Bill McKibben in the November 22 Washington Post: “Imagine an American president who would take the press corps to Glacier National Park so they could hike the dwindling ice fields, then fly them above the millions of acres of dead lodgepole pines covering much of the West, and then take them to stand on the levees in New Orleans.  These are the kinds of stunts Obama knew how to pull off when he was running for president; they seem to be the kind of things he forgot about once he got the office.”

Post by Rick Piltz

See earlier posts:
Why Is There No US Climate Policy? (November 5, 2009)

Obama at UN Climate Summit talks the right talk…but will the US walk the right walk? (September 22, 2009)

When Obama says climate change is “a matter of urgency and national security” he needs to say why (December 28, 2008)

McKibben writes (“Obama Needs to Feel the Heat”):

Copenhagen has been on the calendar for years—it’s not a surprise that someone sprung on the president, who shortly after last year’s election declared: “Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change. Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high.”  The stakes didn’t get any lower in the last 12 months …

But on the biggest question the planet faces—if we’ll take action in time to slow down global warming—… [Obama] as we saw last weekend when he announced that there would be no new treaty anytime soon, is only half in the battle. [I]f Obama makes it [to Copenhagen], he will be there to spin, to say, no doubt elegantly: Chill.

It’s not good news that, internationally, Obama’s spokesmen have stuck to the 450 ppm/2 degree target, calling it consensus science when it no longer is….And now the Senate legislation has apparently been handed to Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for some more tweaking, an exercise that, from a scientific point of view, seems unlikely to end well.
Obama’s excuse is that the Senate won’t sign tough climate legislation, so there’s no use pushing for it….But that’s conceding the game without taking a shot—he hasn’t … tried to rally his nation and other nations.

Bill McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and the co-founder of  He is the author of “The End of Nature” and the forthcoming “Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.”

As a matter of US policy, climate change comes on top of the economic crisis and other intractable problems President Obama inherited when he took office in 2009—most of which had been exacerbated, if not outright caused, by the failures and misguided policies of his predecessor and the pre-2007 Congress.  Climate change policy must be dealt with in the context of an economic crisis that is still very much present, with volatile and potentially dangerous political implications.  It must be dealt with in the context of the complex challenge facing the Congressional leadership in pulling together coalitions needed for moving legislation, when their members bring to the table an array of interests that have little if anything to do with a concern for climate change. 

This cannot be waved off with assertions that climate change takes immediate priority over everything else in the extraordinary set of circumstances facing US political leaders.  We’re well-aware of that.  And we’re well-aware of the need for Obama and Congress to focus, immediately, on dealing with the deepening unemployment and home foreclosure crises, and with the need to concentrate on passing health care reform and regulatory reform of the financial sector. 

But clearly, global climatic disruption is an urgent and perilous challenge that policymakers must be pressured to deal with, without endless delays and slippage on the diplomatic and legislative fronts, no matter how intractable it may appear to be as a political problem.  Political leaders must be pushed and held accountable for translating what climate science is telling us into a coherent and effective climate policy—something the US has not had and, a year after the 2008 election, still does not have. 

The Obama Administration has been moving on several fronts to begin to develop a climate and clean energy policy and advance it in the right direction—more than all of his predecessors combined, given that he has been in office for less than a year.  But US public opinion is soft on the need for serious climate policy—in large part, we believe, because no US president has ever communicated strongly and consistently to the public and rallied the nation with a message about the consequences of inaction that is strong enough to overcome the inertia of the status quo and the endless depredations of the global warming disinformation campaign. 

Until this is changed, it’s hard to see how the US public will be brought to support the major changes that a strong international climate agreement and a strong US legislative and regulatory policy will entail.  How can we expect the US public to internalize the idea that climate change is an “urgent” problem—a problem of “national security,” even—when they don’t see their president and Congress behaving as though they actually believe it themselves?