Let’s Talk Climate, Mr. President

By Bill Becker

With the exception of Alfred E. Newman and those who are taking advantage of legalized pot, we Americans are very good worriers. We are even able to worry about several things at once. It’s a kind of emotional multi-tasking and we do it all the time.

Nevertheless, it’s a skill that President Obama consistently underestimates when he talks about the politics of global climate change. The most recent example came in his meeting earlier this month with high-net-worth supporters in San Francisco. As the New York Times reported it, the President lamented that the politics of the environment are “tough.”

“You may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not your No. 1 concern,” the Times quoted him as saying. “And if people think, well, that’s shortsighted, that’s what happens when you’re struggling to get by.”

He made a similar statement last Nov. 14 in his first post-election news conference:

There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices, and you know, understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.

The idea that we live in a one-worry-at-a-time political environment is encouraged by public opinion polls that ask citizens to identify their top issues – in other words, what worries them most. Climate change routinely falls well down the list behind all things economic.

The polls corner their respondents into false choices, however, because most of the issues people are asked to rank are interrelated. Oil prices have a big impact on the economy and jobs. The extreme weather attributed to climate change, which in turn is attributed to our use of fossil fuels, results in more federal spending, which deepens the budget deficit and pressure on taxes. Climate impacts around the world already are undermining international security. Some of the money American consumers spend on gasoline ends up in the Middle East supporting terrorism. And as study after study has concluded, using energy more efficiently and making the transition to renewable energy not only slows climate change; it also stimulates the economy and creates jobs. Breaking these issues apart, stuffing them into stovepipes and asking people to rank them is not nearly as informative as pollsters and politicians make it out to be.

As intelligent as he obviously is, President Obama should have no trouble stitching these issues back together to help the American people see the interconnections that exist in the real world between energy, climate, economy, jobs, national security, government spending, and other issues on the pollsters’ lists.

During his November news conference, President Obama continued:

If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support. So you know, you can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this — moves this agenda forward.

So let’s hear from you, Mr. President. Since it’s so hard to put carbon back in the smokestack or to put the pieces back after our super-storms, let’s have a national conversation about climate change in the coming months rather than the coming years. Don’t worry about us. We’re world-class worriers. It’s a skill that’s been passed down from generation to generation. We, like you, are able to handle more than one important issue at a time.

– Bill Becker is Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), an initiative of Natural Capitalism Solutions to help the President of the United States take decisive action on global warming and energy security.

43 Responses to Let’s Talk Climate, Mr. President

  1. catman306 says:

    Hold Obama’s feet to the fire that is climate change.

    Climate change is ‘change we can believe in’ too.

  2. Mark Haag says:

    Holding his feet to the fire means begin willing to protest actively. Lets go!

  3. fj says:

    This kind of puts things in perspective . . .

    3 Ways to Unlock Climate Finance — World Resources Inst (@worldresources)

  4. Roger Lambert says:

    “Bill Becker is Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), an initiative of =>=>Natural Capitalism Solutions<=<= to help the President of the United States take decisive action on global warming and energy security."

    Some good information about Executive branch powers with regard to enacting renewable energy progress, but….

    ultimately, what is coming through about this organization is that it seems committed to working with corporations to making green energy profitable. The same general policy that has failed for the past thirty years. The same policy that will doom us to not getting the job done in time.

    How about a public, not a capitalistic approach? Why not working for the common good with common monies?

  5. fj says:

    Serious transitioning activity of several major world powers would easily do this; a couple possibly unilaterally.

  6. fj says:

    We print our own money.

    Those we are in debt to accept our money.

    We won’t go bankrupt.

    — Joe Stiglitz

  7. BobbyL says:

    Everyone in the beltway including Obama is focused on the short-term and do not meaningfully deal with long-term issues such as climate change (and exploding health care costs, deteriorating infrastructure, the severe problems of our educational system, and long-term debt projections). What matters most in DC is keeping corporations happy about their quarterly earnings so the campaign contributions keep flowing and serving the immediate concerns of middle class people to keep getting votes. Of course we should be focused on the interconnections and on the long term but that is not the way it works in Washington. Interconnections and long-term concerns simply do not translate into contributions and votes as readily as short-term fixes.

