Tag Archives: Howard Zinn

Obama: The Sham Environmentalist

Obama: The Sham Environmentalist
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
26 January 2017

What grade does President Obama deserve for his environmental policies? According to the BBC the Obama Administration should be awarded an “A-” for negotiating the 2016 Paris climate agreement, introducing new regulations governing pollution from US power plants and designating 548 million acres of US territory as protected areas.

The Guardian anticipated this positive assessment of Obama’s actions on the environment, with a 2014 leader column asserting that “President Obama’s commitment to fighting climate change has not been in doubt”.

This support for Obama was taken to extraordinary lengths by last year’s BBC documentary series Inside Obama’s White House. With the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen heralded as the final chance to save the planet from dangerous levels of climate change, the BBC’s one-sided account explains Obama worked to solve the climate crisis in the face of Chinese intransigence (the Chinese – and not the US, apparently – “were afraid of the impact on their economy”). With India, Brazil and South African joining China in a supposedly secret meeting “to stop the climate deal”, the film excitedly tells a story of Obama crashing the party to force an agreement on China in a sincere attempt to save the planet.

There is, of course, more to the story. As the US historian Howard Zinn once noted, “The chief problem in historical honesty is not outright lying, it is omission or de-emphasis of important data.”

In contrast to the BBC’s hagiography, George Monbiot, arguably the most knowledgeable environmental commentator in the UK, noted at the time that “The immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama.” Bill McKibben, a leading US environmentalist, concurred, arguing Obama “has wrecked the UN and he’s wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming.” Missing from the BBC’s account, Canadian author Naomi Klein highlighted a key reason behind Monbiot’s and McKibben’s conclusions: “Obama arrived with embarrassingly low targets and the heavy emitters of the world took their cue from him.”

How low? The European Union went into the talks promising to cut its carbon emissions by 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Obama – whose commitment to fighting climate change, remember, “has not been in doubt” – offered a measly four percent cuts below 1990 levels by 2020. Obama was “the conservative voice among world leaders” when it came to climate change, “supporting the least-aggressive steps”, noted Peter Brown, the Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in the Wall Street Journal.

The attempt to block significant action on the international stage broadly mirrors the Democratic president’s (in)action domestically during his first term. The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg uncovered an important spring 2009 meeting at the White House between the Obama Administration and leaders of the US green movement in which, incredibly, the environmentalists were told not to talk about climate change. With the Obama team apparently concerned about attacks from industry and conservative groups, Goldenberg noted the meeting “marked a strategic decision by the White House to downplay climate change – avoiding the very word”, which in turn produced a near total absence of the issue during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Goldenberg reports that “environmental groups, taking their cue from the White House… downplayed climate change” after the meeting. McKibben, who attended the summit, was one of the few people to speak out against the strategy: “All I said was sooner or later you are going to have to talk about this in terms of climate change. Because if you want people to make the big changes that are required by the science then you are going to have to explain to people why that is necessary, and why it’s such a huge problem”.

While the liberal media was dazzled by Obama’s Christ-like campaign rhetoric about slowing “the rise of the oceans” and healing the planet, in office the first Black president pursued an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. This, according to environmental journalist Mark Hertsgaard, “made the United States the world’s leading producer of oil and gas by the end of his first term.” Writing in 2013, McKibben provided clarification: “We are… a global-warming machine. At the moment when physics tells us we should be jamming on the carbon breaks, America is revving the engine.”

What about the Environmental Protection Agency rules Obama introduced in 2014 to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent? These are certainly a step in the right direction but, as Kevin Bundy from the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute noted, the proposals are “like fighting a wildfire with a garden hose – we’re glad the president has finally turned the water on, but it’s just not enough to get the job done.”

Internationally, the ongoing UN climate talks continued to be a fiasco in the years after Copenhagen, with the Guardian’s chief environmental correspondent John Vidal laying the blame in 2012 “squarely on the US in particular and the rich countries in general.” Vidal continued: “For three years now, they have bullied the poor into accepting a new agreement. They have delayed making commitments, withheld money and played a cynical game of power politics to avoid their legal obligations.”

