Baseball is just a game. Yet when the story broke of widespread steroid use among professional players the nation was outraged and demanded changes. We discovered when the best players were cheating then other players would cheat to be the best. The game was rigged. If performance is valued above everything, even the health of the player, then those who play by the rules are at a disadvantage. The nation responded. Laws were passed, testing implemented, enforcement was stepped up and they even threw some athletes and doctors in prison. It worked. Americans are now satisfied that they have a clean and reliable supply of baseball.
Clean water is more important than clean baseball.
In most states, under law, the water belongs to the people. But the mineral wealth belongs to those few who own the mineral rights. Those rights were acquired before the technology to mine or drill beneath the surface were developed, and purchased by unscrupulous agents who preyed upon poor rural farmers at the close of the Civil War. The current fracking boom continues this tradition as farmers sign contracts that not only allow the companies to take control over and pollute their lands but provide little of the promised profits from the well head.
These farmers were bamboozled by the same carpet baggers who for a few dollars and a bottle of booze were able to amass the vast mineral wealth of a nation. Under any rational legal system, this would constitute fraud and theft but under our system these are but the spoils of war, because in the mad rush to enrich themselves these speculators have declared war on the planet. This is nothing less than the scorched Earth policy of a hostile invader.
In their hundred year plus history the coal, gas and oil industry have been beyond the law, and in many cases today they are the law. Along with the mineral rights they also own the media and through an almost unlimited infusion of cash, they own the courts and the politicians. This corruption is so engrained in our political culture that it has become like the air we breathe, and few can imagine it ever being any different. Yet isn’t it past time that we looked at the necessity of seeing fossil fuels as something that belong to all of us, and something that needs to be left in the ground in order to save our species?
In a country that values property rights as much as the US, how could this be done?
First, I would argue that we must assume a war footing, and not in the sense of a conventional war. Fossil fuels are a weapon of mass distraction, and those who are dumping billions of tons of carbon into our already saturated atmosphere are nothing more than criminals. Yet it is very unlikely we would ever be able to arrest and prosecute even the worst offenders without declaring martial law.
How then could we proceed?
One simple way would be for the US government to print ten trillion dollars in new money, and do two things with it; First, buy out all of the existing mineral rights in the US; and purchase all of the infrastructure that extracts, processes and delivers it. If the President so orders, the US Mint has the power to do this. In fact, Nobel Prize winning economists Paul Krugman recently entertained the idea of minting a trillion dollar coin as a way to pay off the national debt. A bold move like this would take an emergency declaration from the President and the support of the people.
All of this new money would be backed by the combined assets of the newly nationalized energy sector. Stockholders who receive the buyout must reinvest in clean energy or other climate change mitigation. These are both profitable sectors and profits and taxes could offset any loss of value from to the government from ending fossil fuel extraction. And, any profits from this program would be taxed. Both the taxpayers and investors would get their money back and the distortion of the market from printing so much new currency would be less than happened when 7 trillion dollars in value “disappeared” during the collapse of the housing bubble.
With public control of our carbon sinks, we could begin the long process of cleaning up the mess we’ve made this last hundred years and prepare for the terrible effects of climate change.
Unfortunately a bold plan like this would require that a national consensus was reached and our government was ready to lead. The public is still not convinced that climate change requires immediate and urgent action. It is not yet seen as an emergency but that day is quickly approaching.
In the months leading up to the first World War, President Woodrow Wilson assumed unheard of executive power and took control of every aspect of US heavy industry. A new industrial infrastructure was built almost overnight. While Wilson stands accused of abusing this power it does nonetheless provide a historical precedent.
Presently spills, derailments, blowouts and explosions are happening at an alarming rate across this country because we are producing record amounts of dirty energy. We need a strong national effort to reduce carbon emissions now. We don’t need any more excuses for why it cannot be done. We don’t need new pipes, tanks and scrubbers, we need a whole new energy policy, one that eliminates fossil fuels altogether. We need to declare an emergency.
In the past, emergencies were declared to prepare for war or to respond to disasters. We must now prepare for weather related disasters. It makes no sense to spend billions on disaster relief without taking into account why these disasters are happening. Instead of another threat coming from another country, we face an enemy that has already invaded and taken control of every aspect of our civil life. Ungoverned and ungovernable, it has loyalty to neither country or individual, has no creed, philosophy or even ideology. It seeks only profits.
As long as the wealth of the nation is in the possession of an amoral and irresponsible few we will be speeding into a uncertain future that may not support human life. When ball players cheat only the game and their bodies are at risk. When fossil fuel and chemical companies cheat it is our rivers and our lives that are at risk. Congress sought to address this with the Clean Water Act and other laws but there was never enough enforcement in places that needed it most, the places where fossil fuels are extracted, processed and exported. Here in West Virginia citizens and community organizations have for decades been demanding enforcement of federal laws.
It took the federal government to come in and clean up baseball and to break up the Ku Klux Klan in the Deep South. In 1931, Gov. Ross Sterling even ordered the National Guard into the East Texas fields, which he placed under martial law in order to control output and stabilize prices. There are plenty of historical precedents for declaring an emergency and taking control of broad sectors of the economy. What is missing by our government is any sense of urgency and this must change.