Obama’s Legacy

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"Obama’s Legacy"

This is fourth in a multi-part series by William Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project.

It’s never too early for a president to think about his legacy. Barack Obama has given hints he’s already thinking about his. Last January, he told Diane Sawyer:

I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president”¦ I don’t want to look back on my time here and say to myself all I was interested in was nurturing my own popularity.

In his interview this month with Rolling Stone, Obama promises his legacy will include the beginnings of a clean energy economy:

One of my top priorities next year is to have an energy policy that begins to address all facets of our overreliance on fossil fuels. We may end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some sort of comprehensive omnibus legislation. But we’re going to stay on this because it is good for our economy, it’s good for our national security, and, ultimately, it’s good for our environment”¦  Am I satisfied with what we’ve gotten done? Absolutely not.

When people around the world look back on the Obama presidency 20 years from now, they will not think of health care reform, financial reform, immigration reform or economic stimulus. They will remember Barack Obama as the first African-American president, but while that’s a tremendous milestone, it’s not a legacy. Two decades from now, people will be experiencing much more intense climate disruption; they’ll think about what Obama did, or didn’t do, to prevent it.

Left unaddressed, climate change will undo many of the accomplishments on which Obama spent so much political capital during his first two years in office.  The health care system will labor under the escalating costs of climate-related injuries and illnesses. Climate refugees will surge over our southern border in numbers that make today’s immigration problem look minor.  The world will be even more tense than today, as similar problems occur at much larger scale in other nations with less ability to cope.  The recruitment of terrorists will be easier because of global instability. The United States will be regarded worldwide as an eco-criminal, a theme Osama bin Laden already is sounding.

The costs of trying to adapt to climate change and repair its damages will keep government budgets in unprecedented deficits. Once the flood waters reach their ankles, even libertarians will expect government to help.

That world will become President Obama’s lasting legacy if he doesn’t put his full weight behind bold and decisive climate action.  Fair or not, the President is regarded as the most powerful leader in the world; in the judgment of popular history, the buck will stop with him.

History may also conclude that Obama was the last U.S. president with an opportunity to prevent runaway climate disruptions.  Time is running out. The United States continues to be the key to an effective global response to climate change; with a stalemate in Congress that includes poor prospects for Senate ratification of a climate treaty, Obama is the key to the American government’s response. His legacy probably will be determined next year, before he goes into reelection mode in 2012.

The President and his team already have put down a foundation of “chunks” over the last 22 months – more chunks, in fact, than the Administration is given credit for.   Obama’s 2011 budget request included significant increases in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs at the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Interior.  The Administration is raising vehicle efficiency standards to historic levels, among them the first national emissions and efficiency standards for heavy vehicles.  It is reducing greenhouse gas emissions from America’s largest energy consumer, the federal government. It is moving forward on greater renewable energy production on public lands. Having determined that climate change is a threat to public health and welfare, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is about to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from large polluters.

EPA is toughening its regulation of environmental impacts from fossil energy industries – for example, the impacts of mountain top removal coal mining in Appalachia. A presidential task force has been working for more than a year to frame a national strategy for climate adaptation. Another task force is working on national policy to protect our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. The Fish and Wildlife Service has incorporated the effects of climate change on wildlife into its grants for protecting endangered species. The Department of Energy (DOE) has cleared its backlog of new appliance efficiency standards, an achievement expected to save consumers hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 30 years.

The Administration has created a strategic plan for high-speed rail in America.  It championed more than $80 billion in green investments in the stimulus package, making it the largest energy bill in U.S. history. Obama has directed nine agencies to expedite construction of transmission lines on public lands to help distribute renewable energy. The Nature Conservancy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are trying to protect coral reefs from climate-related damage in the Caribbean, Florida, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

Under Obama’s watch, as I pointed out in Parts 2-3 of this post, corporate environmental practices are becoming more transparent. The Federal Trade Commission has issued new guidelines on truth in green labeling.  The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued guidance on how publicly traded companies should report climate risks.  EPA and the Department of Transportation are revising fuel-economy labels for cars and light trucks to show each new vehicle’s carbon emissions profile.  EPA now requires 10,000 of America’s biggest carbon emitters to publicly report their emissions. Federal agencies have been directed to regularly report their progress on reducing emissions, too. The Administration is working on a requirement that climate impacts must be considered in environmental assessments of federally funded projects.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an order to improve federal water policies to deal with climate change, population growth and other pressures on freshwater supplies.  NOAA created a new office to improve climate change information for local governments, academia and industry. DOE has launched an effort to reduce energy consumption in U.S. buildings 25-30 percent by 2030. EPA and the Department of Agriculture are collaborating on a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations. The U.S. Geological Survey has created a new method to assess the carbon sequestration potentials of geologic formations.

