A Fresh Breath of Clean Air

Joel Kovel Jan 21, 2013

Joel Kovel
Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency has been a political football since its founding in 1970, kicked back and forth between liberal environmentalists and big business, the latter quite content to sacrifice civilization and nature on the altar of profits, the former temporizing and nibbling away at the edges of ecocatastrophe. With the recent resignation of Administrator Lisa Jackson, the struggle enters a new phase of danger and opportunity: the hallmarks of crisis.

We are, to put it bluntly, at war, a war for the future of our species and innumerable others. Climate change is the most spectacular threat, but not by any means the only one. So let’s play a war game using the possibility of another EPA that would engage militantly in what it’s supposed to do: protect the environment. This would include vigilance and perseverance in enforcing the existing regulations to limit contaminants in the air, water or soil.

But there is a much bigger challenge before us. It’s nothing less than an energy transformation, bringing down the carbon-based sources that spell climate doom and replacing them with solar–based renewables. A vitalized EPA can play a major role in the transition, which, not incidentally, can go a long way toward restoring our economy. Capitalists create unemployment and also use the threat of further unemployment to prevent the mending of ecological damage by saying that this would take away jobs. Somehow it is forgotten that an energy transformation to a solar-based economy requires a whole lot of work — and that the jobs to carry this out can be funded through the taking down of the old, carbon-based economy. The government has a role to play here, but only if it stands on the side of the people and the earth. Here’s a brief outline of the strategy:

Clamp down on the “four horsemen” of the climate change apocalypse: offshore petroleum extraction, especially in deeper waters; mountaintop removal coal mining; hydrofracking for natural gas; and tar sands extraction and transport by Keystone XL, from Alberta to Texas now, and wherever else these processes will occur. The EPA has plenty of tools to put the kibosh on these murderous technologies. All it takes is some principled action. There are lots of activists who would help out.

Begin moving to the carbon tax that many countries around the world are initiating. The EPA has a shot at being able to initiate this. Combine it with elimination of the worthless “cap-and-trade” system that has served to mystify the possibilities of enlightened state action. A tax of $20/ton of carbon could raise $125 billion.

Set aside a portion of this to protect poor and working people from the higher prices of carbon fuels.

Combine the rest with $100 billion raised through cuts in the military — the most wasteful and toxic part of society. Now we have a nice sum with which to do something worthwhile.

Use the funds to create a national program, substantially planned and administered locally, to transition to an energy grid of solar and wind power.

Obama might stand in the way. But (like FDR) hasn’t he urged us to present him with powerful movements that would compel him to act?


There will be a lot of details to work out. It will be exciting and, for a big change, hopeful. It could even lead to a revolution. And isn’t that what many of us have been asking for?

Joel Kovel is author of The Enemy of Nature and a founder of Ecosocialist Horizons.

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