The SOTU and Climate
January 26, 2012
For those that missed it, the money quotes, 4 minutes worth on energy and a very quick-oh-so-quick blip of acknowledgment of the greatest threat to civilization in history – which is about all you get on the floor of congress these days. Not enough, but no use crying – we have work to do.
Obama probably did the right thing in sidestepping climate change, and admitting that we need to side step it for the time being in order to get other things done. Those of us who do not subscribe to that view would have preferred, perhaps, a fire and brimstone demand to step up our national efforts to address Global Warming and the other issues related to the high rate of release of fossil Carbon into the atmosphere. We might have liked to have seen some of the victims of aridification, tornado swarms, regional drought, parasite-affected forestry and agricultural failures in the US and elsewhere, in the gallery seats where real people sit as emotional sidebars in every State of the Union Address. But, President Obama chose to not do that, and it is easy to see why he made this choice.
There is a way to fix this. The current election cycle in the US involves not only the office of President, but also, every single member of the House of Representatives and a bunch of Senators and other officials. Candidates are being chosen now, and party platforms are being written. In the next State of the Union Address, we need the President (who will be, hopefully, the same guy as gave the address last night!) to be able to make a strong statement about addressing climate change. The way this can happen is if more members of congress are on board with this, either because they drop the facade of pretending we can put this off for any longer, or because they are actually engaged in implementing real science-informed policy.
Find out who is running for nomination to Congressional office in your area. Find out which candidates, if any, support science-based policy. Tell them that you like this about their candidacy, volunteer to work for their campaign, and send them 25 bucks. If there are no candidates like this in your area, contact the campaigns of those that are running and tell them you want them to engage in science-based policy. Don’t send them that 25 bucks unless they show promise, and seem sincere. If you live in a district or state with an anti-science Representative or Senator, work against them and do so with the explicit overt intention of working against the anti-science representatives we have now in Congress.
Obama is faced with a difficult problem, and he’s gambling on how best to solve it. He won’t make any progress going head on. That way is closed.
He knows that a renewable revolution is happening in this country even as we speak. Wind energy has been one of the biggest sources of new electrical capacity in the US and worldwide for the last 4 years. Solar is coming on very strong – already competitive with gas in the southwest. We are now in a de-facto moratorium on coal fired power plants in the US.
Even Exxon says the US has peaked in gasoline use – the very oil prices that make Tar Sands extraction economically viable, are also driving an accelerating exodus from the internal combustion engine – and automobiles in general. Obama knows what James Hansen is telling us – that its not the gas and oil that are the most dire threat – its the coal and exotic oil – the tar sands and oil shales – that will cook the planet. Throwing out a bone to the offshore drillers – he knows that coastal and ocean activists, as well as post BP-spill ordinary citizens, are going to have something to say about that drilling.
Even though the Fox-addled national GOP hates renewables, hates electric cars, hates wind, hates solar, Obama knows that locally, GOP governors are clamoring for an extension to the Production Tax credit, for that new solar manufacturing facility in their state, and for the ramped up production of high efficiency autos in their cities and towns.
The majority of states have Renewable Energy programs or standards. Will we get a national one? Let’s hope so, but in the meantime, we all have to work in our local area to push the envelope and show the renewable industry they have a future, in this region, in that state, in this city.
This thing won’t work if we don’t. We have to understand the urgency and dig in now harder than ever before. Fortunately, help is coming.
After bottoming out in the last 2 years, awareness of climate change is rising again. Tony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Communication, presented the following graph at the University of Michigan last week.
The current crop of GOP presidential candidates has placed themselves far outside of where the mainstream is, and where its going. Climate can be a defining issue in the coming election, and Obama is positioning himself to be strong on that front, as well as less vulnerable to the “drill baby drill” crowd. One very wild card will be the impact of potential extreme weather events as we move into the storm season with a double dip la-nina still in effect. It should not rationally be an issue, but it is.
The game for now is still at the state and local level, and, as Greg Laden mentions above, very much at the political organizing level. If you are a Democrat, you’d like this President to have the tools to do what he needs to do legislatively. If you are a Republican that cares about the planet, and I know they’re out there – you’d like to push back against the tide of utter BS that’s drowning the credibility of a party that once actually had a grand old tradition.
I’ll be meeting this week with local leaders interested in taking the next steps in my area of the country.