Troublingly, the widely heralded Paris Agreement – for which the liberal media have repeatedly congratulated Obama for realising – is looking increasingly like a red herring. Though the text of the accord agrees to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C, and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C, a recent survey of a number of leading climate scientists and analysts by author Andrew Simms found that not one thought the 2°C target would likely be met. Speaking last year to the Morning Star top climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson said the pledges made by nations at Paris would likely lead to a catastrophic 3-4°C rise in global temperatures (“and probably the upper end of that”).

Asked by Hertsgaard in 2014 how history will judge the 44th president on climate change, senior Obama adviser John Podesta replied that while his boss “tried to address the challenge… fifty years from now, is that going to seem like enough? I think the answer to that is going to be no.” Writing in The Nation earlier this month, Hertsgaard reconfirmed Podesta’s conclusion: “Obama did more in his second term, but nowhere near enough. The climate emergency is still advancing faster than the world’s response, not least because of the United States’ inadequate actions.”

Two lessons about climate change can be taken from the eight years of the Obama Administration. First, it is clear the liberal media such as the BBC and the Guardian cannot be trusted to give an accurate picture of what Obama actually did in office – what George Orwell called the “power of facing unpleasant facts”. Second, many of the positive steps Obama took on climate change were arguably down to grassroots pressure. For example, the Obama Administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline which was going to transport oil from the deadly Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico was, as McKibben and Hertsgaard have argued, a victory for the indigenous-led grassroots resistance movement.

With the climate change-denying President Donald Trump and his powerful supporters threatening a bonfire of US environmental regulation and international climate agreements, it is essential the US and global green movements grow substantially and become more active and effective. Terrifying though it is to contemplate, it is no exaggeration to say that the very future of humanity rests on the outcome of this struggle.

Some recent quotes I’ve come across about the reality of Western foreign policy

Some recent quotes I’ve come across about the reality of Western foreign policy
by Ian Sinclair
6 June 2016

“The study of international relations is analogous to studying the rules of the game among Mafia families.” – Professor Ello, Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, 1965

“If you study history what you learn is wars are always accompanied by lies, wars are always accompanied by deceptions, wars are always accompanied by ‘we are going to war to fight for democracy, we are going to war to fight for freedom’. Behind all the lies and deceptions that accompanied all these wars was one basic motive that is behind all of these wars: expansion, power, economics, business.” – US historian Howard Zinn on US wars, ‘Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train’ documentary, 2004

“There is, it may be safely asserted, no war within memory, however nakedly aggressive it may seem to the dispassionate historian, which has not been presented to the people who were called upon to fight as a necessary defensive policy, in which the honour, perhaps the very existence, of the State was involved.” – J. A. Hobson, British historian and economist, 1902

“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 of its population… In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction… We should dispense with the aspiration to ‘be liked’ or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brothers’ keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice. We should cease to talk about vague… objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.” – George Kennan, Head of the US State Department’s Policy planning department, 1948 Top Secret memo

The media and public intellectuals: Fred Halliday vs Noam Chomsky

The media and public intellectuals: Fred Halliday vs Noam Chomsky
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
27 November 2015

Compare and contrast the different responses by the media and academia to two of the most prominent public intellectuals who have focussed on the Middle East – Professor Fred Halliday, who died in 2010, and Professor Noam Chomsky.

As Al-Akhbar newspaper notes, Halliday, a Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science for 20 years, “received wide acclaim in his lifetime, and after his death.” In his obituary in the Guardian his friend Professor Sami Zubaida noted: “Fred made an enormous impact in both academia and the media. He always spoke with a sure and lucid voice, backed by extensive knowledge, and knew many languages… Arabic, Persian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, French, German and Russian.” Writing in the left-leaning Nation magazine, Susie Linfield was even more effusive in her praise: “In his scholarship and research, in his outspokenness and courtesy, in the complexity of his thinking, he was the model of a public intellectual. It is Halliday’s writing – not those of Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Hitchens or Tariq Ali – that can elucidate the meaning of today’s most virulent conflicts.”

