The mantra of corporate globalization
by Harvey Wasserman
International Socialist Review, Aug/Sep 2001
HOW DO you explain the Bush administration's embrace of nuclear
energy and other dirty energy sources?
THE BUSH administration is the unelected mutant offspring
of the oil, coal, and gas industries, with nuclear power dragging
along. Amazingly, one of the hidden disasters of this administration
is that it is in the process of reviving coal, which is hard to
believe. For the environment, it's the airborne equivalent of
bringing back untreated sewage. These people have no - scruples,
they have no concern for the environment, and they e are only
intent on paying back debts owed to the corporations r that illegitimately
put them in the White House. And we can e expect no quarter from
these people when it comes to energy '- policy. It's interesting
that Bush now feels compelled to do o some window dressing-like
some minor energy efficiency stuff on federal buildings, and so
on-that's somewhat a testament to the power of the safe energy
Not that Gore would have been all that much better. The Clinton
administration for eight years did very little for renewables,
or efficiency for that matter. There was a lot of posturing, but
not much that was concrete. Bush has forced the issue into the
open in the most explicit possible manner. Basically, he's devised
the energy plan from hell, but at least it's an energy plan. And
it's something that we can debate openly, whereas, with Clinton/Gore,
there was just nothing happening. There were just eight years
IS THIS thirst for cheap energy a consequence of economic
competition brought on by globalization, or is the US playing
the role of innovator in this area?
THE INTERNATIONAL and global dimension to this is that the
U.S is run by the oil and gas industry. but Europe is not. While
Clinton dithered, and Bush now brings all the lowest forms of
energy production into the mainstream debate, in Europe they headed
in a much healthier direction. Germany and Denmark have developed
wind power. And the wind industry is either the largest or the
second-largest export industry employer now in Denmark, with 13,000
people. Germany now leads the world in wind-driven electricity
generation. Much of Northern Europe is going to wind as fast as
it possibly can. This is being driven by the fact that they don't
have much in the way of native fossil-fuel resources, and nuclear
power is a bust. Both Germany and Sweden are aggressively shutting
down their nuclear plants, and Italy got out a long time ago.
The only country that's pushing new nuclear plants in Europe is
Finland. So it has a lot to do with globalization, in that the
American fossil-fuel industry is in a dying dinosaur mode as compared
to the rest of the world. Photovoltaics are now being pushed very
hard by some Japanese companies, using technology developed here
but ignored by U.S. industry. We are seeing the rapid assault
on fossil fuels from alternative technologies coming from overseas,
but it's being resisted at all costs by the U.S. fossil/nuke industry,
which now controls the] White House and much of Congress.
SO THE US. is an outlier, going against the trend
IT'S A tin can being dragged behind a solar-powered vehicle.
We have become obsolete. And the Germans, the Danes, the Japanese,
the Israelis, the South Africans-whoever focuses on renewables
and develops the technology is going to take over. Denmark really
stands to become the Saudi Arabia of wind because they've got
the technology. Not that it's all that complicated. The double-edged
sword with renewable technology is that much of it is very simple.
It's not going to take anybody a whole lot to figure out how to
duplicate what the Danes and Germans are doing with wind power.
SO THE reason this isn't happening here is basically a consequence
of political forces in the US.?
YES. THE oil, gas, nuclear, and coal industries have been
conspiring against renewables for 50 years. In 1952, the Truman
administration issued a report that said that the future of American
energy was with solar power. And the next year, Eisenhower stepped
in and introduced "Atoms for Peace." Since then, we've
blown a trillion dollars on nuclear power, and it's a catastrophic
failure. Nukes supply just 20 percent of our electricity, and
that power is expensive, dirty, unsafe, unreliable, and a destroyer
of jobs. Any way you look at it, nuclear power is a disaster.
So now they're still picking up the pieces, and the big guys
are still refusing to let go of their investment, and they're
pushing nukes. And they're pushing coal, and they're pushing oil,
and they're pushing gas. The only fossil fuel that has a future
is gas. It's cheaper, it's more reliable, it's more flexible than
nukes or the other fossil fuels. But basically these guys have
obsolete inventory to sell. They're pushing their coal inventory,
they're pushing their oil inventory, and the real energy crisis
we face is not a crisis of supply. It's a crisis of the carrying
capacity of the planet to sustain the continued assault of all
these horrendous fuels. And that's where the environmental movement
comes in, and that's where the global scale of the issue becomes
WHAT ABOUT the crisis in California? Do you think the deregulation
debacle there is a harbinger of things to come? What will it take
for politicians and energy executives to pull back the rush h
THEY'RE NOT going to pull back-at least in the larger picture.
They have beaten some strategic retreats briefly, having stolen
from California more than $60 billion. I think both the utilities
and the gas companies are going to sit back and count their gold
for a while; But the same rip-off will be happening in every other
state that deregulates; it's just not going to be quite so visibly
dramatic. The companies will learn that they can steal this amount
of money-they just have to do it a little more quietly and a little
more cleverly than they did in California, which came as a big
dramatic hit all at once.
