Tom Friedman: Obama “is going to have to mobilize the whole country to pressure the Senate ” by educating Americans, with speech after speech, about the opportunities and necessities of a serious climate/energy bill….”

“… If he is not ready to risk failure by going all out, failure will be the most likely result.

If Obama wants the Senate to pass Waxman-Markey — preferably strengthened — then he needs to put the same effort into it that he has begun for health care.  And you, the informed public, must get more involved.

The NYT reported lasted month, “Obama to Forge a Greater Role on Health Care“:

After months of insisting he would leave the details to Congress, President Obama has concluded that he must exert greater control over the health care debate and is preparing an intense push for legislation that will include speeches, town-hall-style meetings and much deeper engagement with lawmakers, senior White House officials say.

Terrific.  Awesome.  About time.  That, however, is also what passing strong climate and clean energy legislation will take, as I’ve said many times.  Tom Friedman argues in “Just Do It,” his recent column on House passing Waxman-Markey (despite its many flaws):

Now let’s get it passed in the Senate and make it law.

Why? Because, for all its flaws, this bill is the first comprehensive attempt by America to mitigate climate change by putting a price on carbon emissions. Rejecting this bill would have been read in the world as America voting against the reality and urgency of climate change and would have undermined clean energy initiatives everywhere.

… if this bill passes. Henceforth, every investment decision made in America “” about how homes are built, products manufactured or electricity generated “” will look for the least-cost low-carbon option. And weaving carbon emissions into every business decision will drive innovation and deployment of clean technologies to a whole new level and make energy efficiency much more affordable. That ain’t beanbag.

And he makes the central point that it will take a very hands-on Obama:

I also hope we will hear more from President Obama. Something feels very calculating in how he has approached this bill, as if he doesn’t quite want to get his hands dirty, as if he is ready to twist arms in private, but not so much that if the bill goes down he will get tarnished. That is no way to fight this war. He is going to have to mobilize the whole country to pressure the Senate “” by educating Americans, with speech after speech, about the opportunities and necessities of a serious climate/energy bill. If he is not ready to risk failure by going all out, failure will be the most likely result.

I believe Obama does understand that he will be tarnished forever if this bill goes down.

Future historians will inevitably judge all 21st-century presidents on just two issues:  global warming and the clean energy transition. If the world doesn’t stop catastrophic climate change “” Hell and High Water “” then all Presidents, indeed, all of us, will be seen as failures and rightfully so.

How else could future generations judge us if the U.S. and the world stay anywhere near our current emissions path, warm most of the inland United States 10 to 15°F by century’s end, with sea levels 3 to 7 feet higher, rising perhaps an inch or two a year, with the Southwest from Kansas to California a permanent Dust Bowl, and much of the ocean a hot, acidic dead zone “” impacts that could be irreversible for 1,000 years if we don’t reverse emissions soon and sharply.  This will require an unbroken “” and indeed escalating “” response by our political leadership throughout this century.

But so far we have only had “half an Obama” on this.  Yes, he’s been pushing for the bill with Members mostly behind the scenes, sending his senior staff to do serious lobbying and arm twisting.  He’s been giving great second-tier speeches — no prime time address yet — and focusing primarily, though not exclusively, on the clean energy message.  Yes, he does talk about climate impacts, but he walked away from the biggest chance he had to elevate that issue to national prominence, when he didn’t join Holdren and Lubchenco for the rollout of the landmark 13-agency report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (see Lubchenco says, “This report is a game changer,” Holdren says it’s time to act “after many years of dithering and delay,” plus a new website with full report, summaries, charts, AND a slideshow).

What was the result of the Obama no-show?

As Tom Laskaway, a media and technology professional who blogs at Grist and elsewhere put it:

… a good chunk of congressmen and women are fundamentally unserious about addressing climate change.

And why shouldn’t they be? A good chunk of the media, of Americans, of everybody really (perhaps excepting Pacific Islanders) is fundamentally unserious about it. The Obama adminstration released a horrifying new climate change report yesterday and it had the impact on the newscycle of a wet noodle. Obama’s science team all but announced the world as we know it was scheduled to end by 2090. Shrug. The tree fell. Nobody heard it. Moving on.

