Friday, May 9, 2014

Obama speaks at Walmart store, says nothing about unions, benefits, or wages

President Obama spoke at a Walmart store in Mountain View, CA, today.Obama spoke at this store because it uses advanced technology like solar panels and LEDs to supply 15% of its electrical needs. The company would have to pay its employees a lot more to let the employees afford solar panels and LEDs. The one percent can afford to use solar electricity. The rest of us have to use what we can get.

Nor can a Walmart employee afford a family home within 20 miles of the Mountain View Walmart. Families may supplement their meager incomes with food stamps but they won't come anywhere near the going rate for a 2-bedroom apartment in Mountain View, which is somewhere around $3 thousand a month.

According to Walmart, half of its employees earn less than $25,000 a year. A 2-bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley costs about $36,000 a year. The employees do not live in Silicon Valley, of course. They commute from far away. This long commute by car further adds to the absurdity of Obama's message. Obama doesn't address how much energy these low-wage workers waste while driving to work, or how this affects the savings in energy (15%) claimed by the company for its energy-efficient store. The average commute in Silicon Valley is about 20 miles.

The place boasts the second-worst commute in the nation, over 40 minutes each way. Many of my fellow workers took much longer than that. Even using ethanol-laced gasoline and a car that gets 40 mpg, each 40-mile-a-day commuter would put around 10,000 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere during the course of a year. Walmart must count all the energy required by its business model, not just the amount used in a store.

Obama used this speaking opportunity to criticize congress for failing to move on global climate change legislation. This is a fair charge, though Obama himself has been lukewarm on environmental issues, despite the latest report from the Obama has yet to block building of the Keystone Pipeline XL. The EPA has yet to release its standards for CO2 emissions on coal burning electricity plants, which will only apply to future coal burning plants, not to those currently in operation.

It is all very well for the EPA to release regulations that will limit new coal-burning plants or close existing ones, but these plants will only be replaced by gas-burning plants that will be just as dirty as the ones being closed. The difference between coal-burning and gas-burning plants is that the CO2 from burning natural gas is released when the gas is extracted from the ground.

Obama calls this move from coal to natural gas part of an "all-of-the-above" strategy to fight global climate change. Since this move may actually increase the amount of CO2 that the US injects into the atmosphere, the whole concept of "all-of-the-above" is a fraud.

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