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 movement.

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 of drift.

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 extremely important.

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 deregulation?

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 to happen.

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.

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