G-20 Primer

In less than 10 weeks the G-20 Convention of economic power brokers will descend on the city of Pittsburgh. Already this convention shows a slurry of dire straits, power grabs and meat hook environmental realities.

With it comes the perfunctory damage control from the White House, as well as City Hall and even the newspapers.

“Anti-G-20 Web posts show there’s reason to worry about safety,” said Jeremy Boren and Jill King Greenwood, in an article titled “G-20 protest plans raise alarm in city” in the Tribune-Review’s Saturday, June 10th edition.

The Post-Gazette has thus far said little on the G-20 and its effect on the city. The capitulation of the United Steelworkers to the city and the G-20 was reported, as well as the vehement response of local environmentalists.

The question is why this kind of attention? Why the framing of the protesters as the enemy. Nothing is new in reports of black block training and fortifying the messages of activists.

Our answer cuts to the core of this issue: Pittsburgh is up for sale. In fact, all of Western Pennsylvania is so desperate for jobs and placement in the 21st century they’ve fairly leapt at the chance to host this affair.

When considering Pittsburgh’s history, this should come as no surprise. It’s the husk of a place that once had a great deal of meaning, all of it now resigned to nostalgia since industrial drought gouged the city of its industry, and in time much of its pride.

Enter Obama on a unity of themes. He’s a minority in an area where minorities are still alienated and largely disenfranchised. He’s a Democrat with a strong rust belt union allegiance, as he proved in parrying Consol Energy and the NRA’s attempt to smear him during the election. His resulting command of the unions to strike showed the black lung gang who was in charge.

There’s more to it, like Consol Energy sponsoring the new Penguins arena. Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has become an ambassador.

Clearly, there is a deeper bond between Obama and Western Pennsylvania. This is the area he’s been hoping to rely on for years. Now, with the constant skepticism over his buy-out and budget, he needs a victory.

Pennsylvania is the seat of that victory. At the G-20 is the opportunity to circumvent the upcoming UN conference to establish a market-based solution to global warming.

Walk through any of Pittsburgh’s depopulated industrial reliquaries and you’ll see why it was chosen. Half the city is named for robber barons like Frick, Carnegie and Westinghouse. It’s the land of steel of coal. Its people are social conservatives in a shotgun wedding with liberalism for want of a clear role for unionized labor.

It’s worked hard to knock down the old buildings, fleece unaesthetic households and in general, spruce up with a vengeance a town known as much for air pollution as for anything else. With Obama’s choice for the convention, Pittsburgh gets its chance.

But why Pittsburgh? Does all of this really matter to those outside of the city? Not nearly as much as the basic desperation of the city and the willingness preceding even the nod to do whatever is necessary to make sure everything comes off looking smooth, professional and pleasant for the visiting dignitaries.

The Secret Service is estimating a need for 4,000 police officers for the event, in a city that employs less than 900 normally. That’s a lot of cops. There’s a lot of fear that puts a number like that into someone’s head. Pittsburgh isn’t the only group that needs this to go smoothly.

With unions mollified by the promise of jobs, Obama will have a new fuel base separate from the fossil fuels of Texas, Alaska and OPEC. He will take control of the greatest viable export we have to Asia, where the Chinese are opening coal-powered plants with alarming frequency.

Then there’s Texas. Texas uses more electricity than any other state in the union, and its fossil fuel basis is slowly dwindling. It’s also been a conservative stronghold for as long as it’s been a state. The legacy of the Bush administration leaves it weakened, but Obama’s not stupid enough to write off the Texas influence.

Consider the Pickens Plan, a self-serving green technology proposal by Texas billionaire and corporate raider T. Boone Pickens. His plan would help create millions of dollars in wind technology in Texas, but as far as practicality goes it’s more a PR stunt for Texas-style green grandeur than an actual solution. Texas is still the top energy consumer, and it’ll get it through coal, fossil fuels, or not at all. Given how well Texans have been with controlling gas prices lately, they’re not looking like the winning horse.