Recognizing how renewable energy technologies can increase its effectiveness as well as overall national security, the U.S. military is becoming the nation’s clean energy groundbreaker. This month for the first time, the military equipped a field encampment – a company of Marines in Afghanistan – with fold-up solar panels, energy efficient lights, solar chargers for phones and computers, and solar tent shields that provide both shade and power for tents.  Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wants 50 percent of the power used by the Navy and Marine Corps to come from renewable energy on bases, in vehicles and on ships within 10 years. Last year, the Navy introduced its first hybrid vessel, the U.S.S. Makin Island. On its first voyage, from Mississippi to San Diego, the ship used 900,000 gallons less fuel than a traditional vessel. The Air Force plans to have its entire fleet certified to operate on bio-fuels by next year.

Obama proposed phasing out $36 billion in subsidies and tax loopholes for fossil fuels.  He proposed a $50 billion boost to infrastructure improvements, funded by ending some oil and gas tax breaks.

On the international front, the President won the G-20’s approval of his proposal to cut international fossil energy subsidies by $300 billion annually.  The Administration has negotiated agreements to collaborate on carbon sequestration and clean energy technologies with Canada, Mexico, China and India. It has joined an international partnership to reduce global emissions of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. And in Copenhagen last year, President Obama personally brokered a multi-national accord in which most nations have endorsed the objective of keeping atmospheric temperatures from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  The Copenhagen Accord is far short of an adequate international response to climate change, but it salvaged something out of the debacle in Denmark.

President Obama has been justifiably criticized for failing to exert his full force to move a climate bill through Congress, a goal that may be deferred for several years as a result of the November election.  The goal Obama set for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — just 3 percent by 2020 compared to the 25-40 percent cuts the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says are needed from industrial economies — is embarrassingly low for the nation that has put more carbon in the atmosphere than any other.   Assuming they are not repealed, weakened or starved of resources by Congress, the “chunks” the Administration has implemented or announced so far will achieve 70 percent of Obama’s 3 percent goal, according to the World Resources Institute. But that’s still 70 percent of an inadequate aspiration.

Yet even with those critical exceptions, Obama and his team have made more progress on this issue in 22 months than all his predecessors managed since Lyndon Johnson was warned about climate change by his science advisors in the 1960s. And he’s done it at the same time he’s wrestled with his immediate predecessor’s debilitating legacy of red ink, the Great Recession, Wall Street scandals, the housing crisis, the collapse of some of the nation’s biggest companies, and two wars.

Many of us in the climate-action movement are still working through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grieving over the failure to get cap and trade from Congress. It appears that most of us are somewhere between anger and depression. But it’s time to graduate to acceptance. Unless progressives score an amazing come-from-behind victory on Nov. 2, or unless something improbable happens in this fall’s lame-duck session, we can’t hope for much on Capitol Hill.  The objective in Congress will be to defend the progress the Administration already has made and the powers it already has.

Fortunately, there are two other branches of federal government. Courts have been making more climate policy than Congress in recent years. The Executive Branch has many more tools for making chunks.  If Obama cares about legacy, the third year of his presidency will be his chance to remove all questions about his Nobel Peace Prize and his place in history.  He’ll need to mobilize the prestige of his office, the full power of the Executive Branch, and the motivational talent he showed the American people during his campaign.  Although skeptics and deniers are getting most attention in the media, a new report from the Yale Project on Climate Communication shows that 63 percent of Americans believe climate change is real. They are today’s silent majority.

One of the problems with chunks is that they imply slow, transactional change instead of the economic and social transformation many of us hoped would be triggered by a cap-and-trade regime. As Sam Walton reportedly said, “Incrementalism is innovation’s worst enemy. We don’t want continuous improvement, we want radical change.”

But chunks can result in tipping points and catalytic events. And while lawsuits, regulations and executive orders are not by themselves the game-changers we hoped for, many chunks are better than no chunks.  The responsibility of the green movement now, I believe, is to make progress where progress can be made – and to be “shovel ready” when the opportunity for much bigger progress comes.

