Obama Wins Reelection, Now Must Become A Climate Hawk To Avoid Dust-Bin Of History, Dust Bowl For America

The networks have called it for President Obama, who now gets a second chance on climate.

c_07252010.gifObama’s legacy — and indeed the legacy of all 21st century presidents, starting with George W. Bush — will be determined primarily by whether we avert catastrophic climate change.

If we don’t, then Obama — indeed, all of us — will be seen as failures, and rightfully so. As a new PricewaterhouseCoopers report makes clear, anything other than aggressive efforts to slash carbon pollution starting ASAP likely means 7°F  to 11°F warming globally. That would cause substantially higher warming over most of the U.S. and leave much of the “breakbasket of the world” in Dust Bowl conditions much worse than this nation has ever known (see “We’re Already Topping Dust Bowl Temperatures — Imagine What’ll Happen If We Fail To Stop 10°F Warming“).

By the end of the third decade of this century, all of American life — politics, international relations, our homes, our jobs, our industries, the kind of cars we drive, our diet — will be forever transformed by the climate and energy challenge.

Obama is the first president to articulate in stark terms both the why and how of the sustainable clean energy vision. In April 2009, he said, “The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline.” In October 2009, he said at MIT, “There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy — when it’s the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs.”

Obama has some important clean energy and climate achievements — strong fuel economy standards, doubling renewable electricity, big boost in clean energy investment. But from a historical perspective, he has two fateful failures, the climate bill and his climate silence.

Yes, most of the blame for the failure of the climate bill should go to the anti-science, pro-pollution ideologues (see “Republicans demagogue against market-oriented climate measures they once supported“). They have spread disinformation and poisoned the debate so that is no longer even recognizable.  Who could have guessed that the GOP champion of climate action would end up trashing a bill considerably weaker than the one he tried to pass twice?

Nonetheless, Obama let die our best chance to preserve a livable climate and restore US leadership in clean energy — without a serious fight (see “The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2“). Equally tragic, Obama abandoned the modest messaging he did on climate in 2009 — while the disinformers redoubled their pernicious lies. To remind you of how much the President has muzzled himself, recall what he said about the “never seen before” Fargo flooding in March 2009:

I actually think the science around climate change is real. It is potentially devastating,” Obama told reporters Monday. “If you look at the flooding that’s going on right now in North Dakota and you say to yourself, ‘If you see an increase of two degrees, what does that do, in terms of the situation there?’ That indicates the degree to which we have to take this seriously.

Precisely. Yet this year we’ve had record heat, record drought, record wildfires — and record-shattering frankenstorms, but Obama has little to offer but climate silence.

From a historical perspective — and, I suspect from the perspective of most progressives — there are two huge differences between Obama and the anti-science crowd.  First, Obama is the President of the United States, a person who can single-handedly determine the agenda and the national debate.

Second, most of those other people don’t know any better. But the President has surrounded himself with people like John Holdren and Steven Chu and Jane Lubchenco who know perfectly well that the science is increasingly dire about what happens on the business as usual emissions path (see literature review here). Team Obama would appear to have muzzled them, too, since they also aren’t speaking out as they were in early 2009 (see, for instance, Steven Chu on climate change [2/09]: “Wake up,” America, “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California”).

As the PricewaterhouseCoopers report makes clear “Even to have a reasonable prospect of getting to a 4°C [7°F] scenario would imply nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation.” And 7°F the century (probably much larger post-2100) would be the end of modern civilization as we have come to know it, “incompatible with organized global community” and “likely to be beyond adaptation” as one climate expert has put it.

For Obama to not have a failed presidency, for the nation and the world to have a shot at non-catastrophic warming, he needs to become a climate hawk. He needs to reverse his two biggest blunders. First, and easiest, he must use the bully pulpit to inform the public of how climate change is already impacting us now, of what’s to come if we keep on our current path, and of the myriad cost-effective solutions available today.

Second, Obama has to lead the nation to carbon pollution reductions of at least 17% versus 2005 levels — his Copenhagen commitment — so he can then lead the world toward a global deal. This may not be sufficient to avoid catastrophe, but it is necessary.

Obama has been given the (short-term) gift of abundant, cheap shale gas, which has cut into coal consumption. Combined with his fuel economy standards and the renewable/efficiency push (at the national and state level), that means he needs to insist only on a modest carbon tax in the forthcoming deal on debt and/or tax reform — or modest EPA carbon pollution standards for existing facilities.

In the coming days, Climate Progress will offer more detail on what strategies Obama should pursue nationally and globally. But the key point is that the window for action is closing.

