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Will Future Generations Call Obama The ‘Environmental President’ Or An Abject Failure?

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"Will Future Generations Call Obama The ‘Environmental President’ Or An Abject Failure?"

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It’s tempting to grade the President on a curve, but future generations won’t – if we destroy the livable climate they’ll need to feed 9 billion people.

“History does not forgive us our national mistakes because they are explicable in terms of our domestic politics….  A nation which excuses its own failures by the sacred untouchableness of its own habits can excuse itself into complete disaster.”  – George Kennan, 1951.

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Readers have asked my opinion of Jonathan Chait’s New York magazine column: “Obama Might Actually Be the Environmental President.” His sub-hed tells the tale:

His climate-change policy has been an abject failure, says Al Gore and just about everyone else. They’re wrong. Here’s why.

No.

It’s quite safe to say that, at the very least, it is wildly premature to say Obama hasn’t been an abject failure and pretty safe to say that he is — at least from the perspective of future generations and history’s judgment. That was the point of my election night post, “Obama Wins Reelection, Now Must Become A Climate Hawk To Avoid Dust-Bin Of History, Dust Bowl For America.”

While I usually agree with Grist’s inimitable climate hawk, Dave Roberts, I’m not down with, “Seems to me Chait mostly gets it right.” Like Chait, Roberts wants to grade Obama on a curve, “The question for me is whether Obama has been a success compared to what was (and is) possible.”

As I’ll discuss below, I think Obama is a failure on those grounds, too. But it can’t be repeated too often that Obama’s legacy will be determined primarily by whether we avert catastrophic climate change.

If we don’t, then Obama — indeed, the entire political system, the media and the intelligentsia, heck, all of us — will be seen as failures, and rightfully so. As a 2012 PricewaterhouseCoopers report makes clear, anything other than aggressive efforts to slash carbon pollution starting ASAP likely means 7°F  to 11°F warming globally by 2100 (with more warming next century). That would cause substantially higher warming over most of the U.S. It would leave much of the “breakbasket of the world” (and indeed much of the world’s arable and habitable land) in Dust Bowl conditions much worse than this nation has ever known. By mid-century, the nation and the world will be engaged in a desperate multi-decade effort to figure out how to feed nine billion people on a planet whose carrying capacity has been gutted.

If we don’t stop climate catastrophe, then calling Obama the “environmental president” because of all his other, well-documented environmental accomplishments is like, well, the old line, “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

The point of Kennan’s quote above is that history doesn’t grade us on a curve. And in this case, we’d be graded for a millenium of multiple, simultaneous, ever-worsening, irreversible disasters foisted on future generations because we were too greedy and myopic to devote even a small fraction of our wealth to getting off of carbon a few decades sooner than we were forced to anyway! Not exactly “the greatest generation.”

Here is the only curve future generations will grade us on if we allow it to happen, if we destroy the stable climate of the past 11,000 years that enabled modern civilization:

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming this century on humanity’s current emissions path (in red, via recent literature).

But even if we ignore Kennan and take the narrow, short-term perspective — which, it must be pointed out, is the kind of thinking that has gotten us into this mess — and try to imagine what Obama could have done differently, he still can only get an incomplete (that could convert to a D at best, and an F- in most plausible scenarios).

The entire premise of Chait’s piece is that the failure to pass a climate bill isn’t fatal to Obama’s legacy because, near the end of his 8-year presidency, Obama is going to embrace tough carbon pollution standards for existing power plants along the lines of what the Natural Resources Defense Council has proposed (see here). Modified rapture!

Now I don’t think one can discount the fact that using the EPA to deal with carbon opens the door to significant delay through the courts. Worse, if the Republicans can ever figure out how to win the presidency again, they could slow, stop, or roll back the whole thing.

And why wouldn’t the GOP? Team Obama’s catastrophic climate silence — a silence his White House inanely imposed on much of the progressive and environmental establishment back in 2009 (see here) — coupled with his utter failure to push hard for a Senate vote, has turned a winning political “wedge” issue into something that is mistakenly perceived to be a political loser by much of the political establishment. His embrace of an “all of the above” energy strategy, which is to say no strategy at all, has legitimized a massive expansion of fossil fuel production — and export.

No, I’m not overselling what one man can achieve — I’m simply not ignoring the damage done by an entire administration grotesquely indifferent to — and incompetent at — climate messaging. As Prof. Robert Brulle, one of the country’s leading experts on the environmental movement, put it, “By failing to even rhetorically address climate change, Obama is mortgaging our future and further delaying the necessary work to build a political consensus for real action.”

We are on the brink of losing yet another full 8 years that could have been used to inform the American public about what’s happening now, the bad stuff coming that we can’t stop, and what needs to be done now to avoid the really catastrophic stuff we can.

Churchillian leadership on climate may not be a sufficient condition for avoiding the climate catastrophe, but it is almost certainly a necessary one.