In contrast, Chomsky is repeatedly smeared and attacked by the mainstream media, receiving particular ire from liberal journalists and intellectuals. Chomsky, the author of tens of books and speaker at hundreds of sold out public events, is often labelled as “controversial”, “angry”, “raving” and “simplistic”. Chomsky is keenly aware of this phenomenon, comparing the reception he receives from the largely conservative MIT faculty with his relationship with the liberal Harvard academic staff: “I get along fine with the MIT faculty, even when we disagree about everything (which is the usual case). If I show up at the Harvard faculty club, you can feel the chill settle; it’s as if Satan himself had entered the room.”

So how do Halliday and Chomsky compare in their analysis of events in the Middle East since 2001? If one accepted the media and academic consensus one would assume world events have repeatedly proved Halliday right, and Chomsky to have been consistently off the mark. However, as the American historian Howard Zinn once noted, “The truth is so often the reverse of what has been told us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far enough around to see it.”

According to his obituaries in the Guardian and Independent, Halliday supported the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These invasions and subsequent occupations are now widely understood to have been complete disasters – for Afghans and Iraqis, for US and British troops, for the threat of terrorism in the west and for the cohesion and stability of the whole Middle East. The 2003 Iraq invasion breached international law, weakened the UN, and led to US and UK troops committing war crimes and torturing the local people. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis died because of the invasions, with many more wounded. Over four million Iraqis were forced from their home. Afghanistan continues to be one of the top countries of origin for refugees today. And, as even Tony Blair recently admitted, the invasion and occupation of Iraq played a key role in the creation of Islamic State and the crisis the world is currently dealing with today.

It gets worse. If we go back before 2001 we find Halliday publicly denied the impact of (US and UK-led) UN sanctions on Iraq from 1991 to 2003. In a review of Geoff Simons’s book on economic sanctions in the Independent in 1999, Halliday rubbished “claims that Iraq still lacks the means to provide a basic supply of food”. Compare Halliday’s repetition of the US-UK governments’ line to those of Hans von Sponeck, one of the UN Humanitarian Coordinators for Iraq during the sanctions regime. “At no time during the years of comprehensive economic sanctions were there adequate resources to meet minimum needs for human physical or mental survival either before, or during, the Oil-For-Food Programme”, von Sponeck notes in his 2006 book A Different Kind of War.

Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq prior to von Sponeck, resigned in protest in 1998, noting the sanctions were causing the deaths of up to 5,000 children a month: “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.” Halliday later explained: “I was instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide — a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.” Von Sponeck himself resigned in protest two years later, asking in his resignation letter, “How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?” Later he told journalist John Pilger: “I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”

For a man who professed a deep admiration for the people and cultures of the Middle East, Halliday repeatedly supported US-UK government policies that caused and continue to cause untold misery for the people of the region. In contrast Chomsky was arguably the foremost critic of the US and UK invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to being a key voice in drawing attention to the horrifying effects of UN sanctions on Iraq. So, in summary, the media and intellectual elite continue to fete a man who supported Western policies that decimated the Middle East and killed hundreds of thousands of people, while they have attempted to marginalise arguably the foremost critic of these destructive and criminal actions.

What is going on here?

Chomsky himself has much to say on the subject, telling Pilger in 1992 that “The intellectual tradition is one of servility to power, and if I didn’t betray it I’d be ashamed of myself.” Mark Curtis, a British historian of UK foreign policy and former Research Fellow at Chatham House, broadly agrees, noting “British academics are generally responsible for keeping students and the public in ignorance about this country’s real role in the world.” On the topic of sanctions on Iraq, Eric Herring, Professor of World Politics at the University of Bristol, notes that the record of British academics has been shameful: “The sanctions on Iraq illustrate the fact that the immiseration of most of a society and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its citizens can get hidden right out in the open (the facts are there for anyone who cares to consult them), with barely a peep from academics as well as journalists”. Just three articles were published in British International Relations journals during the sanctions regime, Herring notes (Herring wrote one of them and commissioned the second).

What explains the timidity of most intellectuals? A number of factors, of course, including how one progresses through the education system (Chomsky: “There’s a filtering system, that starts in kindergarten, and goes all the way through, and it’s not going to work 100 percent but it’s pretty effective. It selects for obedience, and subordination”), and the social class of intellectuals and their attendant social and ideological ties to established power. Those whose work and politics fit within the dominant ideology will usually gain the respect of their peers and may even be courted by the media. And while there is no early morning knock on the door for those independent-minded academics in the west who expose the lies told by those in power, there are still real consequences for stepping out of line. You may be overlooked for promotion, your job may be under threat, publishing work may become more difficult, funding opportunities may dry up, you may receive a lot of flak from the establishment and you may be ostracised by colleagues.