So congratulations to Obama for the historic victory. Now it’s time to save your Presidency from the dust-bin of history and to save America from Dust-Bowlification.

61 Responses to Obama Wins Reelection, Now Must Become A Climate Hawk To Avoid Dust-Bin Of History, Dust Bowl For America

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Yes, and save America from Climate Chaos (which goal includes work on a global scale).

    Let’s get creative with change and transitioning to a low carbon economy. This could possibly even include fossil fuel industries, willingly updating to energy generation, infrastructure of modern times. These companies could participate in the same tax reduction programs, and subsidies alternatives when building wind and solar parks, instead of oil platforms and pipelines.

    Make this Election the beginning of a new chapter in human evolution, when we start to control the amounts of heat trapping gases in our atmosphere. We have simply no other choice than to go aggressively after everything which contributes to climate disruption.

    A tax on carbon therefore should be established right now!

  2. Ross Hunter says:

    Environmentalists have waited for the second term of Obama to hold his feet to the fire and get him to act on climate. I suspect in waiting we lost ground we could have gained in this election if we had joined in political action – maybe allied with the Green Party.
    I agree that Obama is consigned to the dustbin of history if he fails in this second term. I also think that 350 and all the other environmentalist groups have to realize that they – we – are also consigned to the same trash can if we fail. We can’t blame Obama if we fail. It will be we who fail.

  3. Brooks Bridges says:

    Something about a country “not threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet”

    Obama speech 1:50 am Nov 7

  4. Ozonator says:

    The Green Party lost it for VP Gore and the world. I am still using the same $10 calculator back then as now. And the AGW problem is much worse. Romney is gone but the extreme GOP Pac money is still looking to invest in the worse that they have to offer. Giant dust bowls and regional flooding will be overshadowed by AGW CMEs, AGW pandemics, and the AGW loss of cities like Christchurch.

  5. thanes says:

    Not a long speech. That was an important point in a “big speech.”

  6. Leif says:

    Two Palms up America. Thank you.
    Now that we are done, there is lots to do.

  7. mulp says:

    Why haven’t environmentalists been going after Republicans?

    Four decades ago there was the “dirty dozen” who were targeted, and some were defeated.

    The Tea Party was created and it elected 50 radicals on the right because Obama had cut their taxes only 2-3 times but was proposing hiking taxes for the people paying lower tax rates, and the Tea Party was outraged that the rich billionaire might pay taxes as high as workers.

    So, why not start a campaign to defeat the dirty fifty – list off 50 politicians of any party to target, being a bit realistic, where a long campaign to defeat them can at least give them heartburn. (Picking a guy in coal country winning 70-30 isn’t too likely to be defeated unless you partner with a faith group with a stewardship message – really partner with.)

    With hundreds or thousands of environmental activists unable to come up with a winning argument, to demand Obama without the votes in Congress win the argument simply because he is president is absurd.

    Unless you are making Congress feel the heat, Congress is going to ignore the president. They ignored JFK, until they felt the heat. They ignored LBJ, until they felt the heat. And Nixon created the EPA because he wanted to get ahead of the heat.

    Obama has been going the Nixon route because of Nixon’s EPA and the Clear Air and Water Acts, but is getting a lot of push back from Congress and corporations. Push back on the push back. Find industries that benefit from the EPA regulations and get them involved. The “war on coal” needs to be made clear is a war of Ohio landowners selling their shale gas cheaper than Ohio coal can be mined – it isn’t Obama against Ohio, but Ohio against Ohio.

    Obama or any president isn’t a dictator, not can Obama sell a program that lacks a sound argument behind it.

    And “the end is near, all is lost, you are our only hope O-B-Obama” is not an argument. Hey, the conservatives, Republicans, Romney tried that to defeat Obama in far louder voices than environmentalists have tried to sell climate action, but they lost to Obama because they did not have an actual message.

  8. Spike says:

    The Economist magazine wrote in 2011 that, looking back 100 years from now, the only important question about our current historical moment will be “whether or not we did anything to arrest climate change”.

    This applies to the President who history will judge in that light. with no re-election fears now he must press ahead on this issue strongly or be judged a failure by history. All other issues shrivel to insignificance by comparison.

  9. adelady says:

    I got the impression that Obama was drawing a couple of lines in the sand in his speech.

    And climate got a clear mention. I think he’s putting “them” on notice that he won’t be headed off so easily this time.

  10. Addicted says:

    Now that we have Obama for the next 4 years, lets get fucking shrill folks. Time to drive Obama on climate change. As aptitude, he explicitly mentioned it, so we need to drive this shit.
    We won folks. Now it s time to take advantage of our victory to help the whole world.