Given that climate change is in fact an existential threat to the nation and modern civilization, I also don’t think that we can ignore the myriad other failures by Obama beyond his failure to use the bully pulpit. Here are four: 

  • Pushing health care reform first when the climate bill was already moving and far more important for the future of the nation and the world.
  • Pushing health care reform in such an incompetent fashion it took a full year, lost public support for that reform and sweeping pieces of legislation in general, energized the opposition, and generally further poisoned a poisonous political atmosphere.
  • Failing to insist that the climate bill be able to be passed through the reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes and prevents a filibuster — in retrospect, this was almost certainly the single biggest strategic mistake (though not Obama’s alone). Note that this would mostly likely have required team Obama to not insist health care be able to pass through reconciliation.
  • Never keeping Democratic Senators in line, and, for instance, never making clear that there was definitely going to be a vote on the climate bill, as they knew there would be for health care. This allowed moderate Democrats to publicly bad-mouth the bill and say that there was no path to 60 votes, which essentially sent the message to moderate Republicans crucial to the bill’s passage that they would be taking a massive political risk supporting any bill.

Again, the net effect of the political incompetence and the messaging failure has been to turn the issue of the century into a virtual non-issue, which in turn has allowed the major media to all but ignore it, too.

But let’s imagine Obama gets a spine, fixes the EPA rules for new power plants, and then adopts rules for existing power plants that lead to a 17% (or greater) reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 (versus 2005 levels), which is what he offered before the 2009 global talks in Copenhagen. Obama would still need to undo the damage done to the international negotiation process by his climate silence and failure to pass a climate bill.

Avoiding catastrophe requires a global deal with teeth in 2015 — otherwise America’s modest “reduction” in carbon emissions will mean nothing. I put “reduction” in quotes because when you factor in our trade deficit with China (and others) in manufactured goods, it just turns out we’ve been outsourcing our CO2 emissions. Over the past two decades, we have been buying more and more of our products from coal-intensive China — and, on top of that, we’ve been selling China our surplus coal!

Yes, America’s coal use is dropping, but don’t worry, the “environmental President” has overseen the largest increase in U.S. coal exports in history (see “2012 U.S. Coal Exports Reach Record High“)!

One final point — on the Keystone XL pipeline. Killing it may not be a sufficient condition for the “environmental President” to lead the way on preventing a climate catastrophe, but it is almost certainly necessary one.

Approving the pipeline would be a deep self-inflicted wound on the Obama administration, greater than anything else he has done,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club and a leader of the antipipeline movement. “This was not inherited from the Bush administration and it can’t be passed off to his successor. It really is Obama’s alone. Whatever damage the decision would do to the environmental movement pales in comparison to the damage it would do to his own legacy.”

Of course, IF Obama could approve Keystone but still achieve serious domestic reductions AND a global deal that put the world onto a non-catastrophic path (i.e near 2°C total warming or less), then history might still judge him the “environmental president.” But on that path, the Keystone pipeline would be a superfluous waste of resources (at best), since it is a gateway to one of the many huge pools of carbon-intensive fuel most of which must be left in the ground on the 2C path.

The fact that our hypothetical Obama could, if he uses EPA authority in a serious fashion, go to the world’s other big emitters and commit to meeting his 17% pledge is a necessary minimum condition to achieve a climate agreement — but it is not sufficient. Obama needs some moral standing, he needs to be able to demonstrate to the world the U.S. understands that far deeper cuts are needed post-2020 and that means not sticking new spigots into huge, dirty carbon pools like the tar sands.

If Obama truly were the “environmental president” then Keystone would be a very, very easy decision for him.

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143 Responses to Will Future Generations Call Obama The ‘Environmental President’ Or An Abject Failure?

  1. john atcheson says:

    The problem with presuming that Obama has achieved “what’s possible” is that it presumes he has no role in shaping what’s possible. And perhaps if he’d used the bully pulpit and been unable to move the needle towards sanity we could say that.

    But he didn’t and isn’t.

    And with some 70% of the people supporting action on climate change, it seems clear that he could have.

    This is a man who proudly announces his energy policy as “all of the above,” the same policy advocated by Sarah Palin.

    C’mon. He’s an abject failure. His tenure was the time when action had to take place to avoid irrevocable catastrophe. Nothing else was and is as important as halting climate change. Nothing. And that’s essentially what he’s done. Nothing.

    Perhaps if he had tried and failed, we could argue that he should avoid blame. But he didn’t.

    Admiral Halsey said, There are no great men. Only great challenges that time and fate require ordinary men to meet. (I’m paraphrasing).

    Obama is being revealed as an ordinary man, in the path of extraordinary times, who failed miserably to rise to the occasion.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Well said, John, thank you.

    • Superman1 says:

      He’s an abject failure for not having taken the bully pulpit, but that number of 70% who support climate change action is wishful thinking at its finest. I suspect his understanding of the real number who ‘support’ climate change action (whatever that means) helped shape his decision to do nothing.

      • SecularAnimist says:

        Superman1 wrote: “that number of 70% who support climate change action is wishful thinking at its finest”

        And that is a baseless, evidence-free assertion at its worst.

        Your constant repetition of the claim that you somehow know (perhaps through your super powers?) that the American people think exactly the opposite of what the American people themselves have told every one of the numerous, independent polls conducted in recent years is really comical.

        Or it was comical, until it became boring.

        • Superman1 says:

          Commitment-free statements to pollsters do not impress me. Two recent polls that I believe far more are 1) the 0.01% of the American public that showed up at the February climate rally, while 33% watched the Super Bowl, and 2) the millions of eligible voters who stayeed home in 2010 and allowed the ‘deniers’ to gain control of the House, thereby assuring that no meaningful climate change legislation would get off the ground.