Obama surely recognizes the importance of this moment in history. He has spoken about it often. He has the opportunity and the personal gifts to become a truly great two-term president – the world leader who confronted the most difficult challenge the global community has ever faced.

Despite our polarized and paralyzed political environment, I still believe President Obama and his team can be the agents of a profound shift in government policy and American values. It would be an incredible legacy — and far better than the alternative.

— Bill Becker

JR:  It’s hard to name very many one-term presidents that history judges as “very good,” but then again, I think Obama has a good chance of being a two-term president, albeit one who is viewed by history as mediocre (see The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 1).

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21 Responses to Obama’s Legacy

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    Signs

    There’s no question in my mind: What Obama does — or doesn’t do — regarding climate and energy will define his legacy and will have an immense impact on something that is immensely more important than his legacy: the future itself.

    In reading some of President Obama’s quotes, above, (and realizing that they were made awhile back), they do not at all make me feel like he gets it. He sounds like he seems to see the climate issue as “one of” the high issues, among a number of others. He mixes issues that humankind can address three years from now, or five, or ten, or even twenty, with the immense and overarching issue that we must begin to address — SUBSTANTIALLY — NOW!! We LIVE, of course, in the world, and the climate has (and will have) its influences on all those other issues, and more. And Nature is unforgiving: She has her clock.

    To me, his comments give me the impression that he has had way too much law school and way too little science.

    Be that as it may, he has (or should have) excellent advisors, so I’m starting to be VERY concerned that he doesn’t have the right advisors on climate and energy.

    Also, it might very well be the case — and (by now) probably IS the case — that the most productive thing President Obama can do regarding the climate and energy issues is to “go for the full plan, with gusto and verve and honesty and courage and uncompromising passion”, and see what happens. If it works somehow, great. If not, during his term, that approach might still be the very best approach, by far, to wake up the public and set the stage for REAL action among the public, parts of the private sector, a growing number of politicians, and so forth. Even if the very next administration (for some reason) is not “with it”, nevertheless, the foundational impact that Obama could have if he just “goes for it!!!” could still be the way to ultimately get to a positive future. Many more times than once, in history, leaders have had to “sacrifice” their own proximate/immediate careers in order to ultimately set a foundation of energy and help clear the pathways for people to come. Otherwise, too many “conservative” approaches — incremental ones — muddy themselves into muddiness and deceive people into thinking that slow incrementalism is sufficient. It’s NOT.

    I voted for Obama and will “stick with things” and vote positively tomorrow, here in California, to see if we can have some victories. But while my “optimistic idealistic hope” is still somewhat present, my patience is running very thin, and I’ll be changing my approach, somehow, and who I vote for, IF there is not a full-throttle no-holds-barred effort on the climate change and energy issues in these next two years — starting the week after the election. If President Obama sees the climate issue as “one of” the five or six high priorities, and not THE highest issue, he’ll miss the mark with me. Also, if he continues to follow an incremental-istic approach, rather than a full-throttle approach, he’ll miss the mark with me. By saying this, I’m not saying that there aren’t other important issues that the administration should also handle. If our government can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, we’re in trouble. There are other issues that are important, of course. But the climate and energy problems (and after all, they will also help the economy) are the Major Issues. They relate to — and influence — all else. I’m growing impatient and frustrated, and it wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say so.

    Finally, why did I call this comment “signs”? Because it’s hard for me to read about this subject, that’s how it’s gotten. Although I’m sure the post is great, and I enjoyed the introductory context, and I applaud Bill and his efforts, I just simply can’t read — any more — about how we are falling so far short and how the leader we elected two years ago, with great enthusiasm and hope, may not even “get it”? To me, the fact that I can barely bear to read some of this stuff is a sign that things aren’t going as they should be going.