  11. Addicted says:

    Well said Thanes. For a really short speech, that was a critical mention.

    Now it is time to hold his feet to the fire like we didn’t over the last 4 years.

    Don’t forget. He’s already achieved a decent (not perfect) universal healthcare system, and marriage equality is gonna win one way or another (its not a coincidence that the first pro marriage equality vote was after Obama became the firstnPresident to approve it). The only remaining issue is global warming. For better or worse, it is also the most important. So folks, we need to push this, no matter where on the political extreme you fall.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    On the AUstralian Broadcasting Corporation’s report on Obama’s victory, one correspondent, apropos of nothing in particular, asserted that Obama would spend his second term ‘consolidating’ the ‘achievements’ of his first term, so no progress on climate change will be possible. I was, to say the least, gob-smacked by this bold prediction, coming from a seasoned, Rightwing (naturally) hack, but, then again, maybe she’s after a job at News Corpse. Push-polling disguised as news.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘The only remaining issue’-??!! You must be easily pleased. I can think of twenty, off the top of my head, that I believe ought to concern every American, and every other human being.

  14. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yep, it was a pointed reference. It’s time to put the boots in, ably assisted I’m sure by the charged biosphere, ME

  15. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Getting desperate Mulga? There is more in the spectrum than black and white you know, ME

  16. rjs says:

    as i understand it, china’s emissions are now on the order of 29% of the world total…so why is obama responsible for that?

  17. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thanks to all the USA citizens that voted. We had all our fingers and toes crossed here but hopefully now you can rejoin the global community and use your strength to restore cooperation in the interest of Earth and all who travel on her, ME

  18. Raul M. says:

    Still think that the White House has the bestest storm shelter. Must be they paid attention on how to waterproof the underground shelter.

  19. Lionel A says:

    Phew, what a relief. The US has restored some sanity and hope for a world that held its breath over the last few days.

    Now ’tis time for the pushback against all who have assisted in propagating the messages that the Earth has been cooling, CO2 levels are too small to make additions problematic, climate sensitivity is low, sea levels aren’t rising and glacier and Antarctic ice mass is growing etc, etc, etc.

    This includes those raucous voices in the corporate friendly MSM and others if only guilty by omission.

    Those who feed of fossil fuel funds funnelled through that alphabet soup of think-tanks, including those who run anti-science blogs, often with a vicious streak.

    Also those who pretend to be taking up the middle ground to ‘cool’ the debate between the ‘sides’.

    Those politicians who have been shouting the ‘hoax’ meme need a re-education and not from that coterie of one-time scientists now engaged public advocacy.

    Time to call them all out and interview them ‘on the record and under oath’.

  20. Mike Roddy says:

    The Republicans are likely to easily control Congress for the next four years, and if it’s close the corporations have the Blue Dogs. Greens can’t match the oil companies’ campaign cash, and there are too many hillbilly districts in this country.

    The issue will become whether Obama can act administratively to do something about climate change. This will make WSJ and the Kochs turn purple with rage, but has to be done. Obama may need a Supreme Court justice, however.

  21. Mike Roddy says:

    Who said he was? The best way to overcome China’s corrupt, carbon addicted leadership is to clean up our own act. Then, we could rightfully demand mutually negotiated decarbonization.

  22. Mike Roddy says:

    Why don’t you Aussies stop coal exports? Is this possible?

  23. prokaryotes says:

    Very well said, important!

  24. Anne says:

    How about Taylor, Pica, McKibben, and every other individual representing major environmental groups at the March 2009 asks (nicely) for an apology from President Obama for asking them to keep their lips zipped about climate change. Everyone ought to be thinking “Transition Team” style: get a meeting, brief POTUS, and let HIM know what the new ground rules are gonna be. 1) Muzzles OFF of Holdren, Chu, et al. 2) Comprehensive plan to address climate across agencies and sectors 3) Much better leadership internationally – beginning with UNFCC COP18 meeting in Doha at the end of the month. 4) Phase out fossil fuel subsidies! 5) No Keystone XL. 6) Tons of support and public praise for the ongoing USGCRP national assessment of climate change impacts. That’s good for starters. I agree with everything Joe says here. It’s game time!

  25. Mulga gives eloquently bitter and sardonic voice to the rage we all feel. That has a place in the spectrum of our collective emotions.

  26. Um, the US exports coal, too. This, while we’re patting ourselves on the back for having a couple of years of slightly reduced total carbon output because shale gas has displaced coal in the generation stack. But most of that displaced coal is being promptly shipped to China.