          • Superman1 says:

            The only purpose of these meaningless polls is to satisfy the political agendas of their sponsors and the political agendas of those, like yourself, who cite them. They are completely orthogonal to the actions of the American people relative to climate change.

    • ltr says:

      Agreed sadly.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Obama has been a smashing success for his owners, those people who talent-scouted him at college, gave him his first job and launched him into politics and financed him all the way. They are doing great-the rest of the US public and the rest of humanity-not so much.

    • mulp says:

      Let’s see, Obama spoke on climate change and energy policy and the conservatives immediately attacked on all fronts will all barrels.

      And what did the environmentalists do?

      Attack Obama.

      Yep, Obama could have killed the XL Pipeline in a big grand bully pulpit speech and by now President Mitt Romney would have approved the XL Pipeline.

      If environmentalist were paying any attention, they would focus all the anger at the Republicans in Congress, but then that would mean dealing with the voters who are electing the Republicans promising the free lunch of tax cuts, no sacrifice, and nice weather. Who wants to be the environmentalist telling everyone in their community and county and State that they need to vote for the candidates who are promising to tax the hell out of coal and oil?

      • Superman1 says:

        “that would mean dealing with the voters who are electing the Republicans promising the free lunch of tax cuts, no sacrifice, and nice weather. Who wants to be the environmentalist telling everyone in their community and county and State that they need to vote for the candidates who are promising to tax the hell out of coal and oil?” You have crystallized the essence of the problem with that insight. But, the ideologues on this site will go on and on about the media, the politicians, the energy companies, etc.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Joe, this is one of your best posts, capturing what’s happened in detail. My only quibble is that politicians’ inaction led to the media ignoring our climate problem. It’s just as true to say the opposite, that public apathy has its roots in media laziness and corruption.

    Given a useless president, and a Democrat at that, we have limited options. Protests are fine, but at some point the public has to initiate actions that carry consequences for the fossil fuel companies and their enablers. These could include product boycotts and worker or student strikes.

    Another option would be for progressive American delegations to approach more awake nations, such as Sweden and New Zealand, and ask their advice on how to motivate a country that has become a rogue state, in thrall to fossil fuel companies and wealthy individuals. The various pathways aren’t pleasant, but are necessary.

    • Superman1 says:

      “that public apathy has its roots in media laziness and corruption”. More accurately, ‘public apathy’ has its roots in an apathetic public!

      • Mike Roddy says:

        It’s unproductive and circular to blame the American people. We are fed continuous lies by the media, schools, and our political leaders. Blaming consumers of toxic information leads nowhere, and is another way of surrendering.

        • Superman1 says:

          We cannot solve a problem until we identify it correctly. “We are fed continuous lies by the media, schools, and our political leaders.” That’s true, but, like with other addictions, there is no evidence that knowledge of the truth will result in a behavioral change. Probably 98% of the American public are fossil fuel chain smokers, and even if they had honest media and politicians, would still continue to be fossil fuel chain smokers.

        • SecularAnimist says:

          Mike Roddy wrote to Superman1: “It’s unproductive and circular to blame the American people.”

          Blaming the victim is very useful, though, if you want to hold the fossil fuel corporations blameless, and want to sneer at the wrong-headedness of those who protest the Keystone XL pipeline, or want to ignore the fossil fuel industry’s overwhelming financial power over the media and the political process.

          That’s when it’s convenient to say that the REAL villain is the poor shmuck who fills the gas tank on his 10-year-old Toyota because that’s his only option for getting back and forth to work. He’s just like a “chain smoker”, you see — he could easily quit using gas, but he just won’t, because he’s “addicted”.

          • Superman1 says:

            “Blaming the victim is very useful”. I place the blame where the blame belongs: on the user. The fact that the user then becomes the victim is rather ironic. Those that you like to blame, the fossil energy companies, the media, the politicians, certainly contribute to the problem, but they are not the central cause. If the latter were all saints, we would still have essentially the same climate change problem, because of the ‘addicts’ that you admire so much.

          • Superman1 says:

            “poor shmuck who fills the gas tank on his 10-year-old Toyota”. Instead of picking from the top of the tree, start with the low-hanging fruit. Like the person who flies to see the Temples at Angor Wat on his vacation; is that necessary? Or, the person who eats heavily energy intensive processed foods; is that necessary? The reality that you refuse to admit is that we’re not willing to even pick the lowest hanging fruit to save our civilization.

          • Belgrave says:

            “the poor shmuck who fills the gas tank on his 10-year-old Toyota because that’s his only option for getting back and forth to work”

            This set me thinking. What would get him/her to stop using their car? Good reliable,punctual, clean, safe, cheap public transport. The right seem to consistently be uninterested in – if not actively hostile to – public transport – even to the extent of returning federal funding on offer (Wisconsin, I think). Not only in America. Margaret Thatcher was notably hostile to public transport to the extent of making a point of never travelling by train if she could possibly avoid it. Her ideal was of a country paved over with roads in which everybody had their own car and used it for all travel. The city of Sheffield introduced a system of cheap, reliable public transport in the 1980′s and Thatcher’s regime quashed it. None of her friends were making a profit so the city council were vilified as evil marxists.