    Also, I think it’s important for you folks in Washington — Bill, and others, and also even the CP folks — to be aware of something that I occasionally feel, not because I feel it (of course) but because many other people probably feel it too, sometimes. Although it might (in some senses only) seem to be a naive feeling, nevertheless it’s a periodic feeling, and there’s likely at least some truth in it. It’s this:

    We wonder, Why can’t other people (who “get it”) in Washington, right there within walking distance of the high heights, have enough intelligent and passionate influence to get the administration on a much better path? I mean, there’s CAP. There’s Bill. There are all the scientific organizations. I’ve walked around Washington: You can walk from CAP to the White House to the AAAS (or NAS, or both?), to the ACS, to the National Geographic Society, to the API, and etc. during a lunch break. And yet here we are, in the situation we’re in. Periodically, this all gives me the impression that we aren’t doing what we could be doing, or we aren’t doing it well. Here, in this particular comment, by “we” I mean specifically the people involved with the cause who are IN or NEAR Washington itself. In other words, although this is a clumsy way of saying it, many people around the country who are NOT in Washington probably wonder, at least occasionally, why it is that people IN the cause, IN Washington, e.g. at CAP and AAAS and NAS and so forth, can’t do a much better job helping the administration get in gear? I mean, Dr. Chu has ears. So does President Obama. Are they “so far off”, or so closed, that CAP and the AAAS and the NAS and (so forth) can’t get them on a much better path? The whole thing seems disjointed to me. Where am I going wrong on this?

    In any case, that’s it for now. Something’s gotta change if I’m going to stick with the present team. I am happy to help, and eager to help, and I’m “still with it”, but we need to get the train on a better track, if you ask me.

    Still hoping.

    Jeff

  2. Leif says:

    I wholly, fully, completely, 100% agree Jeff.

    I have tried a simple “YES” so often that it appears to have lost its meaning.

  3. John McCormick says:

    Jeff,

    Aside from a Party insurrection where President Obama is seriously challenged in the primary, he will, if he chooses, be the candidate in 2012.

    If Democrats decide it is time for a change at the top (with all due consideration of the delicacy of casting his candidacy as failed given his standing in the non-white population), we suffer the fate of turning off a great many voters….including me. We must all support President Obama as our candidate in 2012 (if he chooses to run). There is no other choice and the alternative (REPUG President) is a kiss of death for America’s middle and lower classes and our children.

    No time to form a third party or for disillusioned voters to turn away. Time to suck it up and do what we must to save us from 4 or 8 years on the rack.

    Heads up. The train light at the end of the tunnel is really a runaway train and the Koch brothers are at the throttle.

    John McCormick

  4. Wonhyo says:

    I have mixed feelings about Obama’s legacy.

    While I understand the health care reform bill is historic and the stimulus averted economic catastrophe, both fall far short of actually advancing a progressive agenda. I can admire Obama for what he was able to accomplish in such a difficult political environment, or I can be disappointed in how little he risked to reach his achievements.

    My thoughts on Obama’s environmental record are similarly mixed. I understand his vehicle emissions standards advanced the U.S. by two decades (to the 1990s). Given how limited his environmental record was with a Democratically controlled house, what can he expect to achieve with a Republican controlled house, especially if key Republicans follow through on their threats to impeach Obama.

    If Obama really was content to be a one-term president, as his interview comments suggest, he should have been far bolder.

  5. Sasparilla says:

    Very well said comment Jeff (#1). I do believe President Obama’s energy and science advisors know exactly how important this issue is (based on what they’ve said previously), however I also think they did not have the power to override the political decisions (pushed by the President’s chief power brokers Axelrod and Emanual) to kill putting any effort into the climate bill since they saw it as a loser – which led to us losing our chance to do it (in my opinion that chance is over). Those decisions, ultimately rests at the President’s feet – and it seems he made that choice from almost the beginning of his administration.

    Mr. Becker has a rosier set of glasses for viewing the last two years than I do.

    The big question, for me, is whether we’ll be able to keep the house and senate (no matter who is in control) from giving away the EPA authority to regulate CO2 emissions in the next two years (god help us after that) and whether the President would willingly sign it (which would seem preposterous to me 2 years ago to consider that the President might do that, but its an open question to me now – the administration just actively fought, in court, for and made sure a new pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to the US could move forward).

  6. Right now, the more interesting question is: “What’s Jerry Brown’s legacy?”

    A couple of months ago, it looked like Meg Whitman and Prop 23, which would suspend the state’s global warming law, both had a chance of winning.

    Now, it looks like California will elect Jerry Brown and defeat Prop 23, giving Brown a mandate to make the state a national leader on climate issues. The state has already issued guidelines for implementing its global warming law, which requires 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. If Brown can make it succeed, the federal government may follow.

  7. MarkF says:

    “they’ll think about what Obama did, or didn’t do, to prevent it.”

    they won’t remember his name, and will be too busy trying to survive to care about who didn’t do what.

    ” Obama promises his legacy will include the beginnings of a clean energy economy”

    yes. and he promised that he would fight for a health care public option, which he dumped as soon as he could.

