Could a President Obama or Clinton stop global warming?

Of course not. But they both have solid plans to avoid catastrophic climate change, which I examine in my new Salon article, “Obama and Clinton plan to cool it“:


We’ve seen that a President McCain is not likely to be the leader this country and the world need to maintain the planet’s livability for our children and the next 50 generations. What about a President Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Both would be a giant step forward. Unlike McCain, they have both put out detailed and comprehensive plans. (Obama’s is here. Clinton’s is here.) Although you wouldn’t know it from the media coverage, these plans are more important to the long-term health and well-being of future generations than the candidates’ healthcare or Iraq plans.

The article explains why “no president, not even a modern-day Lincoln or FDR, could possibly stop global warming even by their second term,” but also why it is crucial the the next president embrace an aggressive set of policies to begin sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, the article focuses on Clinton’s and Obama’s crucial strategies for accelerating clean technology deployment.

If the next president does not start us on the path to avoid catastrophic global warming, he or she will be ensuring that subsequent presidents receive an endless number of calls at all times of day to deal with the ever worsening impacts on this country and the world. As guest blogger Bill Becker, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, recently wrote, “The best 3 a.m. phone call is the one that never has to happen.”

17 Responses to Could a President Obama or Clinton stop global warming?

  1. Ben says:

    I agree. In addition, the best we can do is lead and be led to act in the most proactive ways to reduce our impacts on climate chaos, which may not be entirely human caused.

  2. Ken Levenson says:

    Great article with one glaring exception. As much of the MSM does, you describe the crisis as about to be occurring rather than as it happening now. I have a news flash for you. The tipping points are being crossed now. The permafrost is melting now. The level of urgency is growing but your description betrays the fact that we have a long way to go before people realize how urgent it really is. Please have a look at my post “It’s the Planet Stupid!” over at Thanks, Ken L.

  3. David B. Benson says:

    Ben —- Climate variability is the norm, the Holocene being exceptionally stable. However, that is what are agriculture requires, stability. Having now left the Holocene for the Anthropocene, instabilities will increase.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    In reading (rapidly) the position papers of the two candidates, I was first struck by their tweedle-de-dee, tweedle-de-dum likeness.

    But upon reflection, these position papers are mostly about so-called energy independence and certainly insufficient, even if entirely implmented, to avert serious effects from changing climate.

    Well, welcome to the 21st century and the Antropocene…

  5. Joe says:

    First time anyone ever said I take the same view on climate as the MSM.

    There is no scientific evidence we have crossed the tipping points. You don’t seem to have a definition of the term. Yes, the tundra is melting now. But methane emissions haven’t gone up. They have in fact flattened. So no tundra tipping point yet.

    I think few people (other than you) would argue I understate the urgency of the problem. Cutting 80% by 2050 would be astonishing and very unlikely in the real world. Let’s get started and adjust the target if we have to.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Who, me? I didn’t state, nor meant in any way to imply, that you “understate the urgency of the problem.” It is rather I suspect you understate the effects, even if we instantly stabilized the global warming (so-called) greenhouse gasses.

    I know, I ought to read your book. You probably just become a bit tired of having to repeat the sme refrain in the same chorus line every single day…

  7. Joe says:

    I was talking to Ken, sorry.

    I never get tired of repeating myself. That would disqualify me as a blogger…. :)

  8. Hal says:


    I am reading your Salon article and you write:
    “Even when concentrations stop rising, global temperatures will continue to increase for many decades because it takes a long time for the planet’s temperature to come into equilibrium with any new level of GHG concentrations. Ultimately, by 2100, we will probably need net human GHG emissions to be close to zero, if not negative, to avert catastrophe. We can’t stop global warming in the next decade.”

    It is my relatively uninformed opinion that they need to be net zero by 2060. Of course the pace of reductions is important when setting a target date for net zero. A slower initial reduction will push the requisite time of a necessary net zero status closer to the present – or, possibly, simply miss the chance to slow warming sufficiently to avoid catastrophic impacts and positive feedback loops that put the climate in an imposingly radical state that will make current human settlement patterns and agriculture/survival a very different kind of a challenge.

    I have a very hard time imagining the next Pres, whoever it may be, taking this position and getting serious enough about the issue to do what it takes — work vigorously, make the necessary deals, but stay focused and on task without compromise.


  9. Ken Levenson says:


    Jim Hansen says that the tipping point for CO2 regarding the “big melt” (my term) is 350ppm. We’re at 383 and climbing I believe. Is Hansen wrong? Otherwise we’ve crossed perhaps the most important tipping point.

    The Arctic summer sea ice is disappearing far ahead of schedule. Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheet melting are accelerating at a breathtaking pace as documented by Eric Rignot. These are surely crossed tipping points, no?

    From Daniel Nepstad’s latest papers, it seems that if the Amazon isn’t crossing a tipping point right at this very moment – it’s teetering on a knife’s edge and it may very well happen in the very near term.

    The permafrost is melting – in a continually growing area it’s no longer perma now. The bottom line is that the permafrost has crossed a tipping point. You reply that the net methane releases have flattened. I’m not sure how – as clearly the work of such scientists as Katey Walter and Euan Nisbet suggest that the methane releases are accelerating. (please point me to the flattening studies – I’d be appreciative.) Anyway this is a slow feedback, which I would describe as already feeding back. And if the additions are negligible now the cumulative effect of the continued melting will cause terrible results by mid century. Unless we halt the warming, the cat is out of the bag – again, tipping point crossed.

