Earth Day 2010: Oil Derricks & Nuclear Reactors Loom

 Ecology Now - Anonymous artist. Designed for the environmental organization, Earth First. Offset, 1970. Poster image supplied courtesy of CSPG.

"Ecology Now" - Anonymous artist. Designed for the environmental organization, Earth First. Offset, 1970. Poster image supplied courtesy of CSPG.

Forty years ago on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated in the United States.

The observance was the result of a massive, grass roots movement that wanted to create a new society where sustainable environmental development would help define an ecologically friendly course of action for civilization.

Great strides have been made since that first Earth Day, but much is left to be done if future generations are to inherit a world as beautiful as the one we now so thoughtlessly befoul.

Despite the progress made, the forthcoming years hold great peril for the planet – it is time to revive and strengthen the vision that gave rise to the very first Earth Day.

The failure of the 15th UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009, was caused by the avarice of the world’s major polluters. Some were surprised when President Obama worked with that bloc to produce the so-called “Copenhagen Accord,” an ineffectual document without enforcement mechanisms that did not even set a target date for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; which led the Director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, Kassie Siegal, to say; “Obama the President is, when it comes to actual actions on climate, far closer to President Bush than Candidate Obama.” But since scuttling COP15 in December of 2009, President Obama’s image has turned Green – “radioactive” green.

In his January 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama revealed his intent to build “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.” In February Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the first atomic power plants to be built in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Without the government loan guarantees, it would be next to impossible to build the plants because of the astronomical start-up costs of reactor construction. The two atomic plants are to be built in the Southern state of Georgia, a step Obama described as “only the beginning.” Obama’s $8.3 billion gift to the nuclear power industry is expected to be the first of many, as the Christian Science Monitor reported: “The Department of Energy recently proposed $36 billion in new federal loan guarantees on top of $18.5 billion already budgeted – for a total of $54.5 billion. That’s enough to help fund six or seven new power plants.”

A CNN article on the Obama administration’s plans for more nuclear power plants noted the government has yet to solve the problem of where to safely store the radioactive waste generated by the power plants that already exist – waste that remains highly radioactive for thousands of years. CNN reported that “Currently, 70,000 tons of radioactive waste are stored at more than 100 nuclear sites around the country, and 2,000 tons are added every year.”

 Ecology Is For The Birds - Anonymous artist. Designed for the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). Offset, 1971.

"Ecology Is For The Birds" - Anonymous artist. Designed for the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). Offset, 1971.

On March 31, 2010, President Obama reversed yet another campaign promise made to the American people, by announcing he was making vast regions of U.S. coastline available for offshore oil drilling.

Obama’s declaration to open over 500,000 square miles of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas company exploitation was made before a military audience at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, DC.

The decision allows oil companies to lease coastal areas for oil exploration and eventual drilling, in an immense area along the Atlantic coast that spans from northern Delaware to central Florida.

Alaska-Ölsardinen (Alaskan Sardines Packed In Oil). Klaus Staeck. Photomontage, 1989. Printed as an offset poster, the German artist's graphic commented on the depredations of U.S. oil companies on the pristine coastline of Alaska. Poster image supplied courtesy of CSPG.

"Alaska-Ölsardinen" (Alaskan Sardines Packed In Oil). Klaus Staeck. Photomontage, 1989. Offset poster. A German artist's comment regarding the depredations of U.S. oil companies on the pristine coastline of Alaska. Poster image supplied courtesy of CSPG.

Some 130 million acres of northern coastal waters in Alaska are included in Obama’s plan, as well as waters comprising two-thirds of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The region in the Gulf of Mexico that has been opened up by Obama’s plan has not been drilled before, but it has long been coveted by the oil monopolies.

During the presidential campaign of 2008, Senator Obama opposed lifting the ban on offshore oil drilling, and he chastised his opponent Senator McCain for being in the pocket of the oil companies. In a June 17, 2008 article titled Obama ridicules McCain’s plan to tap offshore oil, the AFP news agency reported candidate Obama saying the following about McCain’s plan to tap offshore oil:

“Much like his gas tax gimmick that would leave consumers with pennies in savings, opening our coastlines to offshore drilling would take at least a decade to produce any oil at all, and the effect on gasoline prices would be negligible at best since America only has three percent of the world’s oil. It’s another example of short-term political posturing from Washington, not the long-term leadership we need to solve our dependence on oil.”

But that was Candidate Obama in 2008. On March 31, 2010 ABC News Senior White House Correspondent, Jake Tapper, wrote an article titled President Obama: Drill, Baby, Drill, in which it was announced that:

“On Wednesday morning at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility in Washington, DC, President Obama will announce that his administration will allow the lease sale to go forward for oil and gas exploration 50 miles off of the Virginia coast – the first new sales of offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic in more than two decades. The Department of Interior will also allow seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf from Delaware all the way South to the tip of Florida, to assess the quantity and location of potential oil and gas resources.

A White House official says that the president will also approve a lease sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, while canceling another lease sale in Alaska’s Bristol Bay because of environmental concerns. (Lease sales in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are essentially being suspended pending further scientific review.) The official says that ‘To set America on a path to energy independence, the President believes we must leverage our diverse domestic resources by pursuing a comprehensive energy strategy.’”

From President Obama’s sinking of the UN Climate Change Conference, to his new generation of nuclear power plants and his plans to drill for oil along 500,000 square miles of U.S. coastal waters – there is much to contemplate on this 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Links in this article:
Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG)
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)
Artist Klaus Staeck.

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