    “the “chunks” the Administration has implemented or announced so far will achieve 70 percent of Obama’s 3 percent goal, according to the World Resources Institute. ”

    yes, “chunks”, somebody over there likes the sound of that word. This sentence alone obliterates the rest of the submission.

    “Obama surely recognizes the importance of this moment in history. He has spoken about it often.”

    Not really, specially not when it mattered. as all readers of this site are well aware.

    “The Administration has negotiated agreements to collaborate on carbon sequestration and clean energy technologies with Canada,”

    yes, Canada, one of the most carbon emitting nations on the planet per capita, proprietor of the infamous Alberta Tar sands, the oil from which Obama is going to allow to be exported to the USA through a new pipeline.

    “Yet even with those critical exceptions, Obama and his team have made more progress on this issue in 22 months than all his predecessors”

    I guess, three percent of inadequate, beats going in reverse.

    finally from Jeff:

    “I voted for Obama and will “stick with things” and vote positively tomorrow, here in California, to see if we can have some victories.”

    It’s less than encouraging, when beating back a regressive measure, is the only win that’s available.

    sorry, just don’t buy this line of thinking.

  8. Dave E says:

    8. MarkF “sorry, just don’t buy this line of thinking.”–does this mean you’re not voting tomorrow, or, worse yet, voting Republican? We know the Republican WILL try to go in reverse–maybe if the Democrats did better than expected tomorrow it would help to reenergize the issue. PLEASE TRY TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN–DON’T STAY HOME, VOTE DEMOCRAT.

  9. We already know how to generate electricity without increasing the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere: nuclear energy, hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal and urban and rural biowaste. And we’ve known how to do these things for decades.

    We already know how to make carbon neutral gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel plus carbon neutral methanol and methane from urban and rural biowaste or by combining hydrogen from water with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using carbon neutral electrical resources. And we’ve known how to do these things for decades.

    The Federal government simply needs to mandate that we gradually replace fossil fuels with carbon neutral electricity and synfuel production over the next few decades. There’s no logical reason why the US can’t completely end its dependence on fossil fuels within the next 30 years, well before the year 2040.

    The Federal government simply needs to mandate that we do so with the penalty of heavy carbon dioxide pollution taxes on those companies that fail to comply!

  10. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Few Quick Responses

    Thanks everyone for your comments. In my rush this AM, I just want to respond to several points:

    Regarding John McCormick’s comment (Comment 3), John, I agree with you on the problem but not on the solution. In my view, it’s up to us to INFLUENCE the politicians, including Obama, and perhaps especially Obama!, to do what’s necessary. In no way am I going to be happy with “whatever he chooses” even if it’s not effective, and in no way am I going to continue to vote for him unless he does what’s necessary. I don’t see it as my role, or as a wise one, to vote for someone unless he (or she) is going to accomplish the task. I still hope he will, but I disagree with what you seem to be suggesting. There’s another problem too. The leaders (and each of us) need to understand — really — that human beings don’t have infinite patience or strength, and trust is a limited thing, so it’s not wise or practical to just keep saying to people “suck it up”. Effectiveness IS required. If it comes to the point (two years from now) that Obama hasn’t done what’s necessary, and that he and the Democratic party say (or even imply) “suck it up” and keep voting, that will be the very first — and probably deciding — factor I’ll consider in voting for a third party. It’s not my job, or role, or the purpose of my life, to suck it up: Instead, it’s their job to be effective. They’re big boys and girls, they get paid, they get the fame, they made the promises, and they got the job. I hope I don’t have to make the decision to vote for a third party, but I will if need be, especially if the present leadership muddies up what should be Aim One.

    MarkF (Comment 7), you write that “It’s less than encouraging, when beating back a regressive measure, is the only win that’s available.” I completely agree with you on that. Completely.

    Thanks everyone else for comments, too. I’ve read them.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  11. MarkF says:

    Dave E, no I don’t mean do not vote on propostition 23.

    I mean, I do not accept that Obama has taken any steps that are commensurate with the gravity of the situation;

    All who read this site, know that he walked away from even attempting to get any kind of legislation passed, by the senate.

    some legacy. do nothing meaningful on the foremost problem of our time.

