[Marxism] Obama's Natural Gas Strategy

ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu ehrbar at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu
Sat Feb 11 10:55:15 MST 2012

The environmental movement in the US has been fairly
successful in preventing the construction of many coal-fired
power plants and perhaps also the Keystone Pipeline.  The
argument which carried the day was not global climate
catastrophe but the pollution caused by coal and the tar
sands operations.  Energy matters also put the ruling class
under pressure because of a prolonged recession: whenever
business picks up, oil prices shoot up and suffocate demand.

Obama's support of fracking announced in his State of the
Union address is a cunning response to this predicament.
Obama is promoting fracking not only in the US but
everywhere in the world (Poland).  The idea is to loosen the
world wide dependence on oil from the Middle East or
Venezuela and the dirty oil from Canadian tar sands, taking
full advantage of the large supplies of cheap and plentiful
Natural Gas which have become available due to the fracking
technology.  US electricity will come from clean natural gas
instead of dirty coal, silencing the environmentalists, and
many US trucks will run on natural gas.  The US will become
a net exporter of coal and natural gas and will have to
import less oil, which helps the dollar and undermines the
power of countries like Russia, Iran, Venezuela.

I am indebted for this outlook to Richard J Pierce's
presentation at a conference called "Electric Power in a
Carbon-Constrained World" at the University of Utah Law
School last Thursday, Feb 9.  Pierce is on the faculty of
the law school of the George Washington University in
Washington DC.  Pierce estimates that gas from fracking will
last 100 years, and then gas from methane hydrates will take
over which last another 300 years.  With so much energy
available, Pierce thinks adaptation to climate change is
possible, and he thinks that carbon capture and
sequestration is easier for natural gas than for coal.

Pierce is clearly wrong about adaptation.  I am not sure
whether Pierce has read up on tipping points, or whether he
is aware that the greenhouse effect is not the only aspect
where modern industrial production bumps against the limits
of planetary resources.  But in the time frame of the next
5-10 years, the only possible hole I see in Obama's strategy
is the question whether the extraction of natural gas can be
sustained or whether the yield of the shale gas fields
suddenly collapses.  Other than this, such a strategy will
get Obama re-elected, and the inexorable descent into
climate catastrophe will be even more difficult to stop
because now it is not based on oil from our enemies or
extremely dirty oil from our friends in Canada or Utah, but
on clean domestic natural gas and a booming economy in the

Our response to Obama's strategy must be to oppose fossil
fuels not based on the Clean Air Act or too high costs but
based on the world wide need to leave all fossil fuels in
the ground.  The conference was misnamed; our problem is not
too little carbon but too much of it.  In view of this
abundance, market forces cannot steer us away from fossil
fuels.  Therefore we must be much more vocal about it that a
response to the climate crisis is not possible within the
capitalist system.


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