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.


30 Responses to “Why I Believe Obama on Climate”

  1. Fabulous post supported by wonderful comments.

  2. […] Peter Sinclair starts off his post on the subject with a quote that I think sums up the situation very […]

  3. I hope so, but very much doubt it.
    From internal correspondences leaked from the Copenhagen climate talks it’s pretty clear that the US and China from the start set about dismantling and blocking any possibility of a favourable outcome, and there’s been no apparent change on that in subsequent talks.
    And tho it may not relate in the most direct sense to climate policy, the current administration’s support for BP during the Gulf of Mexico spill, and actual covering up of the details and impact, show that they’re more than willing to go to significant lengths to protect petrochemical companies from the consequences of their actions.
    And they’ve opened up the Arctic Ocean to exploration. And most of the US to non-conventional oil and gas extraction. And hobbled the EPA. And cut subsidies and feed in tariffs for renewables…

    I will happily reverse my opinion the second climate protecting laws are passed and effectively enforced, and maybe that’ll happen, but currently it all just seems like politicians tapping into current public sentiment, as so much else the current administration has promised, and then failed to implement.

    There’s too much work to be done to wait for governments and industries to sweep in and save us.

  4. Peter, I’m with you about a lot of things.

    But I want to mention 2 very important points.

    It’s hard for a president to marshal support for a comprehensive plan if he doesn’t mention it during an election campaign. Their stealth strategy might be effective for winning an election, but not for getting a bill passed. I think we may have to wait until 2016 when climate change has climbed to be a front burner issue. God, I pray that I’m wrong about this.

    Second, a recent comment on climateprogress made a very important point about XL. (I live in Houston where there are all kinds of protests, including 2 hunger strikes, all of which are basically ignored by local media). When XL came into question, the oil companies came up with a way to accomplish the same thing without using XL. They reversed the flow on another pipeline from the Gulf Coast to Cushing, so that it can transfer Tar Sands oil from Canada to Texas refineries for export. This happened a year ago, and Enbridge has been slowly expanding the flow of this pipeline — the last stage from two weeks ago. Read this article and weep: http://www.timescolonist.com/business/enbridge-and-u-s-partner-enterprise-complete-first-seaway-pipeline-expansion-1.44986

    Symbolically, it’s important to reject XL Pipeline. The way they have been building it has made a lot of Texans angry. But practically speaking, it is not going to make a difference on climate change because oil companies already have a way to transfer the oil from Albert to Texas. That is why it is important to focus on discouraging demand and protesting fossil fuel companies generally and not focus too much on the pipelines. That battle has already been lost.

    Robert Nagle

    • rayduray Says:

      The surplus of syncrude coming out of Ft. MacMurray is showing up all over the map. There was a huge spill in Michigan on an Enbridge pipeline.

      Here’s another example from near Vancouver, B.C.

  5. Sorry one more thing. Sam Donaldson is usually a good analyst, but he — like other journalists and analysts of that generation — just aren’t well-versed in climate change and they assume that it’s just “controversial” like gun control, gay rights…. Their myopia is obvious to us, but these people could have their minds easily changed with the right level of information. The problem is that they don’t understand the limited time frame we have to change the problem. Also, I think that people who won’t be around past 2030 just tend to discount the pernicious effects. After all, Donaldson, my mom and lots of other people grew up filling their cars with gas; it’s just a part of suburban living which (according to their view) should probably slowly evolve … say over the next 50 years.

    From their point of view, change is probably necessary, but it will take a while for congress to pass a law and the UN to make a treaty for gradual change over the next decades. So Sam Donaldson and others will continue their usual habits until Congress and nations have made agreements. But from my (and your point of view), the implications are: we need to stop driving our cars, curtail plane travel — and we need to do it RIGHT NOW.

    When I watch these TV news shows (which are always a little pointless), I am always struck at how trivial the other concerns are when compared to climate change. Immigration reform, gun control seem fairly easy to solve because it really only involves a political consensus, not money or science or unknown physical or chemical feedbacks.

  6. idiotprogrammer – Donaldson an analyst? You sure are kidding. A serious analyst would be capable of finding reliable scientific sources about things. Donaldson has delivered incontrovertible proof that he is not an analyst: Basic homework on basic science failed. So, he’s either a corrupted mouthpiece (as his slick language suggests) or just another w… (the word written out in an earlier comment).

    • jimbills Says:

      Commenters like Donaldson are old pros at playing their functions as corporate facilitators. America is a faux democracy – we get to vote, and that vote can swing an election between two pre-chosen candidates, but most votes were bought off long before Citizens United and campaigns began spending ridiculous amounts of money.

      The media pounds subtle messages into the public that directly affect political opinion, and therefore affect voting it’s (how they get bought off). One of the main function of the corporate media is to ‘frame’ the debate – by establishing the boundaries and ground rules to the discussion.