  12. Michael Tucker says:

    Of course I am upset that President Obama basically ignored a bill to limit GHG emissions in favor of other legislation. I am aware that it is unlikely to expect such a bill to be seriously considered by congress again before the 2012 elections. However, I think it is too soon to judge President Obama’s legacy. When historians do consider his legacy at this juncture, two years into his first term, it will be in context with all the lies that have dominated the other side and how those lies influenced the American public. The story of the Obama administration is not over and no one knows how it will turn out.

  13. John McCormick says:

    RE # 10

    Jeff, I agree we must demand an effective Democratic Party, its candidates and certainly our President.

    That said, I see Americans caught out on a mine field. One party the repugs really don’t care if we get across safely because the rich are safe at home.

    Democratic Party is trying to get our attention and wants all of us lesser classes to survive and see a future. Never, in my 66 years, have I had more fear of what a majority Repug party can do to our immediate future…even repealing Roe v Wade and the very obvious damage it will do to our children’s future.

    I meant what I said about sucking it up and voting for Democrats. The damage Ralph Nader did to our nation’s politics back in Florida can never be forgiven or forgotten. The stakes are the lives of our children and grandchildren.

    If we are so intent on making a perfect political candidate/party (third party…(no, likely not ever…money being the absolute limiting factor) our only goal, we are defeating ourselves. A political majority rule can be ruled only if the masses overwhelmingly give it the mandate to follow our directives. America may never ever be that organized and focused but an electorate that keeps our children’s future front and center will elect caring and compassionate leaders….President Obama is that and the Palinistas and the kroch crowd don’t give a damn for you and me.

    John McCormick

  14. Wally says:

    Look at what’s going on – the oil companies and the various corporate interests are spending millions upon millions of dollars to try and keep the lid on a simple truth from gaining a foothold on the nation’s government and compelling it to action. You have invaded Carbonworld, the sacred domain of the special interests and they are fighting like savages for their livelihoods (which require an uninformed electorate and scuzzball politicians that can be bought off).

    I guess what I’m saying is this is no time to get despondent – we may be winning. The battle for the hearts and minds of the American public is a long way from being over and it will be helpful if the Democrats will put global warming at the front of their agenda so it can be debated on the national stage.

  15. Bill Becker says:

    I think the range of these comments perfectly reflects the conflicts so many of us feel about what Obama has done so far, and what he may or may not do ahead. Jeff, I totally relate. I suspect there are plenty of Baby Boomers like me out there — and like Joe and maybe several of you — who have been pushing this boulder up the hill for decades and who thought for a brief shining moment that we’d finally make it over the top. What I feel, I guess, is not really optimism but rather a stubborn refusal to accept that all our work over all these years will be wasted. Anyway, thanks for all your comments, as always.

  16. Jeff Huggins says:

    Quick Responses

    Bill (Comment 15), thanks for your comment, and hang in there. I enjoy your posts.

    John (Comment 13), thanks for your comment, and I understand what you’re saying. Your comments here have also caused me to try to figure out what’s going on in my own head — a helpful endeavor, although never complete and sometimes frightening.

    Here’s what I found this time: It’s not about my preferences, nor is it really that I wouldn’t want to “stick with it” and for others to stick with it too. Instead, it’s just about reality — the way people work and vote — as I see it. If Obama and the rest of the Demos that we voted for prove to be ineffective over the next couple years on the most important matter, then you will still vote for them (as it sounds), and others with that sort of view may too, and indeed (if I had enough to drink on election night), I could possibly arm wrestle myself into closing my eyes and doing it too. But no matter, because not enough people will. Elections won’t be won, and especially not with the “mandate” necessary, or the margin, by die-hard people “sucking it up”. And indeed, when Obama got elected, by a rather impressive margin, one of the first things he indicated — and he was correct in doing so — is that he STILL needed immense support and public activism. We couldn’t muster it, and he couldn’t generate it, and we’ve just been muddling through ever since. Have we learned? So you see, even IF an election could barely be won by barely enough people “sucking it up”, the leaders that we’ve chosen have (so far) shown no sign that merely winning an election will propel or allow them to actually DO what they said they’d do. And, I doubt that there will be enough people (if they are as frustrated as I am, in two years’ time) to “suck it up” to barely win an election.