            Many years ago I read that the big US auto manufacturers had a policy of buying up and closing down Latin American railroad companies so as to destroy the competition. Unfortunately I can’t find a reference for this but the results are clear to see in the now near non-existent rail services in Latin America – there’s not even a passenger rail service between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

            In Europe, by contrast, where fast, comfortable, regular trains are available, even wealthy people are happy to use them.

            The point of this spiel is that people will make sensible, environmentally friendly choices if they’re not fed a constant diet of consumerist propaganda combined with active obstruction of the creation of environmentally friendly alternatives.

        • David Smith says:

          Blaming the public as THE source of the AGW problem is over the top, but not asking them to be responsible for the part they do play is just another self serving form of denial.

        • Superman1 says:

          Mike, When you’re in the wrong ring swinging at the wrong opponent, for all practical purposes you have surrendered. That’s how I view the ideologues on this blog who refuse to acknowledge the central problem; their appearance of action masks the reality of having surrendered for all practical purposes.

          • Andy Hultgren says:

            Superman1, It seems to me that you are often quick to criticize but slow to offer solutions.

            That is not constructive.

            And people will get frustrated with a pattern of unconstructive input. That is, I think, the source of frustration you see here.

            If your honest opinion is that the American people themselves are the source of the problem, what do you propose to do about it?

            You clearly have intense energy and persistence, which is a wonderful asset. Why not use it to insist on solutions? Even if they seem impossible, it is better to try and fail than to never try at all.

            Kind wishes,

            Andy

    • Jeff Poole says:

      “These could include product boycotts and worker or student strikes.”

      It seems to me that even the folk on here who ‘get it’ are still living in lalaland when it comes to the actions required.

      Product boycotts and strikes might have done the trick 20 years ago when we had wriggle room. Now what’s needed is an organised campaign of sabotage to destroy the worst emitters’ ability to emit. Knocking out a few coal loaders, coal train routes and the dirtiest power stations is what’s required – not more handwringing.

      I know that’s not what good, non-violent middle class folk want to hear… Ferchrissakes I don’t want to hear it! I’ve been advocating peaceful resistance and have been personally working within the political system for years.

      But that has failed, and failed abjectly and completely – as even an insider like Joe is beginning to admit.

      So what are are alternatives? Continue with the failed strategy? Give up and party until the collapse of civilisation? Attempt to swerve off the road to destruction by grabbing the wheel and pulling…?

      I’m no hero and i’m absolutely not a terrorist and I’ve got no kids or other hostages to the future. Being childless at least allows me to look at the future without the blinkers of false hope that seem to blind most parents to the horror of the future they are bequeathing…

      So I’m leaning towards partying at the lip of this catastrophe curve. What are those of you which descendants playing at?

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Jeff, the Bosses are just slavering for the first sign of ‘environmental terrorism’. If it doesn’t occur, they’ll confect it themselves. Then ‘greenies’ will get a crash course in the reality of ‘capitalist democracy’. Boycotts and peaceful non-co-operation, mass demos, hunger strikes etc are the only feasible path while waiting for the popular mass to wake up. Then, although the reaction from the Bosses will still be hideous, we will have a chance with public opinion behind us. It’s a long shot, but the pathocrats have the system tightly controlled and no compunction on using violence.

        • Jeff Poole says:

          That’s the awful choice we’re left with now Mulga.

          Play into the hands of the powerful fools and suffer for doing the right thing, or go extinct.

          That’s it – no bargaining, no plea to a higher power. Nature is utterly implacable.

          We stop this now, right now, whatever that may take or we choose extinction.

          Our values and politics are progressive, we abhor violence and work for peace.

          Nature doesn’t give a tuppenny f***.

          Like I say, I have no hostages to that future. I could go to bush doofs for the rest of my life and die a happy old hippy in the Great South Land.

          Anyone who seriously proposes that current non-violent environmentalism has been anything but a catastrophic failure is as far into denial as Viscount Monckton.

          So what actual options are left. Ones that work.

          Please don’t talk about a mass movement because we don’t have one.

          • Jeff,

            You know better. Violence never solves anything. More important, you need to live your life according to your values. If those include non-violence, don’t let the fossil barons take that away from you. The planet may or may not be destroyed no matter what we do. But either way, we don’t have to lose our integrity as well.

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            Jeff I totally sympathise and almost completely agree with you. Non-violent environmentalism has been a complete failure, but that is, I believe, because it hasn’t really been tried. The Big Green groups have either sold out entirely or are plainly too scared to take on the death machine that is the global ruling capitalist system. I think that really dedicated non-violent subversion, radical non-co-operation, passive resistance etc must be tried first, on the slim chance that it will work. Let’s hope so, because, as we all know in our heart of hearts, this catastrophe that will end humanity soon if not attacked with utter determination, is going to lead to horrific violence, somewhere, someday. That is inescapable because violence is the preferred means of the psychotic elites to get their way. Need we look at human history at all closely to see that bitter truth? But we cannot initiate it, because our moral superiority, added to our intellectual, ethical and spiritual superiority to the omnicidaires is our greatest strength.