Obviously criticism of western foreign policy does take place – is positively encouraged – but this is usually “within narrow limits which show ‘exceptions’ to, or ‘mistakes’ in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence.” For example, beyond his support for the aggressive US-UK invasion of Iraq, Halliday inadvertently repeated the US-UK government’s framing of the war when he argued “the American approach that you can suddenly install a democracy” is “nonsense” at the 2004 Labour Party conference. Chomsky, on the other hand, distinguishes between government’s “declarations of benign intent” and the real reasons for the invasion: control of Iraq’s energy resources. Indeed fully 1 percent of Baghdad residents in an October 2003 Gallup poll agreed with Halliday that establishing democracy was the main intention of the US invasion, while 43 percent said the invasion’s principal objective was Iraq’s oil reserves. Similarly a 2003 YouGov poll of the British public found that just 5 percent of respondents thought the US and UK’s primary motivation was “to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq” (the most popular answer to a question asking why the US and UK wanted to invade Iraq was also “to secure and control oil supplies”). In reality the US and UK “don’t want democracies in the Arab world”, Chomsky explains. “If Arab public opinion had any influence on policy, the US and Britain had been tossed out of the Middle East. That’s why they are terrified of democracies in the region.”

All this is not to dismiss Halliday’s undoubted expertise and experience on the Middle East and the knowledge he has passed onto thousands of students and readers of his work. But considering just how wrong he was on Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq and Iraqi sanctions surely we need to ask some hard questions of Halliday and our dominant understanding of education, expertise and intellectuals?

“There is in orthodox thinking a great dependence on experts”, notes Zinn in his 1990 book Passionate Declarations: Essays On War And Justice, explaining there are two false assumptions often made about experts. “One is that they see more clearly and think more intelligently than ordinary citizens. Sometimes they do, sometimes not. The other assumption is that these experts have the same interests as ordinary citizens, want the same things, hold the same values, and, therefore, can be trusted to make decisions for us all.” Our dependence on “great thinkers” and “experts” is, Zinn argues, “a violation of the spirit of democracy.”

Chomsky has repeatedly rejected attempts by others to lionise him. Rather than look to leaders and the intellectuals for wisdom and guidance, to make progressive social change Chomsky argues individuals should educate themselves, undertaking a course of intellectual self-defence through popular movements. With the Middle East in flames, the UK government champing at the bit to bomb Syria and the media in “full propaganda mode” the need for the general public to be informed and active is as great as it has ever been.

Falluja: The BBC’s Paul Wood covers up US war crimes

Falluja: The BBC’s Paul Wood covers up US war crimes
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
1 December 2014

“The truth”, US Historian Howard Zinn once wrote, “is so often the reverse of what has been told us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far enough around to see it.”

A recent article by the BBC’s Paul Wood titled Iraq’s Hardest Fight: The US Battle For Falluja 2004 perfectly illustrates Zinn’s truism. Wood, an award-winning foreign correspondent, was writing about the tenth anniversary of the US assault on Falluja, when he had been embedded with US Marines attacking the Iraqi city.

For Wood the story begins on 31 March 2004, when four US private security contractors were ambushed in the centre of the city, killed, burned and strung up from a bridge. In response the US launched their first attack in April 2004, killing approximately 800 people, including around 300 women and children, before they were ordered to pull back in the face of protests across Iraq and the world. What Wood doesn’t mention is tensions in the city had been running high since April 2003 when US soldiers killed 17 protestors during a demonstration about US soldiers being stationed in a school. In the days before the lynching of the private security contractors the US military had conducted a “sweep” through the city. During this operation, The Observer noted at least six Iraqi civilians were killed, including an 11-year old boy.

Speaking about the aftermath of the first US attack, Wood repeats the official narrative of the US military, noting “Falluja became a safe haven for al-Qaeda”. In contrast, Fadhil Badrani, an Iraqi journalist and resident of Falluja who reported regularly for Reuters, wrote an article for the BBC News website in which he noted “I am not aware of any foreign fighters in Falluja.”