The “wet noodle” comment made the Swift-boat smearer’s day at ClimateDepotted, but it isn’t an indictment of the report, as the deniers would have you believe.  Quite the reverse, it is an indictment of the success of the deniers in spreading their disinformation, in convincing the media that this is a political story and not a scientific story, and in persuading progressives, including Obama’s senior advisers like David Axelrod, to to soft-pedal climate science.  Hence, no Obama at what is probably the single most important climate science report the administration is going to release — certainly it is the most important report it will release before Congress makes its final votes on the climate legislation that will determine whether Obama and Axelrod are viewed historically as successes or utter failures.

Yes, some environmentalists and progressives think they have polling to support this “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the subject of climate science. They are dead wrong both tactically and strategically.  Pollster Mark Mellman makes the best case for why they are wrong tactically — see Mark Mellman must read on climate messaging: “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action” “” ecoAmerica “could hardly be more wrong.”

Also this is a dynamic messaging environment, so if our side downplays climate impacts, it essentially gives the deniers free reign to shape half of the debate, which they do with a vengeance, indeed with a disdain for both science and scientists — see “Why do deniers like Pielke shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather?

In short, a strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action,” as Mellman writes.

This leads to the key strategic point.  Most of the public gets this “” and in particular they understand things are going to get much worse on our current emissions path.  That’s why it is so crucial we keep messaging on climate science and impacts, and keep warning people about what is to come.

It is always the best political strategy to tell the truth.  It is especially important in the rare cases where that truth will become increasingly self-evident to the public.

And speaking of the public, Friedman ends his piece with this admonishment to all of us:

And then there is We the People. Attention all young Americans: your climate future is being decided right now in the cloakrooms of the Capitol, where the coal lobby holds huge sway. You want to make a difference? Then get out of Facebook and into somebody’s face. Get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon. That will get the Senate’s attention. Play hardball or don’t play at all.

Hear!  Hear!

13 Responses to Tom Friedman: Obama “is going to have to mobilize the whole country to pressure the Senate ” by educating Americans, with speech after speech, about the opportunities and necessities of a serious climate/energy bill….”

  1. Leland Palmer says:

    Obama’s involvement is necessary, but not sufficient, IMO.

    We need to spread the word, ourselves.

    Due to our worse than useless news media, which has a near total news blackout on the huge Democratic victory on the climate, the word that this victory has taken place is not reaching the public.

    We need to become our own media, and not just congregate on Climate Progress.

    We all need to pick at least one blog or political website other than Climate Progress, and post on a regular basis on that site, linking back to Climate Progress, and do our part to spread the word.

    The blogsphere does have a lot of influence on politics, at least as much as the conventional media, these days.

    We are being failed and screwed by a controlled corporate news media, and if climate legislation is going to pass in the Senate, we need to become our own news media.

  2. Modesty says:

    Political will is ours for the making.

    Roadmap for the Senate, please.

  3. Joe says:

    Yes, I heard you the first time.

    I’ll do it early next week when Congress is back — but it isn’t hard to figure out the key senators are. Dems in red or purple states and GOPers in blue or purple states.

  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    The media’s role in this will be pivotal.

    And, I agree with Friedman and you on the need for all of us, and young generations, to get very active.

    I’m currently in the middle of a “project” that I’ll “launch” within the next two to three weeks. It’s informative. It should be good. Stay tuned.



  5. Dano says:

    This is a very long row to hoe. And it’s hot. And humid. And many don’t want to get out of the shade. It is going to take a ton of arm-twisting and deal-making to get a vote.



  6. Certainly the deniers will be pulling out all the stops.

    Just today, word that Exxon is still funding groups that engage in climate change astrotrufing, despite promises to the contrary.

    I look forward to the roadmap, and making my voice heard.

    I’m also wondering if boycotts help. If we could get 100,000 people to pledge not to use Exxon for the next year, wouldn’t that send a strong message?

  7. Lou Grinzo says:

    Jeff: I agree completely about the role of the media in passing this bill, as well as other steps we need to take in the coming years. That’s one of the prime reasons I’m growing more pessimistic of late.

    As I’ve pointed out on my site until my fingers are practically bleeding from the typing, we’re seeing a deluge of bad environmental news, nearly all of it in the form of “[some impact from or sign of climate chaos] is worse than expected”. And now we’re seeing a spooky uptick in CO2 and methane levels that could be a minor anomaly or it could be very bad news straight from the (no longer) permafrost.

