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.

doubledipIn 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.

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30 Responses to “Why I Believe Obama on Climate”


  1. I believe (I fervently hope) that Obama pushed the Keystone decision specifically so that he could kill it post-election. Keystone will be the guide-post with which we can judge Obama on climate: Allow it and we will see no hard decisions in his second term; kill it, and we will have a real chance for change on our hands.

  2. Peter Joseph Says:

    Peter, I must also be a sap because the hairs on my arms stood up and tears came when Obama said those words yesterday, as if he’d been to the mountain top (now leveled) and gazed over the promised land (now despoiled.) But haven’t we been here before? Yes, let’s support him, let’s really double down on the deniers, and LET’S PUSH A REALISTIC AGENDA!

    If you’ve been following the controversial Theda Skocpol dust up, one thing she says that is unarguable is that politicians can’t push an agenda that neither they nor the public understand. Climate needs a single, simple focus, just like MLK needed (the Civil Rights Act).

    Climate needs legislation to make carbon pollution progressively less profitable. Climate needs money to talk. Climate needs a carbon tax that sends the right price signal to the entire world economy. Climate nees a plan that is simple, transparent, understandable, revenue-neutral, consumer-friendly, rapidly-deployable, bipartisan and doesn’t require 200 countries to agree to.

    Now is the time for carbon fee and dividend. Does anyone have a better idea? It’s time to rally round the flag pole, everyone!

  3. jimbills Says:

    Peter, I think you have a very good analysis of the politics on the ground, and I’ll hold off on the cheap shots as much as I can. My analysis of this President (and whether or not the citizenry is newly awakened about energy and climate change) is different than yours, as can probably be understood by my previous comments. I think the country as a whole, well exemplified by Donaldson, just doesn’t get it. Apparently, it’s ‘in your face’ to talk about the need for a strong middle class. WTF. Plus, Donaldson again contributes to the impression that there is controversy over AGW, as if Inhofe is an expert.

    But again, I sincerely hope that President Obama’s statements weren’t merely meant for future historians to excuse him on the issue, and that he’ll actually make major strides over the next 4 years.

    I personally think Keystone will go along with his ‘all of the above’ approach to energy, and some version will get approved. Maybe they’ll call it ‘Eaglerock’ or something for cover, but I don’t see how he avoids it for 4 years. At best it’ll be a bargaining chip for other matters.

    My personal goalpost for success is a doubling in the total percentage that solar and wind now take in the U.S. energy sector (percentage, not amount: http://factcheck.org/2012/09/renewable-energy-doubled-not-quite/) – and not, a doubling by 2020 or some virtually meaningless target that can easily be reversed. A doubling in 4 years, with a system in place to create further doublings.

    That’s VERY modest compared to what we actually need (it’s not nearly enough), but if it’s accomplished it’s about the best I could expect. I’d also really like to see a heightened emphasis on improving and expanding mass transportation options on the local and national levels. I’d rather have substantial infrastructure improvements than bullet trains.

    Neither of those goals should be offensive to Republicans. They both fit well into energy security, so I hope they’re not too ‘in your face’ for America. We’ll see.

  4. Martin Lack Says:

    I admire your optimism Peter but… In his Press Conference about new laws to tackle gun violence, President Obama admitted that what he says he wants has no chance of being passed into Law unless the people of the USA demand it of their political representatives…

    The same would apply to climate change if Obama actually believed what he says. Somehow, I doubt he believes it because, although his words suggest he has read the Executive Summary to new National Climate Assessment, his actions (in acquiescing to the Fossil Fuel Lobby [FFL] on the Keystone XL Pipeline, etc.) suggest that he is still convinced by the FFL propaganda machine that says “business is usual” is a survivable strategy… Sadly, the USA is not a democracy: It is quite possibly more corrupt even than Russia; and its supposed public servants are mostly controlled by the FFL and the NRA.

    However, one thing is certain: Obama has not watched any videos of Guy MacPherson.

    • petermogensen Says:

      > However, one thing is certain: Obama has not watched any videos of Guy MacPherson.

      Maybe that’s a good thing. MacPherson strikes me as presenting arguments exactly as shallow as the deniers and one who could easily leave anyone in doubt on which side to trust. I can’t even judge whether there’s any sound basis for his claims and a few of his references I’ve checked isn’t even peer reviewed.

      Sure, there’s some real dangers with tipping points and sure 4 degrees is hell on earth. But this is so much at odds with even the most concerned climate scientist, so maybe we should just act to prevent the problem instead of sitting on our hands waiting for human extinction – which seems like the MacPherson advice.

      • Martin Lack Says:

        I have not double-checked his sources because it is a self-evident reality true that all the positive feedback mechanisms we already understand (and some we undoubtedly do not) could quite easily combine to make anthropogenic climate disruption a very non-linear affect indeed. Given all of this, Obama’s talk about a new age of prosperity (or whatever) seems fanciful and deluded.

  5. jimbills Says:

    Mr. President: A Plaintive Plush Plea by Deep Rogue Ram

  6. Jean Mcmahon Says:

    I trust Mcpherson’s knowledge and integrity re the scientific method and peer review process..he was in the game a long time..My “Liberal” friends have me down..I am waiting for a Black Swan

  7. pendantry Says:

    Why I don’t believe Obama on climate: he can’t even keep a simple promise that he made (back in 2010) to install solar panels on the White House ‘by Spring 2011′. If he’s waiting for popular support, people had better start shouting a tad louder.


  8. Peter,

    I believe this is probably your best post ever!

    Thank you so much!

    Regards,

    Larry

    @tweetingdonal

  9. rayduray Says:

    POLITICO: Nebraska governor Dave Heineman OKs Keystone XL route through state

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/01/nebraska-governor-oks-keystone-xl-route-through-state-86554.html#ixzz2IkdlWaEv


  10. I’m sorry, but this Donaldson figure is a wanker. It needs to be said. As long as nobody dares use some apt language towards these very serious people, there’s no chance for change, dear ‘Merricans.


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