Turning to the second US assault in November 2004, Wood makes the most audacious and inaccurate statement I’ve ever seen made by a professional journalist: “Most of the people had left Falluja… the image of a city packed with non-combatants being pounded with artillery and white phosphorus was wrong.”

In reality, when the US attack began on 8 November 2004 the American Forces Press Service reported that out of a total population of 300,000 “officials estimate that between 50,000 and 60,000 people are left in the city”. According to the New York Times, just before the US forces moved into Falluja “heavy artillery could be heard pounding positions in or near the city every few minutes. An entire apartment complex was ground to rubble. A train station was obliterated in a hail of 2,000-pound bombs [delivered from US warplanes].” The Washington Post reported the US military used white phosphorus during the fighting, a fact confirmed by a 2005 edition of Field Artillery magazine, the official publication of the United States Army Field Artillery Corps.

While Wood’s words are a despicable example of a journalist echoing US propaganda, arguably it is what he chooses not to mention that is most shocking.

Contemporary news reports and subsequent commentary confirm the US committed a number of war crimes in Falluja. Prior to the attack, the Washington Post reported that US forces cut off Falluja’s water and electricity supply. This contravened the Geneva Conventions which states the “starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited” and led to predictable results. Rasoul Ibrahim, who fled the fighting, said “there’s no water. People are drinking dirty water. Children are dying.”

The New York Times reported that within an hour of the start of the ground attack, US troops seized the Fallujah General Hospital: “Patients and hospital employees were rushed out of rooms by armed soldiers and ordered to sit or lie on the floor while troops tied their hands behind their backs”. Quoting an Iraqi doctor, The Independent reported a US air strike destroyed an emergency clinic killing 20 doctors. The Geneva Conventions state that medical establishments “may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.”

US forces blocked aid convoys from reaching Falluja, only letting them enter after five days of fighting. “From a humanitarian point of view, it is a disaster, there is no other way to describe it,” Firdoos al-Ubaidi, from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, said on 10 November 2004. “We have asked for permission from the Americans to go into the city and help the people there but we haven’t heard anything back from them.” At the same time they were stopping help getting to the city, US forces were preventing military aged males from leaving. “Hundreds of men trying to flee the assault on Fallujah have been turned back by US troops following orders to allow only women, children and the elderly to leave”, the Associated Press reported. James Ross, Senior Legal Advisor to Human Rights Watch, said that returning unarmed men to the war zone “would be a war crime.”

Those unable to escape Falluja had to contend with US forces implementing “a strict night-time shoot-to-kill curfew” with “anyone spotted in the soldiers’ night vision sights… shot”, according to The Times. Patrick Cockburn, the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent: “US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops.”

The outcome of this unrestrained violence was 800 dead in the first week of fighting, according to one Red Cross official. In January 2005, the director of the main hospital told the UN Integrated Regional Information Network that 700 bodies – including 550 women and children – had been recovered from just a third of the city’s neighbourhoods. Local authorities said about 60 percent of all houses in the city were totally destroyed or seriously damaged while the Falluja Compensation Committee reported that 9,000 shops, 65 mosques, 60 schools and a heritage library had been demolished. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.

In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War US academic Edward Herman penned his seminal essay The Banality Of Evil about the normalisation of “ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts”. According to Herman “there is usually a division of labour in doing and rationalising the unthinkable, with the direct brutalising and killing done by one set of individuals”, while “it is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media, to normalise the unthinkable for the general public.”

We in the West should be deeply ashamed and angry about what our armed forces did to Falluja in 2004 – described as “our Guernica” by The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele and independent journalist Dahr Jamail. Instead what we get is Wood’s embedded puff piece complete with a sub-heading referring to when “US troops and coalition forces fought their deadliest battle since the Vietnam War” (my emphasis added).

If Emily Thornberry MP has to step down form the shadow cabinet for tweeting a photo of a house decked out with English flags, then Wood should definitely go for his callous whitewashing of US war crimes in Iraq.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair.