    And on top of that mess we have a numbingly indifferent mainstream and the marching deniers telling them, “Don’t listen to the crazy people! There is no global warming! Really!!! Now go shop for that shiny new SUV.”

    There are still glimmers of hope, though. Earth:2100 had a lot of problems, but it probably opened some eyes. And there’s no lack of coverage on the science geek channels, plus the occasional crumb on network news (ugh). But it’s not nearly enough to fight 24/7/365 denier drumbeat.

    We’re trying tell the truth to a public that only hears us when they seek us out, a public that is force-fed unscientific, greed- and ideology based nonsense that tells them exactly what they want to hear.

    Congratulations, deniers. You’ve rigged the system, enlisted countless unpaid fanboys to do your work online, and unless we pull one hell of a solution out of our hat or you screw it up, you’ll have succeeded in triggering the biggest environmental and humanitarian disaster, by far, in the history of mankind. So tell me, all you deniers who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, what’s the ROI on that Faustian bargain?

  8. Josh Kaplowitz says:

    Who is going to head up Friedman’s million-person climate rally for late September in DC, and has anyone tried (and failed) to do this before? This seems like a worthwhile idea to start planning if the thousands of green non-profits out there can put their heads together. Maybe we can get Amtrak to ramp up their service and get a national carpool network going for that day so that the event can avoid the appearance of hypocrisy that plagued Gore’s rock concerts.

  9. Eduardo says:

    As always Tom Friedman has good ideas of what to do.

    Hopefully Mr. Obama will address this topic more frequently, with the senate deliberation and the Copenhagen meetings in the months to come, he will have the chance to give very good speeches.

  10. Greg Robie says:

    Since the following comment got moderated at the NYT, I will post it here, especially due to the affirming inclusion of Friedman’s closing thought in this post. This was slated to be comment #48:

    “So where was this passion and urgency when you chose to talk about having 5000 year old ice to chill your whiskey? To my ear you were pretty laid back about klimakatastrophe in your framing at that time. Isn’t shifting the responsibility for our screwing up to our kids unconscionable? Isn’t it our generation that needs to grow up and act like adults so the younger generation might have an example of how to do it?

    “Anyway, this time you are correct in your opening paragraph regarding ACES/W-M. It is inadequate to what current science, and the trends in that science, report to us is necessary (see the synthesis report out of Copenhagen ) That report’s “Key Message 3” names as a risk the setting of weak targets, something you seem to have offered a rationalization for here.

    “Regardless, would it have been more adult-like to include what is required of this legislation in this essay?”

    That aside, the comments that were included reaffirm my bias that the NYTs covers the science as it does due to economic considerations. The ignorance and denial that exists (outside of the “effete corps of…”) is a market that they cannot afford to alienate. By convention, science is never settled. This too is not understood and therefore cannot be reported. The MSM pandering to a 6th grade education level to successfully “serve” a mass market has unintended consequences, in this case Friedman being a top columnist—and not Joe! ;)

  11. David Morris says:

    Act locally!

    That million-person march will be on Sept. 24th, organized by people associated with Check out their website. It won’t be all in one place though – it’s all over the world and linked through the internet.

    For example, I’m organizing a demonstration in nearby Glacier National Park for that day. I am trying to get 350 people to bike to the park.

    It IS time to get out of the computer-rooms and into many people’s faces about climate issues if we are going to make any kind of difference.

    What are you all planning? I’d like to hear about, and support, the actions of the many well-informed denizens of this site.

  12. Mossy says:

    David says: “Josh,
    Act locally!

    That million-person march will be on Sept. 24th, organized by people associated with Check out their website. It won’t be all in one place though – it’s all over the world and linked through the internet.”

    I think he meant to give the date of October 24th. This is the day that is orchestrating as a “Global Day of Climate Action,” with more than 1,000 actions planned in scores of countries around the world.

    Our group, The Global Warming Education Network (GWEN) is coordinating one of these events at Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, MA.

    Our themes will be to call for a new American Energy Revolution, and to push for a strong international climate agreement in Copenhagen in December. (More information at or

    I encourage everyone to join an event near them, or if there are none, to start one. Numbers count, and the more people involved the better!

  13. Dave Morris says:

    Thanks for the correction. Important for organizers to get their dates right! Minuteman Park sounds like a great site for an action, I look forward to seeing the photos.