      Donaldson is giving a clear lesson here. He’s saying that it’s radical to strengthen the middle class, that Obama has to choose his priorities (is it going to be just the middle class? just climate? just gay rights?), and that there is still debate about AGW (Inhofe says such-and-such). He’s subtly telling the public that we can’t have too much change, and he’s establishing where people can discuss the issue. Anything beyond the boundaries is not an option.

      Note he also sneaks in the notion that no President out-and-out tries to ruin the country. The sneak message – Obama may be genuine, but he may also ruin the country.

      All this on a supposedly “liberal” channel. There is no such thing as a truly radical channel – they’re all corporate channels with some biases one way or another to the two pre-chosen messages – Democrat and Republican.

      • rayduray Says:

        Re: “There is no such thing as a truly radical channel”

        As close as we get in the U.S.A. is the Pacifica Network and in particular the Democracy NOW! program. Here’s a current example of something you’ll never see on corporate TV:

    • rayduray Says:

      Thanks for your input.

      I’ve followed Sam Donaldson for a couple of decades now. He’s largely self-absorbed and regards himself first as a celebrity and second as a senior spokesman for a particularly pernicious version of America refusing to be honest with itself about its imperial aspirations, its vast destructiveness across the planet and it total mendacity.

      Donaldson will have his job forever because he’s the one leading the cheer that “we’re here to bring democracy to the Middle East”.

  7. kforest2013 Says:

    Here is my take on Obama’s climate strategy. Rather than making an executive decision on Keystone, he will defer the decision to congress, and the republicans in both houses will vote to put the pipeline in. If the senate blocks the bill, Obama can say no to the pipeline. If both houses pass it he can veto it. Or not. If he allows the pipeline under duress from republicans and he has put forth bills on gun rights, defeated by the republicans, then has problems with republicans on the debt ceiling, he can go to the 2014 primaries looking for control of the house because it is so dysfunctional. Assuming he gets that, he can then pass a carbon tax or cap/trade bill on climate change. Oil going through the pipeline is then taxed.

    It is a thought.

  8. Why I don’t believe Obama on climate, extracted from an essay at Nature Bats Last:

    Let’s ignore the models for a moment and consider only the results of a single briefing to the United Nations Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen (COP15). Regulars in this space will recall COP15 as the climate-change meetings thrown under the bus by the Obama administration. A footnote on that long-forgotten briefing contains this statement: “THE LONG-TERM SEA LEVEL THAT CORRESPONDS TO CURRENT CO2 CONCENTRATION IS ABOUT 23 METERS ABOVE TODAY’S LEVELS, AND THE TEMPERATURES WILL BE 6 DEGREES C OR MORE HIGHER. THESE ESTIMATES ARE BASED ON REAL LONG TERM CLIMATE RECORDS, NOT ON MODELS.”

    In other words, Obama and others in his administration knew near-term extinction of humans was already guaranteed. Even before the dire feedbacks were reported by the scientific community, the Obama administration abandoned climate change as a significant issue because it knew we were done as early as 2009. Rather than shoulder the unenviable task of truth-teller, Obama did as his imperial higher-ups demanded: He lied about collapse, and he lied about climate change. And he still does.

    • rayduray Says:

      Well stated. Thank you. Sadly, Obama is simply a self-serving politician. There’s a long list of reasons that honest people feel betrayed by him.

      As the wonderful Molly Ivins pointed out years ago, there’s really only three things you need to know about any politician (she was writing about W in “Shrub”, but this applies equally to Barry O.). Those three things are “the record, the record and the record”.

      As you’ve pointed out:

      1) Obama sandbagged the COP 15 negotiation. And every subsequent COP.

      And then there is this for the record:

      2) Obama permitted more oil & gas drilling permits than his predecessors.
      3) Obama made sure that no effective controls on fracking were put in place to replace the EPA fracking fluid exemption created by Dick Cheney for his pals at Halliburton circa 2004.
      4) Obama hasn’t lifted a finger to undo the federal tax subsidies to the oil & gas industry that are decades old and quite stable and totally counterproductive to a healthy climate. Nor has he lifted a finger to stabilize the subsidy schemes for alternative energy
      5) Obama fell on his sword after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, allowing BP to remain in control of the rogue well and then utterly failing to seek any criminal prosecution for those responsible.

      And that’s just some of his environmental failings. Additionally, he’s enabled an entire criminal class to operate on Wall Street with utter impunity.

  9. […] One of the first rules of management – People are Policy. In choosing Senator Kerry, Obama sent a  strong signal that makes me more confident in what I wrote earlier in the week. […]

  10. […] title as original posts when I repost, but there’s not a better fit for this one. Enjoy this thoughtful repost by Peter Sinclair (of Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

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