          • Merrelyn Emery says:

            Philip, this is interesting seeing most Aussies think the ‘Yanks’ are more war like and aggro than we are but there is a strong tradition in Oz of fighting for what you believe in. I still think it’s too early for geurilla war against FF, seeing that progress is gradually being made, but I will join Jeff when I see no other option, ME

          • Mark E says:

            When a group of lab rats has a large enough cage, they all get along. When the population exceeds their need for space they turn cannibal, tearing each other apart.

            Those who finally just lie down in the road thinking “up yours” are, according to Gandhi, practicing passive resistance – the last resort of the weak. Real “soul force”, to his way of thinking, is a choice of the strong, and designed to minimize suffering on anyone else’s part but your own. Next time they drag my limp body off that road, I plan to remind the officers to drop their butts to keep their back straight, and lift with their legs, to protect their own lower backs. Not to be a smart ass, but because I really don’t want them to be hurt because of me. If I’ve done enough wrestling with my own arrogance to do that with sincerity and humility – they might actually pay attention to the message….. certainly more than they will by reading on my face a silent voicing of “up yours”.

          • Superman1 says:

            “So what actual options are left.” Much of your analysis is correct; there is no mass movement. Realistically, there are no actual options left. It is your neighbors who want those fossil plants operating, and they will support whatever measures are required to keep them operating. And, there are far more of them than there are of us.

          • Superman1 says:

            Mulga, “Non-violent environmentalism has been a complete failure, but that is, I believe, because it hasn’t really been tried.” Oh, c’mon. It’s been a failure because the overwhelming majority does not support it. They want the gratification in the here-and-now that the high energy use lifestyle based on ‘cheap’ fossil fuels can bring, even if they or their progeny go over the climate cliff in the process.

        • Superman1 says:

          “while waiting for the popular mass to wake up”. Rip Van Winkle will look like an insomniac compared to the popular mass. But, again, mistakenly, you assume the populace is asleep, because it does not mesh with your ideology. The populace is awake, they know what they are doing, and, like the fossil fuel chain smokers that they are, will accept the consequences.

          • BobbyL says:

            Also, millions of Americans are investors in fossil fuel companies through mutual funds, pension funds, or buying stocks directly. There could be some mixed feelings about what is going on.

          • Superman1 says:

            BobbyL, And, there are many other industries linked directly and indirectly to fossil fuels. They would go down the tubes as part of the global Depression that would necessarily result from drastically reducing the CO2 emissions to required levels. Think about the vacation travel industry, its dependence on fossil fuels, and what would happen to it and supportive industries if we cut out non-essential uses of fossil fuels like vacation travel.

          • Superman1 says:

            A friend of mine was working for AbeH doing research, and asked Abe for a raise. Abe responded: do you want to eat lox and bagels, or do you want to do research? That crystallizes the issue we as a species face: do you want to continue to ‘let the good times roll’ straight to extinction, or are you willing to do what’s necessary to avoid extinction? We are answering that question in no uncertain terms through our (non) actions, even though the ideologies refuse to see!

          • BobbyL says:

            Few people will choose to a Spartan lifestyle. I think that goes contrary to our biological evolution. At least that is what the history of our species suggests. Vacation travel is not non-essential, at least for countries where the main source of income is tourism. The economic consequences of ending vacation travel would be catastrophic in many places. You probably do not live in one of these places so it seems non-essential to you. We have are dealing with a system that is globally interdependent. The days of local tribes are long past where radically changing behavior did not affect anything but the local tribe.

          • Superman1 says:

            “Vacation travel is not non-essential”. For the traveler, vacation travel is about as non-essential a use of fossil fuel as I can imagine. If ‘you’ are not willing to give that up in order to save our civilization, and I believe most people who take vacation travel are not willing to eliminate it, then we really have zero chance of surviving.

          • BobbyL says:

            I agree vacation travel to distant places isn’t essential for the traveler. But after several decades of this there are now many places that are economically dependent on tourism, particularly small island countries where the main resource is beautiful beaches. You can’t simply reverse the changes that have occurred since commercial airline travel became popular without causing huge disruptions. Many economies are now dependent on travelers. If such so-called non-essential traveling suddenly stopped vast numbers of people in poorer societies would be economically devastated.

          • Superman1 says:

            BobbyL, “If such so-called non-essential traveling suddenly stopped vast numbers of people in poorer societies would be economically devastated.” That’s an excellent real-world example of what people like Anderson and Garrett mean when they say recession, depression, or global economic collapse is required if we are to have any chance of avoiding catastrophe. We are completely out of balance with what Nature requires, and the restoration of balance will not be painless.

          • Superman1 says:

            But, the ideologues like Secular run and hide from such truisms. How can they recruit new initiates to the ’cause’ if they have to tell the truth. So, we hear these fictions about how the transition can be made painless. But, your example is applicable to myriad cases.

          • BobbyL says:

            I have read studies that say the only answer is shrinking the economy, i.e., recession/depression. That may be true but if it is then the situation is hopeless and we should simply give up and enjoy what we can until the temperature gets too high. No politician can possibly propose a protracted recession (20 years or longer) or depression on purpose for any reason. If that isn’t committing political suicide I don’t know what is. People want jobs come hell or high water.

