Why I Believe Obama on Climate
January 22, 2013
“I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” – attributed to Franklin Roosevelt
Call me a sap. I believe Obama.
Like just about everyone reading this, I’ve been more than disappointed at the opportunities squandered in the past 4 years.
In retrospect, it would have been smarter for Obama to prioritize climate rather than health care early in his administration. But no one predicted the virulent racist wave that the Republican party enthusiastically whipped up, and the opposition’s willingness, in a national crisis, to kill off green shoots of recovery rather than allow any progress a “socialist Kenyan” could take credit for.
In the face of highly successful disinformation campaign based around stolen and cherry picked emails, and back to back seasons of unusually fierce winter weather in a double dip La Nina, I think the President’s team looked at the polling and the filibuster-driven stonewall in congress, and opted for a stealth strategy on climate, based on encouraging low carbon solutions. I believe we’ve already begun, and will continue to see, positive results from Recovery Act investments in renewable technology and infrastructure.
Sure, I would have liked it if he’d campaigned more visibly on the climate issue. I get it that, in the campaign calculus, the coal fields of Western Pennsylvania and southeastern Ohio were double weighted. The President and his team gauged, accurately it turns out, that, like it or not, the issue was not taken seriously by the mainstream media, who continued until Superstorm Sandy’s landfall to define The Most Important Issue of the Millennium as a sideshow for “climate people”.
Given the fear, that I shared, of the terrible consequences of a Tea Party presidency, and worse, a Tea Party Supreme Court, I can understand the decision to soft pedal the issue, and send mushy signals on the Keystone pipeline – to avoid giving traction and talking points to the Fox News crowd in the face of an imploding Republican candidate.
Meanwhile, in the background, public opinion slowly evolved. Pounded by a steady barrage of extreme events, cold, hot, wet, dry, – the message of climate change began to sink in – and the unsettling awareness that extremes of all sorts were now the new normal, brought on by anthropogenic changes to the atmosphere. A prominent denier told me candidly that what he feared most was public reaction to extreme events – and those events have just kept on coming.
Obama didn’t have to take this on. His position in history is secure, and he doesn’t have to worry about his life in post presidency.
He could have ticked off environment, giving it a perfunctory sentence or two among all the others, and not bet his reputation in history on this long shot. Yet, he devoted a stunning and clear paragraph in the middle of the speech to the climate issue.
The prominence was not lost on younger observers like MSNBC poll expert and not-particularly-climate-savvy Chuck Todd, who expressed an immediate surprised reaction to the force of the declaration.
Watch the video at the top of the page, though, and see the contrast between a stodgy, old-guard and still-not-getting-it Sam Donaldson, who ticked off everything in the speech except the stunning climate passage, till prompted by the much younger and climate-literate Dan Harris. (skip to 4:40 to see that exchange, but worth listening to Donaldson’s climate-tonedeaf analysis first)
The President’s confident, even steely, throw down on the climate issue showed that there is a consensus even among his overly cautious inner circle that the nation has turned the corner on this issue, and will not go back, and that making this a centerpiece, maybe the centerpiece, of his second term agenda is not only the most important, but politically, and historically, the smartest course this whip-smart, and now veteran, DC savvy, President can make.
If he approves the Keystone pipeline in coming months, I’m well aware I’ll have to revisit and perhaps eat these words.
But I have kids.
I have to believe that, with a critical mass of a newly awakened citizenry at his back, the President can and will do what he says.
One thing’s for sure. He won’t be able to do it unless we stop taking sour cheap shots, get behind him and push like our planet depended on it.