  27. DRT says:

    As a first step we need a tariff on the GHG content of imports, as well as, of course a tax on our own domestically produced GHGs.

  28. Creekman says:

    Mike, I agree Obama must aggressively use all administrative tools available to him in confronting climate change. But he needs effective support in the ideological war. I was sorely disappointed in the wimp-out of the Senate during the debate over healthcare reform. Democrats control the Senate. Let’s see if they have the courage to vigorously support Obama in this all-important battle to save our planet from self-destruction.

  29. DRT says:

    Its time, way past time, to bring all the Big Greens and little greens together so they have a coordinated messages.

  30. Brooks Bridges says:

    Mulp @ #6: You make many good points. NRA is very effective because it is focused. Environmentalists/Progressives are so splintered. Reading about XL pipeline protests in DC and Texas ( made me, for some reason, think of the Declaration of Independence and I looked it up. A better writer than I could fairly easily turn that into a Declaration of Life (or ???) . Read it. “When in the Course of human events..” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and a livable climate.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men..” We need something to focus us on key issues.

  31. A Siegel says:

    The premise of this comment is off in terms of a lack of targeting/efforts.

    There were a number of such efforts. For example, the LCV’s Dirty Dozen:

    Lots to talk about as to whether large enough, well advertised/leveraged enough, targeted at right people, right messaging, etc …

  32. idunno says:

    Well, that’s better.

    I think that now is the time to reach across the aisle and hand out the knifes.

    The GOP is due to have quite a blood-letting over this.

    Their policy on climate is contradicted by the Joint Chiefs. The Joint Chiefs say Warming is a National Security threat. GOP: Naah, we know better. How does that play with serving, or retired military personnel?

    It is contradicted by the Vatican. Latino vote? Oh well, I’m sure some of them GOP are happier supporting their fearless “Galileos of gibberish”.

    It is contradicted by science. Did I read that 94% of scientists are now Dems?

    It is even contradicted by Big Business. The insurance industry is big. Bloomberg is rich. Shell, for example, has quite a good corporate blog up online about clean energy and climate change.

    This election result is not a problem for Obama. His climate policy has not proved any kind of liability for him. It is a big problem for the GOP.

    I think Dems should be thanking people like the Heartland Institute, WUWT, etc, for helping to reelect the President, by forcing Romney to campaign on a policy so at odds with reality.

    Suzanne Goldenberg tweets something about “42% of voters considered hurricane response important or most important factor in their vote.”

    The world’s biggest media hub, NYC, has just seen Sandy blow in. Tens of thousands of media professionals are now wondering if their homes, their city, is safe.

    The GOP will now, doubtless, be planning to hold up all climate legislation in the House. Bad idea.

    Do we tell them, or not? While the prospect of watching the electoral massacre at the mid-terms has its appeal…

    Climate action matters more.

  33. A Siegel says:

    Lots of discussion and efforts to do just this.

    A 18 Nov demonstration announced last night against Keystone.

    And, there were Energy Action Coalition people outside the White House last night calling for an end to climate silence. (For photos:

  34. A Siegel says:

    One of those occasional comments that could be repeated much more frequently …

    Thank you for this post.

    Well put, tons of agreement, some learning, etc …

    E.g., thanks for this one and many others.

  35. Ken Barrows says:

    Y’all realize the House of Representatives is still in the hands of the GOP, right?

  36. Joe Romm says:


  37. John McCormick says:

    And some fresh ideas!!!!

  38. John McCormick says:

    We’ve got a lot of heavy lifting to do before the 2014 election to change that.

  39. Dave Yuhas says:

    Obama may not have personal re-election fears, but the Democrats want to hold on to power. If Obama does not make climate change the signature position of his presidency, do you honestly think the electorate (the 30% of the population that votes) will rise up en masse to put a Republican in office? My prediction: you’re going to hear the word geo-engineering a lot in the next four years.

  40. Your prognostications have as little merit as your revisionism of the 2000 election.

  41. The best chance for bi-partisan climate action that I can see is a BC-style income tax cut funded by carbon pollution fee.

    Unfortunately this is usually referred to as a “carbon tax”. This hides the “income tax cut” half of it. I think conservatives will respond better to a “carbon-funded tax cut”.

    I’ve seen figures of $100b/year from a measly $20/tCO2 carbon-pollution fee. BC is already at $30/tCO2 and economy is doing better than Canada’s as a whole since “carbon-funded tax cut” was brought in.