    So, instead, our leaders should be “scared s__t-less” (to quote David Crosby or Stephen Stills or Neil Young, I forget which) that if they are not impressively effective, they will not only fail to address the problem itself (climate change), and thus fail future generations, but they’ll also fail to win the next election. We (the public) still have a much better chance of prompting our leaders to be effective, and there’s a much better chance of them being effective IF they are “scared s__t-less” about the prospect of not being effective, than we have of convincing each other to “suck it up” and vote for the same folks, even though those folks have failed to deliver (on climate change) even with a substantial win, as they enjoyed last time. So, I’m afraid that the “suck it up” viewpoint, at this point, may actually be counterproductive: It may be seen to be enabling something (continuing actions on the part of our leaders) that is “risk averse” and “compromising” and far less than the effort that’s necessary. Now, if President Obama has personally looked you in the eyes and committed to do things differently next time, then I can understand your view. But if not, what sign do you have that he will get the job done, to the degree necessary, next time? I see none so far.

    Now, to be clear, all of this is in the context of the fact that he still has my support, and I’m still hoping, and I’m still active, and I’m voting for all the “good guys” tomorrow. The dialogue above has to do with two years from now, if he (and they) haven’t been effective. If so, then it’s “no go”. That’s not really the way I want it to be. That’s the way it will most likely be, realistically, given how large numbers of people vote. So, the sooner we — and our leaders — realize that, the better. Let’s not fool ourselves. Two more years to get the job done. Rather than starting to ask each other to “suck it up”, our time is better spent sleeping on the sidewalk, in front of the White House, absolutely insisting that Obama and the admin get their acts together. If they don’t, I won’t be with them next time.

    I say this in the hopes that we will hear, and see, a whole new tune soon after the election. Bottom Line: Obama should be DEMANDING action on climate change and (figuratively speaking) shredding anyone who deceives or lies or delays. AND, the public should be DEMANDING action on climate change from Obama, and we should be telling him “no more chances” if he doesn’t deliver. I like the guy, but liking won’t get the job done.

    Anyhow, first things first, and we’ll see how tomorrow and the rest of the year go.

    Cheers for now,

    Jeff

  17. For those of us who think a real, climate action project has to utilize the developed world resources, and these will not be available if the economies of this developed world fail to function effectively.

    Thus is seems highly desirable to defeat CO2 with an industrially compatible solution that also works to defeat unemployment. And the resulting shot in the arm to the economy could bring our economy back into a healthy condition.

    Thus, it seems that a no cost solution should be attractive to all parts of the political spectrum.
     
    The game winning answer to global warming is to create standing forests, where every ton of newly existing forest mass, on a sustaining basis, compensates by CO2 capture for the burning of a ton of coal, approximately. Key to this solution is distribution of water in North America on a continental basis.

    I have been dismayed by promotion of electric vehicles with implicit increased use of electricity and the associated increase in CO2. Viable, large scale solutions to this problem have been absent. But I have been shocked by the planning put forward by the US EPA ** regarding ‘carbon’ capture and sequestration (CCS), where the capture cost burden per ton of coal used would be up to $180-$320. This would be for capture of CO2 only, with additional costs for transportation and pumping it into caverns being not addressed, but acknowledged as additional expense.

    Thus motivated, I looked for a better solution, and found that China seems to have taken the lead over our environmentalists in this very practical matter. A year ago, in a speech about how China was planning to react to the global warming problem, President Hu spoke of “forest carbon”. ***

    It is not a big step to think that this kind of solution would be possible in North America, Brazil perhaps, and other places yet to be identified. It is a big step to think big about water distribution that would be needed to accomplish CCS on the needed scale, but in North America this is within reach, with the action of wise government assumed. Of course there would be a need for due diligence in protecting Northern ecosystems, as well as due deference to rights of others. The goal of CO2 mitigation is not just our concern, so there would seem to be motivation for Canada to lend their essential support to such a project.

    Every ton of forest mass, that exists on a sustaining basis, sequesters CO2 sufficiently to compensate for the burning of a ton of coal, approximately. As it grows, it captures that CO2 from the atmosphere. Mature forests must be maintained and harvested wisely, and new forests must continue to grow.

    Using minimally productive land in selected regions, a fifty year project should be possible, where fifty years of coal fired power plant operation would be supported. In this time we would need to solve the problems of nuclear waste, so that there could be an eventual transition to that form of energy. During this fifty years, we would also need to work toward minimizing the amount of energy needed for our vehicles.

    This forest project, along with ancillary agricultural development, would be quickly self supporting. We know about the agricultural results from the latest California Aquaduct project implemented in 1963 through the California Central Valley. The forest part would be something new.