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            So, Bobby, you propose putting up with climate destabilisation, ie dying, rather than living through an economic Depression. Well, for a start, people lived through World Wars, in the USSR, China, Germany and Japan, and human civilization somehow came through. People lived through economic depressions every thirty years or so, and somehow human civilization came through. To radically downsize the economy and save humanity from self-destruction through ecological collapse is not just achievable, it is child’s play. With our great technological prowess and huge wealth we could do it easily. But one thing is absolutely required. Money and power must be distributed equally, so that real ‘democracy’, rather than the current plutocracy can be achieved. The alternative is mass suicide within the next fifty years.

          • BobbyL says:

            Money and power must be distributed equally. Like that is really going to happen. It is what would be needed for a global steady state economy but I don’t see Americans transferring their hard earned cash to Bangladesh to achieve this utopian dream. If that’s what is really needed I guess it is over, or will be fairly soon.

    • Bernard says:

      I live in New Zealand and am confident in saying that New Zealand is one of the countries doing the least for Climate Change. Our greenhouse emissions are much higher than they were when we signed up to Kyoto. Our government has diluted our already weak emissions regulations so that they are meaningless. They are opening up our offshore areas to oil and gas exploration. There are no incentives for solar panels or electric cars. We generate less of our power with renewables than we did decades ago. Unfortunately New Zealand is going backwards. We are far from 100% pure in many ways. For example, more than half of our waterways are considered unsafe for swimming. What we have done well is give the the world the impression that we are looking after the envirpnment, when the opposite is true.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        That’s what you get when rich businessmen take over the country directly, rather than merely buying the politicians.

    • mulp says:

      So Mike, how many people have you convinced to vote for a member of Congress promising to tax the hell out of coal and oil because burning them is destroying the planet? It is Congress that passed the laws, not the president, and that means voters must elect about 350 members of Congress who will vote to tax the hell out of carbon emissions.

      I bet you want cheap gas and Obama to magically heal the planet so you can feel good….

  3. Nell says:

    I am disappointed with Obama, and I didn’t even have very high expectations for him. Who in their right mind would believe claims that he would be able the change the way they did things in Washington?

    However, I blame the senate and house for the inaction, not just on climate, but everything. The GOP was determined to ruin his presidency, and they pretty much have succeeded.

    Climate hawks need to get more politically active, especially in the deep red states where the hapless voters listen to Limbaugh etc.

    We could use a few dozen Dr. Hansens and Bill McKibbens.

    • Joe Romm says:

      I forgot to mention that Obama doesn’t deserve most of the blame.

      • Superman1 says:

        Can you bring yourself to mention who DOES deserve most of the blame, like, perhaps, the 98% of the public who are confirmed fossil fuel chain smokers, and like their tobacco counterparts, are willing to fade into oblivion because of their uncontrollable habit?

        • Mike Roddy says:

          You are wrong to keep blaming the victims, Superman. American consumers have been brainwashed and lobotomized by mass media, poor schools, and a culture that encourages “living large”. Pointing the finger at the masses belies the fact that others are successfully doing their thinking for them.

          • Superman1 says:

            What about the Chinese and other developing nations, who are doing everything they can to ‘live large’? Have they also been brainwashed in the same manner? You think they don’t understand the consequences to the climate of those thousand or so coal plants they have on the planning board? Why aren’t those solar plants or wind-based plants?

    • Superman1 says:

      “I blame the senate and house for the inaction”. Somebody elected those people to their positions, and they are representing their constituency.

      • Jeff Poole says:

        Remember Super – we’re talking about the most corrupt and gerrymandered political system in the Western world.

        The UK got rid of ‘rotten boroughs’ in 1832, Australia and other democracies have independent electoral commissions to draw boundaries.

        The US has preferred to leave it to the ‘market’…

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Japan is worse, and at least the USA doesn’t have the ‘National Endowment for Democracy’ and its metastases vigorously interfering in ‘democracy’.

        • Superman1 says:

          We’re also talking about the millions of people who, in 2010, cared so much about the environment that they sat out the election, allowed the ‘deniers’ to gain control of the House, and allowed them to become a continual roadblock in the Senate. Removal of all the corruption and gerrymandering from the political system would have little impact on our climate change actions. The bulk of the American people are satisfied with the status quo, even though it will take us over the climate brink.

          • BobbyL says:

            Democrats actually got more total votes for the House in 2012 but largely because of gerrymandering the Republicans retained control.

          • Superman1 says:

            Well, If all these huge climate change poll majorities that Secular says are so interested in taking action would get out and vote at the State level, they could gain control of the legislatures, and re-district to their own advantage. That would give them back the House, and then they could introduce all these strict climate change measures that will prevent us from going extinct by century’s end. But they can’t be bothered; they are probably too exhausted from talking to the pollsters!

      • BobbyL says:

        I think the politicians (Democrats) feared that the facts about global warming are so pessimistic that they tried to sell it with an upbeat message about green jobs, energy independence, etc. The problem with the upbeat message is that it lacks urgency. The problem with the reality message is that it is real downer and that poses a problem for people trying to get reelected. People want to hear about how our best years are ahead not that we are heading for the collapse of civilization.

        • Superman1 says:

          I don’t believe the required actions are salable to the American people, or any other people; they would have to be imposed or mandated. Kevin Anderson and Tim Garrett are correct; eliminating the wasteful energy missions (vacation travel, etc) necessary to reduce emissions to required levels would throw the global economy into deep Depression. Neither investors nor workers want to hear that message.

