An orchestra is an army. Chilly Gonzales

Selective Amnesia

Obama has publicly declared a commitment to future generations, and to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. But the actions of the US administration tell another story.

In 2010 approximately 4.9 billion barrels of crude oil gushed into the Gulf drowning birds, fish, wales, dolphins, turtles, corals, beaches, and coastal habitats in a thick toxic black coating of crude oil. Eleven BP rig workers were killed. The tourism industry ground to a halt, jobs were lost, businesses closed, and some residents were simply forced to pack up and leave. Under the US Oil Pollution Act, the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi estimated their collective damages for property and economic losses to be in the vicinity of US $ 34 Billion.

Images and stories showed Beyond Petroleum working with communities to restore wetlands to their former beauty, washing the oil from the wings and bodies of wildlife, and revitalizing the local economy by providing a new job market around the cleanup efforts. In this light, Obama’s recent statement to recommence offshore drilling is unsurprising.

Special interests dirtying the Presidential policy pot

We are faced with a very real danger if we continue to extract fossil fuel resources. The carbon bubble recently reported by McGlade and Ekins in the peer review journal, “Nature”, warns that if global fossil fuel resources are extracted there is no hope of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Being serious about cutting carbon pollution must begin with leaving untapped fossil fuels in the ground.

On the one hand Obama has publicly declared a commitment to future generations, and to slowing greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, he is working hard at extracting fossil fuels that will eventually be pumped into the atmosphere. Clearly there is a contradiction here. Some might say this is a case of selective memory, and the cynics among them might understandably go on to say this is evidence of special interests dirtying the Presidential policy pot. Others might just dismiss it as another case of political amnesia, a symptom of centrist politics that have pushed even the Democratic leftwing toward the Republican Right. That may be right.

It was not so long ago, at Georgetown University on June 25, 2013 that Obama clearly stated with typical fervor and emotional resolve: ‘I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing. And that’s why, today, I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a leader – a global leader – in the fight against climate change.’. In light of this stance, Obama’s current decision to commence offshore drilling is simply a stupid state of affairs and says just as much about the state of US politics as it does of the status quo in the US.

A survey conducted by the Pew Center for Research in 2014 shows that 67% of Americans rate militant groups such as ISIS as a serious threat, followed by Iran’s nuclear program (59%), and North Korea’s nuclear program (57%), with only 48% of Americans rating global climate change as a serious threat. In an international survey of 39 publics, conducted the previous year, Americans were the least concerned about global climate change. And here is the most intriguing outcome of the Pew Center survey: Americans believe climate change is occurring but they don’t see it as an important priority in either domestic or foreign policy.

Selective remembrance

Given the lackluster response of the general population in the US to take climate change seriously, it appears it is more than just the President who is suffering from a bad case of memory loss. Perhaps this recent decision by the Obama Administration isn’t a problem of remembering more effectively. Maybe the opposite is the case. Perhaps the President and the American people remember all too well.

A massive cleanup ensued after the BP oil spill and then the seemingly impossible happened: Even the worst oil spill in US history was cleaned up. Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief and went about their everyday lives. In effect the anxieties over offshore drilling were also cleaned up. Tourists returned to the Gulf Coast to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf. The protest signs condemning BP were removed from the roadsides, and a newfound hope for the future emerged all over again.

The problem is, as I see it, less one of not remembering, or even one of selective remembrance; rather, it is one of how we remember. Memory doesn’t discover a definitive truth hidden away in the dark recesses of time. The only truthful thing about memory is the activity of remembering, in so far as this depends upon material conditions and an admixture of times working together – past/present/future. It is this capacity of remembrance to bring the past into an innovative relationship with the present and future that makes memory a constitutive and creative power. It is also an important ingredient for social and political change.

On the other hand, remembrance can serve a regulatory function, emptying out the promise of change that the future poses for the present, locking the present into a formidable repetition of the past devoid of variation. Under this scenario of remembrance, the creative pulse of memory is never actualized only nostalgia and habit prevail. This is literally a form of apartheid remembrance; it is just as authoritarian as the most violent kind of political order that history has offered up.

Break with everyday business-as-usual

Our leaders and to a certain extent the status quo is currently incapable of making a decisive break with everyday business-as-usual. Perhaps this is because the cleanup has come to regulate how we remember. It is an appalling state of affairs as the whole world and future generations along with it are going to have to pay the price of apartheid remembrance.

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