  8. Sasparilla says:

    I agree Mark, as Bill McKibben said in that great piece the other day – that is the way to making this all change.

  9. fj says:

    Since The President, Bloomberg, and many others are urgently working together on gun control; after they succeed they will have a much greater impact making the streets safe in our major cities; not only terms of lives saved but a profound reduction in emissions as well.

  10. Superman1 says:

    1. You have certainly identified an important problem, but, in my opinion, not the central problem in climate change.

  11. Superman1 says:

    There are many categories of people, such as race car drivers, boxers, pro football players, smokers, and drinkers, who are willing to sacrifice health or years at end of days for fame, fortune, and self-gratification in the here-and-now.

  12. Superman1 says:

    3. The citizens of the advanced nations are not willing to extend their years or years of their progeny at the expense of giving up their present self-gratified and luxurious lifestyle enabled by unlimited availability of cheap fossil fuels, irrespective of the good words they say for the pollsters.

  13. Superman1 says:

    4. The citizens of developing nations have the opportunity of leaving abject poverty for a lower-middle class lifestyle based on their cheap labor and the unlimited availability of cheap fossil fuels, and they are not about to forego that opportunity for a few more years spent in abject poverty.

  14. Superman1 says:

    5. (Continued after 4. below.) So, I don’t see any real constituency domestically or across the planet in sufficient numbers and with sufficient motivation to take the actions required to ameliorate climate change. I suspect that’s the President’s main reason for not taking serious action.

  15. BlackDragon says:

    Our short term thinking will soon be balanced by nature. Short term on one side of the equation will equal short term on the other.

    And Sup1, what are you talking about with “the unlimited availability of cheap fossil fuels” ? As if!

    Just take a look at this graph and see how every commodity price is dragged ever higher by our now very limited and not so cheap fossil fuels. Note the tripling of the Commodity Price Index over merely 10 years ago.

    And this is only the beginning of the bend in what is going to be a rather insane leg up over the next 20 years.

    Obama, he knows exactly what is coming, both with AGW and PO. He only hopes he can squeak out the rest of his term before it all comes crashing down. He has no interest – ZERO – in really sharing the truth with the American people. That would violate every principle in his robotic programming.

    In Prezero’s case, the Three Laws of Robotics can be stated thus:

    1. A robot may not injure a corporation or, through inaction, allow a corporation to come to harm.

    2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by other corporations, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

  16. Sasparilla says:

    Was that a tongue in cheek reference to a reductions in the emissions of bullets fj?

  17. john atcheson says:

    I hope you are right, Bill, and that Obama’s inaction is a function of his belief that people can’t focus on several things at once.

    I fear, however, that the real reason is that Obama is a compromiser and conciliator at heart and is unable and unwilling to lead.

    With public opinions where they are, he could lead — he could do what Roosevelt did … set the agenda instead of reacting to it.

    But I don’t think he’s capable.

    On my darker days, I don’t think he even wants to … that he is a player in the campaign contribution bingo game in which K street governs and government is little more than a Potemkin Village.

  18. Fire Mountain says:

    I’ve been reading a lot lately about great presidents – Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. What I cannot find in all my reading is a word of public complaint about how tough it was to deal with the big issues they faced. Can you imagine FDR saying, “This Hitler thing is tough. Most people have their minds on coping with the depression”? Well, they did, but FDR kept using the powers of his office to drive an isolationist public to the necessity of fighting fascism. Going to Tom and Cat Steyer’s house and lamenting how tough it is to deal with climate leaves Obama looking pathetic by comparison.

  19. BobbyL says:

    I think in the US we have become extremely short-term oriented. In fact, many people demand instant gratification. Climate change seems like the type of long-term problem we are least likely to successfully address. It requires a disrupting transition with most of the benefits obtained by today’s children and people who have not yet been born rather than people who have to make the transition.

  20. Mark E says:

    Don’t forget walking/biking everywhere you go – especially when inconvenient – and talking about WHY; Driving for milk the morning of the protest ain’t gonna do it.

  21. Mark E says:

    6. I propose a spam filter setting of no more than 4 posts per column, and no more than 2 in a 60 minute period. (It would certainly slow me up!)

