No more drilling on federal lands. Period. Period. Period. Period.
– Joe Biden February 9, 2020
The March to End Fossil Fuels will take place in New York City on September 17, days before the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit. Considering that July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded on earth, the role of fossil fuel production in the climate crisis surely needs public attention and action.
But there is something highly problematic about marches and meetings that don’t address two large elephants in the room: capitalism and militarism. The United States military is the world’s biggest emitter of fossil fuels, having emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere since 2001. The huge number is no surprise considering that the U.S. has more than 800 military facilities around the world and needs huge amounts of fossil fuels in order to operate them all.
Fossil fuel usage can only end with radical changes to life in industrialized nations and with very radical changes in politics. The March to End Fossil Fuels website is replete with pleas to Joe Biden to suddenly stop doing what he’s been doing throughout his presidency, “It’s time for Biden to pick a side: is he with us, or is he with the fossil fuel CEOs destroying our planet and polluting our communities?” Biden answered that question. He is, like his predecessors, on the side of the fossil fuel CEOs.
The duopoly’s good cop/bad cop routine is quite predictable. Republicans pledge to drill for oil and proclaim their disdain for environmental concerns by opting out of international climate accords. Democrats join the climate accords and claim they will work towards a fossil free future, as Biden did during his 2020 campaign. But once in office they do what Republicans do. The U.S. is now producing a record 12.8 million barrels of oil per day, more than any other nation. Democrats are the worst liars in this regard, as they are well aware that their voters want action on the environment, but their bread is buttered by big oil.
Biden has issued more permits for oil drilling on federal land than Donald Trump did. He approved the Willow Project on federal lands in Alaska, a project which is estimated to produce more than 239 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses over the project’s 30-year life. The much vaunted Inflation Reduction Act, presented as a path to a fossil free future, actually ties renewable energy programs to oil and gas drilling. The IRA prohibits leasing of federal lands and waters for renewable energy projects such as wind and solar, unless the government has offered at least 2 million acres of public land and 60 million acres in federal waters for oil and gas leasing during the prior year. Any environmental benefits are outweighed by acquiescence to corporate interests that are jeopardizing all life on the planet.
Not only has Biden backtracked on campaign promises, but U.S. inclusion in the Paris climate accords doesn’t amount to very much. The Paris Agreement makes reporting on military CO2 production voluntary. NATO member nations may report on their CO2 emissions but NATO-led operations and training exercises are excluded from any reporting.
The climate accords themselves are problematic. They allow for a 1.5C rise in global temperatures, don’t compensate the global south for damage created by industrialized polluting nations, and their goals of CO2 emission reduction are vague and purely voluntary. Virtue signaling and phony honor systems have led the world to the brink.
Participants in the March to End Fossil Fuels certainly have their work cut out for them. Most of them vote for Democrats, who once in office do exactly what Republicans do regarding the environment. Their actions benefit fossil fuel corporations and the military industrial complex. The duopoly are of one accord in this regard as they are on so many other important issues.
It is high time for climate marchers to end their political naivete and denial. Black Agenda Report contributor and editor Ajamu Baraka said, “…the fight for climate and environmental justice is in fact a revolutionary project, requiring mass-global resistance and the expropriation of economic and political power of finance and corporate capital.” What he describes is surely a heavy lift but hoping that the servants of capital will have an epiphany and serve the needs of humanity is to believe in fantasy.
Humans have an infinite capacity for wishful thinking, but a revolutionary project is by definition a recognition that wishes are for fairy tales. Yes, demonstrations must be part of the plan to save life on earth. They aren’t enough though, and appealing to the people who have no shame is not a good use of time. Anyone who marches against fossil fuel production must be ready for very radical political change. Presidents of the United States and the nation’s entire political leadership are errand boys and girls for the capitalist classes. Record breaking heat will only end when capitalism does too.