Obama’s Insanity on Climate Change

Obama’s Insanity on Climate Change
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
December 2012

Observing the US presidential race from the UK, on election night Joss Garman, Greenpeace UK’s Policy Director, tweeted “Fingers crossed America votes for enlightenment values/sanity #fourmoreyears #Obama2012”. A Twitter-addict, I challenged Garman on Obama’s environmental record, to which he replied: “Relative to the unhinged leadership of the US Republican Party, Obama is pretty much the definition of sanity”.

Obama, of course, has long been making the right noises about climate change. “This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet”, the then Democratic presidential candidate warned the world when he spoke in Berlin in 2008. “Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.”

However, as US dissident Noam Chomsky wryly notes about Brand Obama, “It is wise to attend to deeds, not rhetoric” because “deeds commonly tell a different story.” So what exactly is Obama’s record on climate change?

Although forgotten by most people today, it is important to remember that in 2010 the US President reversed his campaign promise to retain a ban on offshore exploration. His decision to open up over 500,000 square miles of US coastal waters to the oil and gas industry was “cosmic bad timing”, according to author Naomi Klein. Three weeks later the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, releasing around 4.9m barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico before it was capped in July.

Since then Obama has certainly angered the fossil fuel industry by pushing renewable energy but, as CNN reported in the summer, “there is no evidence that he is trying to ‘shut down’ traditional energy.”

Infact, Obama’s inability or unwillingness to take climate change seriously was already clear from the way he approached the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference. For UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown the meeting in Copenhagen was “the most important conference since the second world war.” Not so for Obama, who only confirmed he would be attending the summit two weeks before the start of the talks (just two months before he had enthusiastically travelled to Denmark to support Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic Games). The President further compounded the negative feelings directed at the US by turning up with a paltry offer to make 17 percent reductions in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2020. In comparison the European Union pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent on 1990 levels by 2020. For Peter Brown, Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University polling institute, this obstructionism was further proof Obama was “a conservative voice among world leaders” on climate change. Predictably, the talks were a failure, with 350.org’s Bill McKibben explaining Obama “has wrecked the UN and he’s wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming.”

The increasingly terrifying backdrop to all of this inaction is a hardening of the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. Furthermore, a new report by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research found it has been the more extreme predictions about global warming that appear to be the most accurate. It is frightening facts like these that led PricewaterhouseCoopers to recently note “Governments’ ambition to limit warming to 2°C appear highly unrealistic.” According to the accountancy firm the glacial level of global action on climate change means that even doubling the world’s “current rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with six degrees of warming by the century end.” If temperatures soar by six degrees by 2100, climate change expert Mark Lynas warns we will “face nothing less than a global wipe out.”

Following the precautionary principle, in 2009 the American Nobel Peace Prize economist Paul Krugman wrote “In a rational world… the looming climate disaster would be our dominant political and policy concern”. But US politics are very far from the rational world. Accordingly, climate change was virtually invisible in the 2012 Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns. There were certainly differences between the candidates – Romney ridiculed the idea of man-made climate change, while Obama accepts it as scientific fact – but, as Chomsky noted, in practice the differences were “about how enthusiastically the lemmings should march toward the cliff.”

And herein lies the problem for those, like Garman, who frame Obama’s politics solely in terms of how they compare to his GOP challenger: if you view US politics through the prism of this simplistic, media-driven binary opposition you will fail to see that both Democrats and Republicans pursue policies that are clearly insane for the future of the planet.

Turning to the future, the first major climate change test of Obama’s second term will be his decision on the proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s hugely polluting tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate”, argues James Hansen, the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science. “If this sounds apocalyptic, it is”, added Hansen. “Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilisation would be at risk.” According to a Financial Times report earlier this month “oil executives and analysts expect the president to give the plan… the go-ahead in the first half of next year.”

Only a large and boisterous social movement exerting huge amounts of pressure on Obama will be able to stop the pipeline and force him to support effective policies to combat climate change. As the great, late left-wing historian Howard Zinn wrote during the 2008 US Presidential Election: “Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House”. And to be most effective this resistance needs to be informed by an accurate analysis of the Obama Administration record, rather than what we all wished the record was. Zinn himself, like Garman, supported the better candidate on election day but warned “Even when there is a ‘better’ candidate, that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.”