    The immediate benefit of such a project would be high quantity job creation, but up front investment in the permanent forest infrastructure would be repaid over the long term of highly productive operation. A large cadre of trained workers for forest management, a large expansion of agricultural operations, and a long term flow of export products would lift us from our current employment debacle.

    We see this as a public project that should appeal to all political strains, since it would create a backbone infrastructure that would set the stage for use of energy to continue functioning of our developed world without damage to the global environment.

    Implementing such a concept would require much detail in its actual design, but feasibility in general is not in question. This would be a massive federal project that must be handled by government, both in regard to international water negotiations and financial arrangements.

    Is there a political force that can handle such a project?

    ** The announced plan by the EPA is to require ‘best available technology’ and the recent report by them (Sept 2010) said ‘carbon’ capture would cost up to $95 per ton of CO2. Working this out in terms of the burden on the use of a ton of coal shows that the burden for use of a ton of Powder River Basin coal (half the element carbon by weight) will be about $180 per ton of that coal, and higher carbon coal would incur proportionately higher burden, up to around $320 per ton.
    *** President Hu said, “— we will energetically increase forest carbon — we will endeavor to increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from 2005 levels.” ( This was reported by Joe Romm at this ‘climateprogress’ web site. See – http://climateprogress.org/2009/09/23/are-chinese-emissions-pledges-a-game-changer-for-senate-action-president-hu-un-speech/ )

  18. Sasparilla says:

    Great comments by everyone today, thanks to everyone for them.

    What a day tomorrow is shaping up to be….drawing up my list to try and “sweep back the tide” as much my vote can.

  19. William P says:

    Today (11-1-10) Rachael Maddow listed accomplishments of the Democrats and President Obama in the last 22 months in office. It is a tremendous list of advances. Check Maddow’s blog for the list. The irony is many things on the list like Wall St. reforms, stoppage to criminal credit card rips offs, insurance company excess charges and dropping you when sick – many of these things were on Tea Party signs. Yet….

    Think about Bush having hack political cronies in the White House re-writing James Hansen’s climate warnings if you want a contrast with Obama who understands the lethal danger of global warming.

    Obama even gave average Americans a significant tax reduction which he did not tout. Did you know that?

    Regarding where we and the world are headed, the power of capitalism trumps everything – including the ability to save the world from itself and what pollution will do to all of us. That’s not defeatism, its seeing things as they are.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The triumph of the Koch Brothers and their ilk was inevitable. The hallowed ‘Founding Fathers’ were the rich, and they designed a system that ensured,as John Jay, the first Chief Justice boasted, that ‘Those people who own this county are going to run this country’.The efforts of the serfs to improve their lot were fiercely resisted, all the way. And as Carey showed in ‘Taking the Risk out of Democracy’, and Chomsky and Herman further investigated in ‘Manufacturing Consent’, the masters have relied on incessant media brainwashing to instil a ‘false consciousness’ into the minds of the rabble, who identify more with the parasitic elite than they do with their peers or those beneath them on the increasingly precipitous social pyramid. The Mad Hatters of the Tea Party, ferociously agitating against their own interests, and, more tragically, that of their descendants, to the advantage of plutocrats who despise them,is the tragic apotheosis of this process. History certainly has reached the stage of farce, as Marx predicted, but it still remains truly tragic, and it has been repeated not once, but over and over again.

  21. John McCormick says:

    RE # 19

    William P.

    You have a way of saying the truth so clearly:

    “Regarding where we and the world are headed, the power of capitalism trumps everything – including the ability to save the world from itself and what pollution will do to all of us. That’s not defeatism, its seeing things as they are.”

    Now, living with the aftermath of today’s election results, how will the AGW advocates use the next two years? Enviros have already booked hotels and travel to Cancun in December…nice assignement…no hope of anything accomplished.

    We who really care and are not on the inside of the big green think tanks and advocacy teams, have to question why we are going to let the show-stopping menace of climate change (global chaos) be handled by the bugle corps and scientists afraid to get out in front of the crowd and shout that the house is on fire and the heating oil tank is about to explode.

    Can’t we find new and commanding voices to play that role? They are out there and just as Faux will buy anyone to tout its propaganda we will also have to find and pay for the time and talent of important figures in American life to shake our lethargic general public to its senses.

    Yes, the election today is all about the economy. The election in thirty years will be about coal liquefaction subsidies and relocating New Orleans.

    John McCormick