  42. I recommend levying any carbon-pollution fee at the point of extraction and import:

    1) simplifies the collection and administration
    2) captures “leakage” that BC-style misses
    3) increases size of income tax cut by covering carbon-pollution exports as well

  43. Sasparilla says:

    I think in historic terms, the numbers of registered democratic voters who voted for Bush instead of Gore in Florida were much, much bigger than the voters who went for the Green party. In the end Gore just didn’t keep those registered Dems from the GOP.

  44. Sasparilla says:

    Absolutely Barry….its the place to levy the carbon fee….

    Seems like a climb up Everest politics wise though, with what the oil, coal and gas industries will want no matter what (unimpeded exports).

  45. Joan Savage says:

    Dan Maffei (D) will be back into representing the NY 24th district in Congress, if his current substantial lead is confirmed after mail-in ballots are counted. If so, that would oust Tea Party-funded Ann-Marie Buerkle (R), who denies that humans contribute to climate change.
    In the two years (2010-2012) that Buerkle held the seat, Dan Maffei taught at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF). He taught “The politics of science and environmental policy.”

    SUNY ESF is a top-ranked college for environmental science and education, and I am proud to say, my alma mater.

    So, watch for Dan Maffei, he’s warmed up!

  46. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Mike, China is making rapid progress in reducing emissions intensity and rolling out renewables, so much so that the global demand for steaming coal is dropping, thwarting the ambitions of Australia’s coal addicts to reap greater profits. It is, I believe, a truly calamitous mistake to join in China-bashing at this stage, when Chinese production is reducing the costs of solar energy so rapidly. Moreover, much Chinese emissions are the result of the West moving production to China, so can hardly be blamed on the Chinese alone.

  47. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Only if it became uneconomic but anything could happen in the next couple of years, ME

  48. BobbyL says:

    We should know more about what Obama plans to do with the international climate conference beginning in a few weeks. So far his performance as these annual international conferences has been either disappointing or he doesn’t show up.

  49. Nope says:

    Other than that one line in his victory speech, I don’t recall any serious discussion of the climate at any point during the campaign. What I do recall over the last several months is that work on Keystone XL continues moving forward, hampered only by a small band of admirable souls who’ve strapped themselves to trees in Texas.

    I agree with the post. The President (and the rest of the neoliberal, mainstream wing of the Democratic party) needs to get on the climate issue, and it needs to happen yesterday.

  50. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Rage is a useful emotion in small doses, ME

  51. Billy52 says:

    Now that the campaign is over, we should see Obama take a definite stance on addressing climate change. But no matter what he manages to accomplish, it won’t change the ultimate outcome very much. This planet is warming rapidly and will continue to warm for centuries to come. Our economic system continues to hold out the false promise of unlimited bounty and eschews the idea of sacrifice for the greater good. So we’ll keep doing what we’re doing until it’s so hot that we no longer can safely go outdoors. We’re about as responsible a life form as bacteria multiplying in a petri dish.

  52. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    You’ve correctly identified my Achilles Heel. I am more angry than is generally considered good, however I remain optimistic, but only for the sake of moral hygiene. Rational calculation tells me that we are goners, but to resign oneself to it would be immoral. And any rational discussion of our predicament requires, I believe, a certain degree of spleen and melancholic temper to be added to the ferment.

  53. Merrelyn Emery says:

    My rational calculator gets the same answer but I work with a lot of people who convince me everyday that our species is a wondrous mixture that can both live in the gutter and aim for the stars, and occasionally reaches one, ME

  54. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    I am sure President Barack Obama is conscious of the major problems of Global Warming and Climate Change and will certainly initiate policies to tackle them. This is already reflected in his victory speech.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  55. fj says:

    Effective climate action must be of the very highest order as a struggle for survival at wartime speed.

    While the urgency to do this may not be apparent everyone, it will very soon.

  56. Bob Bingham says:

    I think thats the right idea. Obama should present a series of proposals that are popular with the people but against the principles of the far right. In the end Republicans in Congress will be seen as obstructive and extremist and will never recover.

  57. Bob Bingham says:

    The Australians are like a tobacco farmer with lung cancer. They know what the problem is but they need the income from coal, I think they are very brave in signing up for the next round of Kyoto. It would be good if the USA took a lead in some of this instead of sending a bunch of lawyers to disrupt the talks.

  58. The League of Conservation Voters was one of the most effective pressure groups this election. They still have their dirty dozen and 10 ! were defeated. Along with 4 of their Flat Earth Five.

  59. As FDR said – you convinced me now make me do it.

    It is up to us.

    I believe that joining
    1) and
    2) citizensclimatelobby
    and doing everything they say is the most important next step.