America could surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia as the globe’s top oil producer by 2015.” Bandow wanted Forbes’ affluent readers to know that:
“an energy revolution is underway. Observe[s] Mark P. Mills, an Adjunct Fellow at the [right-wing corporate-neoliberal] Manhattan Institute, ‘The game-changing technologies that have emerged involve hydrocarbons: natural gas, oil, and coal.’ Major advances have been made in locating and extracting resources—such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—and operating in more distant and hostile environments….Falling energy prices have benefited manufacturers as well as consumers. Moreover, exports of coal, liquid natural gas, natural gas liquids, and petroleum products have grown substantially, turning Americans into major traders.”
Bandow concluded with a bold reflection on what he saw as the plain and simple choice facing “Americans”:
“The energy boom is a great boon for Americans. However, absent a decision by Washington to open up more areas for development and allow more efficient use of what is produced, the boom could fade. Sa[ys Maria] van der Hoeven [Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, formed at the suggestion of Henry Kissinger in the wake of the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo], ‘market realities suggest a far simpler decision ahead: either U.S. crude is shipped abroad or it stays in the ground.’…The choice should be easy. Innovative markets have erased decades of rhetoric about shortages and scarcity. America’s energy future will grow even brighter if only Uncle Sam stops getting in the way” (emphasis added).
What’s it all got to do with Ukraine-Russia? Citing the reflections of The New Yorker’s financial writer James Surowiecki, Harvard researcher Luka Oreskovia, Council of Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Michael A. Levi, and Leslie Palti-Guzman, a Senior Analyst at the Eurasia Group (a “leading global political research and consulting firm” that provides corporations “insight on how political developments move markets,” and whose slogan is “Defining the Business of Politics”), the Post’s editors believe that bringing surplus U.S.-produced oil and gas more freely to the world market will reduce Russia’s ability to prevent a forceful Western response to Vladimir Putin’s “aggressive actions in Ukraine” by undermining the European Union’s dependence on large imports of Russian natural gas. The precise way in which this would happen is more complex than the simple replacement of Russian gas with U.S. gas. It has to do with how US “entry into the Asian [oil and as] market” would damage Russian opportunities there while “contributing to an already widening and more diverse supply of natural gas” in ways that would compel Putin to slash Russian gas prices. Sending “the signal that ‘the US is open for [gas and oil export] business’ [Palti-Guzman] …could deter Mr. Putin from playing the energy card,” the Post editorial board explains.
In the Post’s editors’ view, getting rid of restrictions on domestic oil and gas export would be a triple win – for the American economy, for those who believe in the “free trade,” and for “our” great European allies. The only loser is the “predatory regime” in Moscow: “The economic case for allowing natural gas exports is compelling on its own. Doing so would bring money into the country and uphold the vital principle that energy resources should flow freely around the globe, making the markets for the fuels the world economy needs as flexible and robust as possible. The more major suppliers there are following that principle, the less control predatory regimes such as Mr. Putin’s will have over the market.”
Forget for a moment, if you can, that the United States is itself under the predatory and plutocratic control of financial and corporate capital [4A], and that U.S. Empire has played a critical and aggressive if largely behind-the-scenes role in creating the Ukraine-Russia crisis [4B].
Forget also the significant extent to which the Post editorial board’s position reflects sheer globalist indifference to the international competitiveness of American manufacturing. As the Marxist analyst Joel Geier noted one year ago in the International Socialist Review:
“A large fight is developing within the capitalist class between those trying to find ways to export natural gas and those who want it kept within the US to hold down its domestic price. The use of natural gas as cheap energy to run factories enhances US industrial competiveness. Those industries that use large amounts of energy, in which energy costs are decisive in running factories (such as the aluminum, copper, chemicals, and steel industries), are the first to begin a large shift of production from China, Asia, and Europe to the United States.”
It’s pretty clear whose side the Post editorial board has unsurprisingly taken in that fight – the one that supports the continued shutdown of the United States’ once proud industrial sector.
Forget also that American consumers would benefit from the holding down of the price of domestic petroleum, which each us no small part of household budgets in a militantly unequal nation where hundreds of millions struggle to make ends meet. And forget that the only “Americans” who will really garner a “boon” from increased U.S. gas and oil experts are the owners and top managers of energy corporations.
Put all that aside and reflect on the real horror of the Post’s editorial in support of the export-enabled ramping up of domestic gas production. The worst part of that editorial is its abject indifference to the giant, many-sided ecological catastrophe that is fracking – the epic waste and pollution of ever-more scarce ground water that fracking entails and the dreadful contribution it makes to anthropogenic global warming, a problem that clearly threatens the continued viability of the human species.
The threat would be intensified significantly by the policy changes the Post supports. According to a coalition of U.S. environmental organizations in a recent letter protesting the Obama administration’s already existing plan to build Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminals across US coastlines:
“The life cycle of exported fracked gas, from drilling to piping to ‘liquefaction’ to shipping overseas and eventual burning, results in huge levels of carbon emissions and widespread leakage of methane, a greenhouse gas much more powerful than CO2. Emerging and credible analyses now show that exported U.S. fracked gas is as harmful to the atmosphere as the combustion of coal overseas – if not worse….The implementation of a massive LNG export plan would lock in place infrastructure and economic dynamics that will make it almost impossible for the world to avoid catastrophic climate change”(emphasis added).