Thus the power play. Obama asserts control over the relevant unions, binding his policies to the future of the region. He also asserts an ecological control mechanism that will give us some influence over China, who we otherwise owe so much money they come to every table with a hand out. But in any case, it’s some measure of freedom from the fossil fuel stranglehold of OPEC, including its domestic partners in steer country.

The protestors, however, claim that the larger threat is the G-20 and its “clean coal” agenda.

Experts including NASA’s James Hansen, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and longtime eco-lobbyist Ralph Nader have roundly derided the Carbon Cap and its subsequent Cap-and-Trade system as a farce of Green Technology.

“There is no such thing as clean coal,” and all its variations are the message of the environmental movement.

“Verging on a gigantic scam,” was Hansen’s appraisal.

“It’s too easy to manipulate politically,” said Nader.

But enough from the damned experts. Let’s just dissect this thing for ourselves. Science, unlike people, can be autopsied freely (at least while our First Amendment is still gasping).

Here’s how it works. The EPA sets a total amount of CO2 tolerable in the US calendar year. Those allotments are then sold by brokers to power stations, steel mills, and anything else that has a smokestack. The idea is that by slowly cranking down the yearly allotment, it ensures that carbon emissions will go down.

The problems are numerous. First of all, the Waxman-Markley Bill passed in Congress recently does nothing about the trace elements also belched into the air, sulfur among them.

Secondly, there can be exceptions made for areas in economic hardship. While this seems fine and noble, it creates an out in what needs to be a closed system.

Third, the carbon capture process that enables coal to be ‘clean coal’ involves trapping CO2 gas and burying it.

The list goes on, gravitating towards the list of James Hansen, which also pointed out:

It guts the Clean Air Act, removing the EPA’s ability to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants.

It permits insider trading and speculation on the vouchers as commodities. Ultimately, it leaves our future situation prone to the same market forces that currently have us over a barrel.

It sets low targets.

Lastly, and most damningly, it doesn’t point out how much you’ll be paying for this energy. What’s traded on the open market in a capped system is destined to become very expensive. That’s the problem with the speculation. It’s goal is to drive up the price of the commodity to make a profit.

Who pays for that increasing commodity cost? As with sales tax, it’s likely a bill the consumer will pay. That means higher energy bills.

Not quite the cheap solution presented. Not very clean, either, and burying gas to end the process. It’s sloppy all around, and the story leaks like an old engine.

However, all Pittsburgh sees the vital image of a compliant economic port in a damaged but still-vital region.

The G-20 sees opportunities among desperate people.

Unions see jobs.

Enviornmentalists see the apocalypse.

Compelling evidence so far says they’re all right.

“Capitalism is about increasing profits at all costs, no matter the consequences,” said Albert, a long-time environmental activist. The statement is echoed by nearly all environmental activists, excepting the pariah of environmentalists: the Sierra Club.

Facing this stern judgment and wealth of data: 4,000 cops, the capitulation of hard hats, the desperation of the region and an utterly obscene amount of money. That’s a lot of fear in the Golden Triangle in late September.

The government sees sees the possibility of unruly crowds, of broken glass, and the twinkling, peripheral possibility of wrestling unchecked control from China and Texas in one fell swoop.

Already the damage control shifts to vilifying the protestors working out of the Thomas Merton Center, decrying their techniques as a menace and a potential threat to property. Every one of them remembers London and the bedlam caused by Chris Knight’s anarchist crusaders this past spring.

Still, some are not as concerned as others.

“I’m not sure why the city is raising that as an issue at this point. It’s too early,” said Dan Onorato, Allegheny County’s Chief Executive, “I don’t think it’s even down to the wire. I think we’ll get reimbursed after the fact.”

Like most of the retinue, it sounds fair but a little naïve. In fact it’s a placation or it’s very naïve. The damage that can be brought to this convention is minimal, but it’s all in image. That is a loss that cannot be reimbursed.

The current stage of the G-20 preparation only make one thing clear: all parties are desperate. The Obama administration needs a global economic win. The city needs revitalizing interest from industry. We all need clean air. Pittsburgher’s need jobs.

All in all, the only thing clearer than the desperation surrounding the G-20 is how desperation makes people act.


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