  22. dick smith says:

    This is not about personal responsibility. That ain’t gonna get this done. This is about getting educated and getting political. It’s about going to Nebraska for Keystone XL. It’s about talking to your Member of Congress about a fee and dividend price on carbon. It’s about getting involved in a divestment campaign. Lobbying is a team sport. What you do on your own time is not going to make a difference.

  23. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The ‘economy’ is a human construct. Separating it from ecology which is real, and then giving it equal status, is a very serious mistake which now seems embedded in many minds. We had better correct that mistake in a hurry, ME

  24. Superman1 says:

    “And Sup1, what are you talking about with “the unlimited availability of cheap fossil fuels”” It all depends on what games are played with the pricing. Still cheaper than the alternatives, but we don’t charge for the myriad damages due to fossil fuels. ‘Cheap’, because the governments want to keep them cheap.

  25. BlackDragon says:

    I see your point. This is starting to change as some governments simply cannot afford the huge subsidies, and they are letting prices rise. Social unrest is increasing because of this, and will keep rising.

    Most notions of “cheap and unlimited” for FFs are going out the window pretty quickly. 5 more years, and these notions will be entirely gone.

  26. David F Collins says:

    Great line! I will use it, and will shamelessly abstain from giving you the credit you so richly deserve! Thanks galore!

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Too much torture talk! Next you’ll recommend a ‘humane’ waterboarding, to balance things out, so that his ‘middle regions’ might enjoy an even-handed temperance.

  28. BlackDragon says:

    Really great point. So true, and yes, very pathetic.

    He’s already caved on Keystone, and he just wants us to know how so very very hard it is to have to make such choices.

    Leadership? History is going to be such a harsh judge on his sorry a**. The biggest challenge of modern human civilization is at our door, and Big 0 wants us to know just how “tough” it is to do the right thing. He must be suffering so much, poor child.

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Our dollar-your problem’.

  30. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Natural capitalism’ is an oxymoron.

  31. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There is only one ‘central problem’ -the global dominance of the Right, who don’t care what happens to other people, including those who will be alive when they are dead. And then there is a constellation of other, lesser, problems.

  32. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Indexmundi’ sounds awfully like Rex Mundi. You’re not a secret Gnostic, are you? Maybe not so secret. Or perhaps they are. We could do with a few Gnostic ‘parfaits’ to sort out the religious dullards, before we all burn. The inexorable rise in commodities, particularly food, will be that straw which does the capitalist camel in, and it is very near.

  33. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Obama is, in my opinion, a marionette, and the string-pullers are easy enough to discern. The willful blindness is amazing, so late in the day.

  34. BlackDragon says:

    The Gnostics are completely wrong. There is only One.

  35. BobbyL says:

    “Global dominance of the right.” Is that some sort of conspiracy theory? Like the New World Order?

  36. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s a plain fact, demonstrable on even the barest acquaintance with the MSM. Of course, it all depends on your definition of ‘Right’. Mine is rather wide-ranging.

  37. Superman1 says:

    On that point. Do you see Australia taking actions that would prevent full exploitation of its recent huge oil shale find? Do you see Canada taking actions, economic or otherwise, that would prevent full exploitation of the tar sands? Do you see the USA ……?

  38. Artful Dodger says:

    ‘Jobs-or-the-Climate’ is a false choice. It’s the real choice of ‘Carbon-or-the-Climate’ that these highly-sponsored snake-oil salesmen are trying to prevent from coming to a popular vote. Because that’d be the end of scarcity, joblessness and the reign of the pollutocrats.

  39. BobbyL says:

    I would name this conspiracy theory the “Corporate World Order.”

  40. BlackDragon says:

    No, sadly, I don’t see any actions like that. What I see is exactly what you describe, every possible bottom of the barrel is being scraped.

  41. fj says:

    Actually no.

    The major reason why people do not use other modes of transport than cars is that the streets are not safe.

  42. fj says:

    Understanding and application of Natural Capitalism is a very elegant way to prepare for the future; natural oxymorons not really.

  43. fj says:


    Psychologist Daniel Kahneman (“Thinking Fast and Slow”) got the Nobel Prize in Economics by proving that economics is not rational.

    Very accessible stuff.

    Unfortunately though, it’s often very difficult to be rational without sufficient tools and due diligence.