As Rebecca Solnit recently reminded us, it is by now “widely recognized” that “preventing climate change from reaching its most catastrophic potential requires keeping four-fifths of known carbon reserves (coal, oil, and gas) in the ground” (emphasis added). By pushing for the expanded extraction of domestic shale gas and oil with the poisonous methods and technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – eco-cidal tools and practices that Western petroleum corporations now expect to use in attacking the billions of cubic feet of shale gas beneath the soils of Eastern European nations including Poland and Ukraine – Big Carbon is announcing in yet another way its bottom-line determination to push petroleum extraction, refining, and burning well past the limits points of livable ecology.
It’s not enough for capital to dismantle industrial production and manufacturing employment in the U.S. The bigger corporate and financial project is the dismantlement of a decently inhabitable Earth.
Reviewing all this and much more that is terrible to contemplate, I am reminded of Noam Chomsky’s observation at the Left Forum last year that U.S. elites seem determined to “burn every last fossil fuel without even a side glance” at the environmental consequences. That certainly applies to the Washington Post editorial board. It does not dedicate a single word to the grave environmental downsides of fracking in its effort to use the Ukraine crisis to advance the frankly exterminist production and global export agenda of the oil and gas corporations.
Without even a side glance at the fate of the Earth we all share.*
*Postscript. There is one partial and deeply flawed exception to the no-side-glance rule in the material I reviewed for this essay. It comes near the end of Doug Bandow’s above-quoted Forbes commentary, where he actually wrote the following: “Exports [of U.S. shale oil and gas] also would be environmentally friendly. Instead of building more refineries to handle increased production, the U.S. would send more of its crude oil to other nations’ facilities. In this way [U.S.] localities and states could avoid always contentious political struggles over construction of new refineries.”. When Bandow says large exports of fracked U.S. oil and gas would be “environmentally friendly” he is not only ignoring fracking’s horrible impact on U.S ground water safety and availability. He is ignoring the fact that climate change is global, reflecting the environmental interdependence of nations on this blue Earth we all share. He is also and just as perversely saying that it is environmentally safe if the ecological damage resulting from the highly toxic processes of crude oil and gas refining takes place in other countries, outside the U.S. Bandow’s “side glance” would have been better not taken.
Paul Street’s latest publications include “Section 1: What’s Wrong With Capitalism?” in Frances Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith, eds., IMAGINE Living in a Socialist USA (New York: Harper Collins, 2014), and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014, advance order athttp://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810). Street will speak on “American Plutocracy and Prospects for Real Democracy” at Democracy for the USA’s 2014 Democracy Forum, 1000 M. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, Saturday April 5, 2014, 1:30-2:30 pm. Street can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. For a synopsis of They Live, see the introduction to my new book They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy(Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014, http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810)
2. Washington Post Editorial Board, “Using U.S. Natural Gas as an Energy Wedge Against Russia,” Washington Post, March 22, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/using-us-natural-gas-as-an-energy-wedge-against-russia/2014/03/22/634ae586-b13b-11e3-95e8-39bef8e9a48b_story.html
3. Doug Bandow, “Free America’s Energy Future: Drop Washington’s Counterproductive Oil and Natural Gas Export Ban,” Forbes, January 27, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2014/01/27/free-americas-energy-future-drop-washingtons-counterproductive-oil-and-natural-gas-export-ban/
4. Post Editorial Board, “Using Natural Gas as an Energy Wedge.”
4A. Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the Deep State,” Moyers & Company (February 21, 2014), http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/; Paul Street, “The Deep State and Beyond,” ZNet (March 1, 2014), http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-deep-state-and-beyond/
4B. Paul Craig Roberts, “The Folly of Imperial Meddling: The Crisis in the Ukraine,” Counterpunch (February 26, 2014), http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/26/the-crisis-in-ukraine/
5. Joel Geier, “Capitalism’s Long Crisis,” International Socialist Review, vol. 88 (March 2014),http://isreview.org/issue/88/capitalisms-long-crisis
6. Dangers of Fracking, http://www.dangersoffracking.com/
7. 350.org; Center for Biological Diversity; Center for Health, Environment and Justice;
Chesapeake Climate Action Network; CREDO; Earth Day Network; Earthjustice; Earthworks; Energy Action Coalition; Environmental Action; Environment America; Food and Water Watch; Friends of the Earth; Green America; Sierra Club; Waterkeeper Alliance, “A Letter to President Obama: Stop the Disastrous Rush to Export Fracked Gas at Cove Point and Nationwide,” March 18, 2014,http://org.salsalabs.com/o/423/images/LNG-Export-PresidentObama-Climate-Letter31814.pdf
8. Rebecca Solnit, “By the Way Your Home is on Fire,” TomDispatch (March 11, 2014),http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175817/
9. James Surowiecki, “Putin’s Power Play,” The New Yorker, March 24, 2014, reports with no apparent dread that “Europe may also finally make its peace with fracking—a hard sell till now, not just because of environmental concerns but also because European landowners typically don’t own the mineral rights to their property, and so have no incentive to allow drilling. But there are Eastern European countries, including Poland and Ukraine, sitting on billions of cubic feet of shale gas, and Ukraine signed exploration contracts with Chevron last year” (emphasis added).
10. Chomsky at Left Forum, Pace University, New York City, June 11, 2013,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yvHMtgac0Q
11. Bandow, “Free America’s Energy Future”