          • BobbyL says:

            I don’t know why you keep proposing Draconian solutions. In theory they could work but they are politically impossible. It is not that hard to think of solutions if you had a dictator who could had total power to stop climate change. But that is not the world we live in. The challenge is to come up with solutions that at least have a chance of being politically possible. Given we need actions at the international level down to the individual level and the cooperation of almost every country this problem is unique and may defy solution, that is a real solution, not a Draconian solution with zero chance of ever being applied.

  4. BobbyL says:

    Global warming is now such an overwhelming issue that it is absurd to call Obama an environmental president. Obama got caught up with what Washington is now all about, a continuous campaign for next election. As soon as he assumed office he was running for 2012. Politicians no longer set aside a period from campaigning to do what is best for the country and in this case the world. Obama and almost all Democrats decided that emphasizing the global warming issue would hurt their chances for reelection. Maybe they were right but we continue to head for 6C by the end of this century.

    • Superman1 says:

      “Obama got caught up with what Washington is now all about”. Obama is neither a leader nor an Executive; his history is community organizer and campaigner. As a campaigner, he is the best I have seen; his strategy and organization have been SUPERlative. While I don’t expect him to push for climate change actions the way he pushed for healthcare, since I don’t believe he has anywhere near the same level of public support as for healthcare, at a minimum I would have expected some fiery speeches.

  5. Joan Savage says:

    Let’s hope his second administration will heed your four comments about his first administration’s inept relationship with Congress.

  6. Eric Nadal says:

    Thank you Mr. Romm for once again speaking so clearly and forcefully, reminding us of where we’re at and how we got here. Our generation really needs to kick this bad habit we have of indulging in euphemism and excuse-making, avoiding confrontation, and avoiding speaking in moral terms. It seems like it’s really holding us back. One of your best posts to date.

    • Joan Savage says:

      That’s the kind of background conversation that is critical for a President who plans taking a matter to Congress.

  7. Tami Kennedy says:

    President Obama has been showing his hand that seems to be satisfied with increasing auto mileage standards. The fact that the U.S. is supporting a weakened position for the 2015 agreement allowing countries to set their own targets is a strike. This frees the U.S. to choose any reduction that is unlikely to be sufficient while playing the economic recovery card. My bet is Canada will elect a minimum contribution while monopolizing on the tar sands.

    His recent agreement with Mexico opening the Gulf for ultra-deep drilling is a strike.

    The continued reference to the 100-year supply of natural gas is a strike.

    His delayed action by the EPA to create a deal between coal and natural gas for carbon limits is a strike.

    It is good to see states and groups of states implementing stronger clean energy and carbon restrictions without waiting on Obama

    He has remained silent while other states (NC) try to rescind goals already in place and introduce drilling to develop new shale reserves in the state.

    Obama has made no commitments to leave reserves in the ground. The Bakken Shale reserves were just increased. Texas is exploring the Cline shale with dreams of exceeding Bakken. Not to mention hearing pins drop during Obama talking about XL pipeline.

    The EIA still shows the U.S. on a slight upward CO2 emission at 2035 instead of a 40-50% reduction with target of 80% by 2050.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      What’s this? ‘Strike twenty and you’re out!!!-maybe.

    • Superman1 says:

      Every country that has discovered new fossil fuel reserves is doing their utmost to exploit these reserves as fully and as rapidly as possible. Every fossil fuel use projection I have seen, not only EIA but inter-governmental and industry, shows some INCREASE in fossil fuel use two to three decades from now. I suspect that even these projections are under-estimates, done for political purposes.

  8. We don’t need an environmental president –

    We need a climate president!

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      It’s all the same planet Tenney, forget the semantics, ME

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Tenney, we’ve gotta sort out climate destabilisation, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, the general toxification of the planet with every type of pollution etc. We, you, everybody needs leaders who are opposed to destroying the habitability of the planet for our species.

      • Superman1 says:

        “everybody needs leaders who are opposed to destroying the habitability of the planet”. It would also help if they had FOLLOWERS who had the same objectives. Unfortunately, these followers don’t exist in appreciable numbers, thereby providing little incentive for the leaders to move the ball forward.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          You’re in danger of turning into a ‘Nattering nabob of negativity’, Super.

  9. M Tucker says:

    “if we destroy the livable climate they’ll need to feed 9 billion people.” If we really do that, if it is becomes a struggle to survive, then we will be lucky to have any historians at all with the free time and the luxury to review past presidents.

    How does history view BushII on “climate-change policy?”

    I think that if we have the luxury to look back after we “destroy the livable climate” history will view it in the context of the congress and what it has become. I think historians will examine the wild swing of the right to embrace wild conspiracy theories and how that influenced the election of House and Senate members.

    How does history remember Kennan, the father of containment? How does the current generation remember the Eisenhower/Nixon administration with regard to containment? Nixon attacked Stevenson for being a proponent of containment. Then Eisenhower turns around an embraces the policy, the policy that led directly to Viet Nam. How does history remember that? Domino theory and the whole BS of evil communists in Asia. After all the cold war BS and blaming the communist takeover in China on Truman we have economic relations with both countries. Eisenhower should have told France to go to hell; we would not get involved in Viet Nam. He should have diplomatically dealt with Ho. Now, after all the blood and the enormous cost no one remembers, very few care.

