Putin, Obama, and Carbon: Denial and Decline

As I watched the Ukraine/Crimea crisis unfold, the corporate media rendition of the scenario emerged as if pulled from an old cold-war script. Of course, Putin, the Soviet KGB-style dictator, is an obvious “bad guy.” And Obama is following the neo-conservative script of his “advisers,” or is it handlers? But the struggle over Ukraine is really about which “great power” will control Eurasian energy corridors as fossil fuels become scarcer, as well as about the rivalry of empires. Fear arises from the fact that war is money. Russia supplies over half of Ukraine’s and about 30% of Europe’s natural gas. Much of Europe’s demand for natural gas depends on Ukraine and Russia. Unfortunately, reducing carbon emissions has no place in these continuing strategic maneuvers.

Even in the ‘alternative press,’ few have mentioned U.S. interference in Ukraine politics (including influencing the Ukraine’s previous ‘regime change’) to get it to ally itself with NATO, ignoring the entire history of the region and Ukraine’s delicate relationship with Russia. East and West leaning factions within Ukraine had been struggling over how to align that nation. Make a deal to enter the European Union or a deal for closer relations with Moscow? Heaven forbid Ukraine should have independently taken the best from both worlds – both have their consequences. The energy-stakes are too high for both East and West – powers, not people. If people were valued by either side, negotiations leading toward carbon neutrality would begin.

The American media remain in broad denial of the intense efforts by U.S. funded proxies like the “National Endowment for Democracy” to pressure Kiev to turn toward a European alliance and military association with NATO. Imagining that was not a direct threat to Russian borders, the U.S. corporate media, even its ‘liberal’ branches such as MSNBC, parrot the narrative of Russian (Soviet) aggression in a strategic vacuum, after the elected Ukraine government indicated its preference for closer relations with its historical roots in Russia.

It is important to understand that the drama we watch is between two imperial powers vying for control of both energy resources and a ‘border state’ of one. Neither is the least bit interested in anyone’s “self-determination” or democracy. Both claims are, as nearly always, imperial cover stories. Let’s see now, did we put up with Khrushchev’s  attempted military move into Cuba, our ‘border state’ right off the Florida Keys? Is Putin really “protecting” Russian speakers in Crimea with his occupying troops and forced referendum? Ukraine’s gas fields are mostly in its eastern half, closest to the Russian border. Hypocrisy reigns in all quarters. It’s an old fashion power struggle, exactly the kind the world cannot afford.

A large proportion of industrial production goes to military might worldwide, but the U.S. spends nearly as much as the next 10 nations combined. I don’t even know where Russia falls in that ranking – the data are available. But far more important is the abject failure of so-called ‘world leaders’ to break out of their archaic petro-paradigms of power and address the real threat to the security of all nations today: massively climate-destabilizing carbon emissions. And one of the biggest emitters, collectively, is the world military industrial complex, with the U.S. the leading arms producer and dealer on the planet.

One of the things that struck me about this latest international confrontation is its distinctive Kabuki Theater character – the overly stylized drama of its overly ‘made up’ actors dressed up in their cold war personas, seems out of another era. The datedness of the whole affair is partly a reflection of the fact that we have far bigger problems to address than these old rivalries – both within Ukraine and between East and West – namely, the imminent failure of nations to face the fact that their whole industrial structure, including their militaries, will have to be dismantled or otherwise made carbon neutral, in order to stave off climate catastrophes around the world in the next decade and beyond. They arrange chairs in a theater of the absurd.

The most important question today is not whether to immediately embark on a venture in national and world industrial transformation to slow down the heating of the biosphere before it reaches the point of no return. No, the real question is whether we have already reached that tipping point, and if so whether we can find a way to survive. Meanwhile, American-international oil/gas companies are eying Ukraine as another target for their extractive destruction, oblivious to the crisis of civilization.

For purposes of real-world decision making however, such a question is easy to answer: If the risk is human extinction, and you can’t be sure whether steps to avoid it are already too late, you take those steps anyway on the chance that it may not be too late. If in fact it is too late, then nothing matters except whether we can go out in style. If, on the other hand, it will not be too late if all necessary steps are taken, well, obviously, all necessary steps must be taken. We will only know for sure if we take those steps, and take them now.

Putin and Obama, and far too many others, seem entirely oblivious to any such considerations, as they play out their Kabuki recital and archaic mid-twentieth-century rituals of imperial rivalry over petroleum now past its peak. If the consequences were not so dire, the irony might even be funny. Of course, the consequences for the people of Ukraine/Crimea continue to look more dismal every day. But that will pale in comparison to the consequences for the planet if these “leaders” do not get real, and very soon.

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