    If I may be a little coarse, it’s a bit like saying because the hole in the space shuttle’s wing didn’t cause the shuttle to disintegrate in outer space that no tipping point had been crossed while they were still in space. Yet those astronauts’s fate was already set. Do we really need to be witnessing the disintegration of our climate before we acknowledge what’s happened and is happening?

    With 1.5 degree temp rise “built-in” at this point – can we stop at 2 degrees? Above 2 even the conservative predictions get especially horrendous.

    The various environmental changes will be non-linear and surprising – but they are coming. I’d suggest that the overall climate state has crossed a tipping point from a state where the changes could be expected to be gradual and “safely predictable” to one where so many variables are falling off the cliff, the only predictably certain thing is that we are falling. I’d suggest that’s a meta tipping point crossed.

    Finally, I whole heartedly agree that 80% reductions by 2050 would be astonishing, and the important thing is to get started. I plan to read your book.


  10. Ken Levenson says:

    Forgot to mention a few items: I don’t think I compared you to MSM. The urgency issue is a moving target, as the news gets worse and worse, the urgency gets heightened. I know we must be careful to modulate and not just scream “fire”, but things are getting quickly worse, as I see it. Finally, just to be sure you have a chance to reply if you’d like, I must mention that I also posted my diary over at DailyKos. Just search It’s the Planet Stupid!

    By the way, if it wasn’t totally clear, I really thought your Salon article was great (with quibble about tipping points) – for what it’s worth….
    – Ken

  11. Joe says:

    I’ve read Hansen’s draft 350 ppm paper. It is a strong case. Not definitive. But he hasn’t answered the question of whether it’s a tipping point. Just that 350 ppm prevents bad things from happening.

    It’s fine by me that their are people who think I’m an optimist. I do wonder how those people get through the day. I blog and have a 1 year old daughter.

  12. Ken Levenson says:

    sorry – I’d lost sight of my original post above. I clearly DID compare you to MSM. Sorry about that. I know I wouldn’t want to be accused of it! ;)

  13. Ken Levenson says:

    How great you have a baby daughter – I have an 18 month old daughter! She was banging on the key board as I was hitting send. :) It’s really because of her that I’m becoming outspoken on the matter. And I’m an optimist too – it’s why I put together the checklist – to fight it. My greatest fear is that my daughter is going to ask me in 10 or 20 years – what the hell were you doing? and our children will condemn us. fight on.

  14. Jay Alt says:

    Seven-Year Stabilization of Methane May Slow Global Warming S. Rowland et al Nov 2006

  15. Ken Levenson says:

    Thanks for the link Jay Alt. It is a bit of heartening news but I’m left feeling that the flattening is really, while related, a parallel issue to the permafrost tipping point issue.

    Maybe I’m reading this wrong – but this bit of good news is leading me to conclude that as long as the permafrost release of methane stays low enough, we can offset that natural positive feedback with manmade reductions, right? So with something like over 500 billion tons of carbon in the permafrost – the $64,000 question is what’s the rate of acceleration of the permafrost melt, correct?

    With temperature rise locked at another .6 degrees minimum probably more like another 1.0 degree I’d guess, and I’m reading that computer projections are saying 90% of Arctic permafrost will have melted to a depth of 9 feet by 2012, it seems that at minimum acceleration is going to continue, even if the rate is not precisely knowable at the moment. I suspect we’ll be getting allot more data on this over the summer and into the fall this year.

    Unfortunately, like much of the climate change data, the choices presented by the uncertainty seem to be between really bad and really, really bad. That kind of uncertainty is not much comforted by the recent flattening of methane emissions I must say.

    It may not be a Larson B ice shelf type of moment but it seems to me that we’ve got a runaway train on our hands and I would still characterize the permafrost situation as another tipping point crossed.

  16. David B. Benson says:

    Ken Levenson — There simply is not enough known (yet) to pick any number higher than about 288 ppm as avoiding the effects of global warming. My favorite compromise is 315 ppm, based simply on that was the level in the 1950s and there was no glacier melt to speak of then.

    The solution that I see will be expensive: carbon capture and sequestration from biomass. This is then cardon-negative, and would eventually bring the CO2 down to a tolerable level, if sufficiently widely practiced.

  17. Beefeater says:

    We should just replace the use of oil altogether as America’s fuel of choice. This doesn’t mean singing the praises of ethanol, and hoping that it finds its way into our fuel supply on its own. It means taking some serious steps now to put a national bio-fuel infrastructure into place. Already some cars on the road have flexible fuel tanks necessary for them to run on E85, which is a cheaper, cleaner blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. But millions upon millions of cars still don’t have these tanks. So its time for auto-makers to install those tanks in every single car that they make and the government can help cover this small cost which currently runs at just around $100 per car. It’s also time to start making E85 fueling stations more available to the American public. Currently only 681 out of the 170,000 fueling stations in America offer E85 pumps. That’s not acceptable. Every American should have the choice when they pull up to fill up their car with E85. That should be true at any fueling station and the oil companies should stop standing in the way and join us in making this happen. If the big oil companies would devote just one percent of their first quarter profits this year to install E85 pumps, more than 7,000 service stations would be able to serve E85 to motorists who could use it.