Deregulation is a disaster for the public. All deregulation
really means is the removal of any semblance of public participation
in any of the decisions involving energy generation and distribution.
It's a completely cynical, antidemocratic, and ultimately catastrophic
move to deregulate.
WHY DOESN'T deregulation work?
BECAUSE ELECTRIC power is a natural monopoly. You will never
have meaningful competition in the electric power business. It's
like proposing that there be competition between streets. The
only real competition in the electric power business is between
public-owned power and private-owned power. And public-owned power,
without exception, has provided electricity cleaner, safer, cheaper,
and more reliably throughout the last century than private-owned
power. That's just the reality of the situation. And the idea
of using deregulation to introduce the so-called magic of the
marketplace to the electric power business is utter nonsense.
You are simply exchanging a regulated monopoly for a deregulated
monopoly, and there's nothing worse than a deregulated monopoly.
DO YOU think that the forces of globalization are behind the
drive to deregulate?
MOST DEFINITELY. Deregulation is the mantra of corporate globalization.
They do not want interference from the public. Basically, it's
a new form of economic feudalism, where the big corporations sit
on high, make their decisions in the boardrooms, and have no interference
whatsoever-from the public, from the government, or from grassroots
organizations. That's what globalization is all about. That's
why deregulation-not only of electricity, but of the airlines,
the trucking industry, telecommunications, now even water-translates
into a complete feudalization of economic life on this planet.
WHAT DO you think is the best way to focus opposition to these
energy giants and deregulation?
REFERENDA. IN the electric power business the most important
thing people can do is to get measures on the ballot demanding
public power, as is happening in San Francisco and in the East
Bay this fall. Public ownership is essential. At the same time,
pass bond issues to bring on renewables, such as the move in San
Francisco to buy 55 megawatts of photovoltaic cells. This is a
great leap forward, because it gives public ownership of solar
technologies and also spurs development of the industry, which
will lower production prices. Individually, people should go to
renewable resources as fast as possible-photovoltaics, wind, and
increased efficiency. Find ways to technologically circumvent
the monopolized energy sources. We have the power to solarize
our homes. We have to use energy efficiency to bring on publicly
owned power. Nothing less will do. We can't have a kind of vague
discontent. There has to be a concerted and explicit movement
to take over these power grids, to have the public own and operate
them. That's the way it has to go.
WHAT DO you think about the protests in Genoa as a way of
forcing some of these issues on the table?
THE PROTESTS have been good-very important, but they need
to be backed up by explicit referenda and legislative drives that
take these guys over. Organized discontent in the streets is good,
it's important, but ultimately it has to be followed up with tangible
legislation and tangible takeovers and the building of our own
renewable sources, as in San Francisco.
WHAT ABOUT the task of taking on corporate power more broadly?
THE ELECTRIC power business is among the biggest in the world.
In terms of physical plant and gross dollar volume, there are
few, if any, that can compare. There are certainly none bigger
in terms of environmental destruction. And if we can control our
energy sources, we can control a lot more. And that's really got
ONE OF the things that Bush has tried to do is to get unions
on board to support his energy plans by appealing to the notion
that alternative energy sources cost jobs. How do you make the
case to people who are understandably concerned about job loss
that environmental issues deserve consideration?
THE OPPOSITE [of the Bush argument] is true. Renewables create
as much as 10 times the number of jobs per dollar as fossil and
nuclear investments. Labor intensity in the alternative energy
field is far greater than it is in the fossil and nuclear power
business. Lately, we've seen the Teamsters supporting drilling
in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge-it's an absolute travesty.
There is absolutely no reason for any union to support the Bush
energy plan, increased drilling, or the mining of coal. And now
that some have done so, we see how catastrophic the consequences
can be. So now we have the Teamsters and some other unions supporting
obsolete technologies that destroy jobs, destroy our environment,
and destroy the economy.
In the past, we've had the sheet metal workers support solar
power, and we've had the United Auto Workers support solar power.
These unions have understood that the ultimate source of jobs
would be the conversion of our economy from a centralized, corporate-owned,
fossil/nuclear base to a decentralized, public-owned, renewable
base. That's where the jobs of the future are-installing solar
panels, building windmills, using fuel cells, mass public transportation.
Every area-without exception-that serves the planet also serves
the employment picture.
The Teamsters have allied themselves with a dinosaur here-and
an anti-union dinosaur at that. The unions of the future must
understand-as many of them have for quite some time-that the future
of employment is the same as the future of a clean planet. That's
where the jobs are, and that's where the unions need to be.
Harvey Wasserman is a senior adviser to Greenpeace USA and
the Nuclear Information Resource Service. His most recent article
on utility deregulation appears in Multinational Monitor. He is
the author of The Last Energy War: The Battle over Utility Deregulation
(Seven Stories Press). Interviewed (y Eric Ruder, a member of
the ISR editorial board.