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Obama's Plan to Save the World

Scott Ritter

 by Truthdig

While pundits and politicians wrestle with
immediate issues such as the economic meltdown, the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan and the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, global
climate change has emerged as one of the most critical and contentious
security issues of the 21st century. The new director of national
intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, has cited rising temperatures,
combined with an increase in weather-related natural disasters, as a
major facilitator of governmental instability worldwide, especially in
underdeveloped regions. Issues of poverty, infrastructure degradation,
social and political collapse and environmental decay will all be
exacerbated by global warming. While the crises stemming from climate
change will initially manifest themselves most critically in regions of
the world already impacted by political, social and economic turmoil,
there is a pronounced threat of spillover as entire populations migrate
from the stricken regions into areas where humans have a better chance
of survival. The severity and longevity of the consequences of severe
weather-related events will make current mechanisms of containing and
mitigating these crises inadequate. The scope and scale of these
massive migrations would be unprecedented in modern history, as would
the ensuing conflicts over basic resources such as food and water, not
to mention energy.

The potential catastrophe that global
climate change could unleash on America makes every other foreign
policy crisis pale in comparison. Recognizing the importance of
proactive, as opposed to reactive, policy to head off these looming
problems, President Obama has crafted a national policy designed to
address the principal underlying cause of global climate change:
greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas reduction is one of three
pillars on which Obama has constructed his ambitious energy plan, the
other two being economic stimulus and increased energy security. In the
recent economic stimulus bill signed by the president, some $50 billion
of a $789 billion total stimulus package will be set aside for programs
related to efficient and renewable energy. This will be followed by an
outlay of $150 billion over 10 years for investments in projects
related to clean energy, efficient power generation and usage, and
improved domestic oil and gas production.

Increased domestic energy production is
linked with a broader concept of increased energy security, the stated
objectives of which are to reduce American dependency on imported oil
from the Middle East and Venezuela, which together account for 33
percent of the United States' daily consumption, 10 million barrels.
Reducing or eliminating this dependency is seen as a mechanism for
freeing up American diplomatic and economic options in these critical
regions, providing U.S. leaders with more flexibility in crafting
solutions deemed to be in the national interest, and not so heavily
tied to the need to guarantee continued access to these important
sources of energy. But increased domestic energy production will not,
in and of itself, deal with the pressing issue of greenhouse gas
emissions. Indeed, void of a plan to manage greenhouse gas emissions,
any massive effort to increase domestic energy production could result
in even higher emissions.

The Obama administration does have a plan,
in the form of an innovative, ambitious and as such contentious
national "cap and trade" system for managing and reducing greenhouse
gas emissions. Under the plan, the government would establish a
national standard for greenhouse gas emissions by various industries,
representing a "cap" intended to achieve a reduction of 80 percent by
2050. Industries operating below this "cap" would have "credits" that
could then be traded-through for-profit "auctions"-to industries unable
to meet the standard.

The Obama administration believes this
cap-and-trade proposal will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions in
the United States but will also generate federal income from the
taxation of the revenue obtained from the trading of credits. This
revenue would then be invested by the government in new clean energy
projects and initiatives. There is even an international aspect of the
domestic cap-and-trade system: Heavy U.S. emitters of greenhouse gases
would have the option of offsetting their domestic quotas by investing
in low-carbon energy projects in the developing world. There are
several major obstacles in the way of turning the cap-and-trade concept
into reality. First, there is the issue of establishing a domestic
framework for defining and enforcing the greenhouse emission caps. The
industrial infrastructure that would be most impacted by the caps is
arguing for a single national standard, as opposed to caps being set at
the state level. Another key issue is the cap itself, how it would be
defined, and what benchmarks would be set for implementation of the 80
percent reduction. Until these questions are answered, new energy
production initiatives in the United States are frozen.

Second, there is a need to integrate the
ambitious American domestic policy into an overarching international
policy of controlling greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama has
committed to the creation of a Global Energy Forum, which would
comprise the core G-8 countries plus major developing nations such as
Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. The forum would focus
exclusively on global energy and environmental issues. Obama has also
committed to re-engage the United States in the United Nations
Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is working to
build a new global regime of commitments to replace the existing Kyoto
Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The goals and expectations that individual
nations bring to these assemblies, whether it is Obama's Global Energy
Forum or the UNFCCC, differ greatly. As a developed nation, the United
States has flexibility in internal operations that nations conducting
major development programs, such as China and India, do not.
Negotiating viable greenhouse emissions caps with China, India and
other major developing nations is essential to defining a realistic
emission cap in the United States. Without such a global agreement,
U.S. industries may be compelled, because of simple economics, to flee
a constrictive American domestic environment for more permissive
locations abroad. Such flight would be counterproductive to the Obama
economic stimulus plan, which hinges on industries, and their
associated jobs, remaining in the U.S. It would also hamper the overall
goal of reducing global emissions to make the homeland more secure.

Another problem is the issue of projecting
caps in a fair and equitable manner. While the United States and Europe
can project with some confidence energy consumption models for the
foreseeable future, the same cannot be said of many developing nations.
A cap level for the U.S. and Europe projected over a 50-year period is
viable. However, for developing nations, population changes alone will
radically alter their energy consumption requirements, as well as their
population-related infrastructures. Caps using present-day criteria
would rapidly become unrealistic, and consequently would be subject to
violation. However, adjusting U.S. and European caps based upon such
projections would place an even greater burden on the industrial bases
of these nations. Managing the issue would be a major challenge for the
Obama administration and the rest of the world.

The linkage between global climate change,
national security and energy consumption models is not one of normal
association. Today, however, the potential impact on global social,
political and economic systems simply cannot be ignored. This impact
would be not only iterative, but would cumulatively have an effect that
is several orders of magnitude greater than what normally would be
projected. Preventing, or at least containing and mitigating, the
potential dire consequences of global climate change will require
sweeping reform which will affect existing global energy consumption
models. How this reform is framed, and the manner in which it is
implemented, will likewise heavily influence the economic, political
and physical aspects of the world energy markets, making global climate
change perhaps the most critical issue when it comes to the future of
energy security, and national security.

Given the paramount role played by the
United States in world affairs today, the energy policies implemented
by the Obama administration will have an influence unmatched by any
other nation or group of nations. While the Obama energy plan is
complex, a major indicator of whether or not the plan is unfolding as
expected will be the issue of cap and trade. The success or failure of
the cap-and-trade initiative will impact the overall viability of
Obama's clean energy initiatives, domestically and internationally, and
as such should be closely monitored by all parties with a vested
interest in energy and related security matters. And given the inherent
problems confronting the successful implementation of the cap-and-trade
initiative, it is imperative that the Obama administration develop
alternative plans and courses of action. There might not be enough time
to do so if "cap and trade" fails. The threats faced by America and the
rest of the world today from terrorism and so-called rogue states will
shrink into insignificance if entire populations begin vying for
habitable land and the basic resources required to sustain life. This
is a predictable problem, with recognizable solutions. Whether America
and the world have the collective wisdom, and courage, to implement
these solutions is yet to be seen.

© 2020 TruthDig
Scott Ritter

Scott Ritter

Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and author of "Scorpion King: America's Suicidal Embrace of Nuclear Weapons from FDR to Trump" (2020). He served in the Soviet Union as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, in General Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War, and from 1991-1998 as a UN weapons inspector. was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. His other books include: "Dealbreaker: Donald Trump and the Unmaking of the Iran Nuclear Deal" (2018) and "Endgame: Solving the Iraq Crisis" (2002). Follow him on Twitter @RealScottRitter

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