Why corporate “free speech” means climate and peak oil doom

Screenshot from "The Story of Citizens United vs FEC"

As long as Big Oil and Big Coal control Washington, we'll never have a rational energy policy. Do we need a Constitutional Amendment? Image: Story of Stuff Project.

“The corporations won’t get out of our democracy until we the people get back in,” says Annie Leonard in her new video on big money in politics.

So keep fighting for renewable energy, green jobs, healthcare, safe products, and top-notch public education. But save some energy for the battle of our lifetimes. A battle that can open the door to solving all of these things. It’s time to put the corporations back in their place and to put the people back in charge of our democracy.

As in The Story of Stuff and other films in that series, in her most recent animated short Leonard makes a confusing issue easy to understand, showing why a technical point about campaign finance deserves our attention.

Citizens United is a big deal

The 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United freed corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to political candidates on the premise that, since corporations qualify as people, the government can’t abridge their First Amendment right to free speech. In this case, “free speech” = “Matterhorn-size piles of corporate cash.”

Since then, big money in politics has skyrocketed, with consequences including the GOP takeover of the House in the fall and the election of Tea Party governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin with more than $40 million in money from the evil Koch brothers.

Leonard reminds us that all the work we do on almost any issue won’t amount to much unless we all deal with the umbrella issue that affects everything else, corporate control of politics.

Ten easy green tips that won’t do squat to fight climate change

We already know that no amount of eco-friendly tips that you can do at home will amount to a hill of beans if governments don’t take real action against carbon pollution on a national level.

Doing paper not plastic, screwing CFLs into every socket in your house and getting cash for your clunker may help you save money and feel better. And if many people cut pollution in their own lives, there’s a network effect. But without binding global agreement to cut carbon pollution worldwide, any pollution you cut will just be added by someone else, whether in China or in Cincinnati.

The only thing that will matter for climate change is to, as NASA’s Dr James Hansen says, 1) shut down all coal plants that don’t capture their carbon and leave crappy fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas in the ground untapped; and 2) make it more and more expensive over time to emit carbon into the atmosphere (for example, through a carbon fee and green check), both starting very soon.

You can’t do either of those at home. There’s no quick and easy tip to implement a carbon tax from your bonus room or stop hydrofracking from your twitter account. You need your government to do them on a national level. And then you need your government to agree with all the other major polluters to do them worldwide.

And like it or not, that requires politics.

Peak oil needs government too

The same with peak oil. You can ride a mule-cart to work, replace your garage with a Victory Garden and heat your home by burning organic local switchgrass harvested by hand, but it won’t do much to stop global oil depletion. If you don’t use the oil, somebody else—whether in India or Indiana—will.

There’s no way to stop oil depletion.

All we can do is slow it down enough to give ourselves time to ramp up alternatives — a little clean energy and a lot of conservation. And as the well known Hirsch Report told us, for the smoothest ride down the energy curve, we should’ve started getting ready 20 or 30 years ago. But we didn’t. So our ride will surely be bumpy.

Now, if you think the whole thing is going to hell anyway because people are too stupid/lazy/stubborn to prepare for the coming peak-ocalypse, then you’ve probably already de-camped to a razor-wire compound in the Rockies with a 200-year supply of pork n’ beans and enough shotgun shells to turn King Kong into Swiss cheese.

All I can say is, good luck with that. Maybe that whole Rambo bit will help you tough it out when the sh*t hits the fan politically.

But climate change doesn’t care much about razor-wire and shotgun shells.

I’m with Ben Franklin on this one: “Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

And smart-but-not-cynical guys like Richard Heinberg and Bill McKibben agree that we can all avoid the worst if we start to prepare now.

Big Oil and Big Coal want their free speech

So what’s stopping us from preparing for peak oil and starting to really fight climate change? It’s not lack of certainty. Despite huge confusion among the public stoked by Fox News and Koch-heads, science on climate is crystal clear. And geology on peak oil is just as clear, since the International Energy Agency declared last year that conventional oil (what we call “real oil”) peaked in 2006.

No, the debate is over. The roadblock to preparing for a world with less oil and coal is the power of Big Oil and Big Coal, which don’t want us to cut back on their products or their increasing profits. So whenever the White House or somebody in Congress has the temerity to propose any kind of policy, no matter how timid, to save energy or ramp up renewables, it’s nearly always shot down or watered down by Big Oil and other nasties working through their armies of lobbyists and puppets in Congress. And to add insult to injury, dirty energy is still scarfing up $70 billion a year in subsidies.

Subsidies, for an industry with wild profit margins? That’s corporate socialism!

Watch the video: The Story of Citizens United vs. FEC: Why Democracy Only Works When People Are in Charge. Then do keep working on clean energy or efficiency or a carbon tax or whatever part of the peak oil and climate change responses jazzes you up.

But also make some time to work on getting corporations out of politics. This is key.

Why not join the movement for a Constitutional Amendment to declare that corporations are not people? It may be our best shot to remove the biggest barrier to an energy policy with any chance at all to avoid climate hell and peak oil collapse.

If you enjoyed this article, please follow us on Facebook, and sign our petition calling for President Obama to acknowledge peak oil on the anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill.

— Erik Curren, Transition Voice Magazine

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  1. Bloomer says

    Instead of becoming servants to the unscrupulous corporations, it’s time we made corporations work for the good of the people. What do we have to lose? And what are we afraid?

    • says

      It’s been about a century since Americans last rose up against excessive corporate power under Theodore Roosevelt and the trust busters. So it’s time again I think for us to break up some behemoth companies. The video is great — she explains that in the colonial period, corporations only existed until their original purpose, whether to build a bridge or whatever, was fulfilled. After that, they were dissolved. Why can’t we do it that way again?

  2. Matt says

    Bloomer, I hate to argue with you, but. We have all been slaves of those unscrupulous corps for hundreds of years. And I don’t think that any of them have ever really worked for the good of the people, just the good of getting more money. I’m not saying that things weren’t invented to better mankind, just the products were commercialized and sold to as many people as possible.
    Just look at our current food supply, we no longer eat food. We consume genetically modified crops, grown by petroleum based fertilizers, harvested by giant diesel powered harvesters. These GM crops are sent to massive factories to have what little nutrients are left removed and processed to the point of being unrecognizable and then vitamin fortified. On a daily basis we consume more manmade chemicals than we do honest food. We complain in front of the microwave that 2 minutes is too long to wait to make dinner.
    What do we have to loose? Are we really ready to grow organically our own food, raise and slaughter our own meats and go back to the days of having to actually cook a meal? Are we ready to be held accountable for our actions as an individual and as a society? I don’t know… maybe we should go as Charlie Sheen……

    • says

      And I’ll agree with you Matt. Corporate consumerism has made life convenient in many ways. Of course, we’ve sacrificed quality for speed, easy and affordability. But with all the stress and lack of enjoyment in our lives, we’ve also sacrificed our happiness. The transition to doing more work to get our food (maybe a lot more!) won’t be easy at the beginning. Maybe we’ll go kicking and screaming all the way? But it could be once we get used to it, it’s not so bad to put more work into our food and other necessities. It could even be fun.

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