    So it just depends on if we have historians after “we destroy the livable climate” and how we in the US deal with it. After all we are mostly self-centered buggers.

    • Joe Romm says:

      Say what you will about the cost, containment worked — Soviet Union destroyed without a nuclear war or a major European war (impressive after WWI and WWII).
      Better analogies might be, how do historians remember Neville Chamberlain and Herbert Hoover?

      • Mark E says:

        Unless the cost was so high that we committed suicide and just don’t know it yet.

        - interest on the national debt

        - at least some portion of atmospheric CO2

        - all in the name of protecting an economy predicated on the delusion that we can continue to grow that economy nonstop, forever

        =========================================
        “Say what you will about the price of passage on our ship, Madame, the Titanic’s head chef is superb, is he not?!”

        PS I’ve been there. Wouldn’t want to live there.

  10. JoeSnow says:

    The fact we`re still waiting for him to make up his mind on the Keystone Pipeline says it all really.

  11. Great article, thanks again.

    Team Obama continues to lean away from climate…consistently for years now. The message is clear to everyone including the public: “we don’t think it is a big deal and we don’t want to deal with it.”

    I don’t know about him as an environmental President but I know he has been an ineffective climate President. Global emissions are still rocketing upwards and the treaty process turning into a toothless free-for-all.

    No international climate policy. No national climate policy. No climate “conversation” even.

    Going to have to come from the grassroots folks.

  12. addicted says:

    I disagree. Obama isn’t king of the world. You can’t judge him for what he cannot do (ie make laws).

    What we can judge him is for what he does have power over. And that includes the EPA. Obama’s legacy will be written by what the EPA achieves. It’s too early to say anything either way.

    btw, the ridiculousness of blaming Obama was illustrated once again when Repubs boycotted the committee election to select the EPA chief citing lack of answers despite her answering over a 1000 questions.

    When do liberals accept the reality that Obama while not ideal is not even the beginning of the problem. The problem is brain dead and evil Republicans. Nothing more or less

  13. Raul M. says:

    Did they try out the new White House storm shelter during the confluence of storms named Sandy? They really should have a safe place to go while they think about things. And also knowing that storms will come, I agree that it is nice to think that people will behave with thought to consequential action following even more and greater storminess. Well for one it means that they survived that storm anyway. Consequential action, if I remember correctly, was the term used to lay the climate problem at the hands of the many back in the early 1970′s, referring to the many families deciding to be two and three car families and so many other things such as the AC becoming standard in housing in the Southern States. So yes the leaders knew that there would be choices in storm shelters years ago and probably thinking of backlash they decided to call them bomb shelters. But you know if you go look at what is available as a storm shelter in your area for the public and you take into consideration the 3days of suggested supplies to keep in the closet, well that isn’t a pretty sight.

    • Raul M. says:

      So a popular notion of success in society becomes being able to afford a private and comfortable storm shelter. Humm. It certainly couldn’t be described as paronodial to have a storm shelter attached to ones home and a storm shelter works out much better with the neighbors who might want to visit from time to time. Also having a renewable energy system helps make the shelter comfortable through food supplies etc.

  14. Bill D. says:

    President Obama deserves no more blame and no less blame than any other U.S. president since Reagan was in the White House. Like his predecessors, Obama has paid lip service to environmental goals but, when the chips are down, he simply hasn’t done what is necessary.

    That being said, it’s ludicrous to blame Obama for the fact that, as a nation and a people, Americans have generally turned a blind eye to the destruction of a livable atmosphere on this planet. Human beings simply have not proven yet that we’re intelligent enough to deserve to survive as a species. Year after year, we continue to follow the most expedient and self-aggrandizing paths with scant concern for nature or our fellow humans. So if we’re looking for someone to blame for our impending doom, we might just look into the nearest mirror and repeat the famous words of Michel de Montaigne: “I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself.”

    • Superman1 says:

      Outstanding post, but it will be ignored by the ideologues, who want to blame anything and everything but the central cause: us!

      • Raul M. says:

        You mean the ones with supply say who provide because we like it like that.
        Anyway anthropogenic is probably one of those words which linguists want to be sure that they relay it’s various meanings.

        • Raul M. says:

          Then doesn’t the teacher know that yelling the information only lets the students claim that the lesson doesn’t match the situation.
          Having students with other interests may be most common when the popular discussion puts the lesson off with economic concerns etc.
          One reason the oil and gas industry exec. pursue the fossil fuels so is because the industry has a history of stopping at nothing. So they will stop when nothing is what’s left. What does the captan traditionally call mutiny even when the mutiny leads to being lost at sea.
          I think that the call for mutiny is most clearly understood within the rank and file of the oil industry. And nicely enough passing by the gas station time after time is socially acceptable.

          • BobbyL says:

            Except for Koch Industries the large fossil fuel companies also have stockholders. People like the couple next door.

        • Raul M. says:

          Wouldn’t the beginning actions of mutiny within the police Depts. and other gov. agencies be felt when there isn’t the ready supply of fuel for just about anything. Mutiny that even reaches the public sector when it could be shown that if said gov. employee was allowed to cruise the streets that something bad might have been prevented. Still don’t know why school buses are built to drive over just about anything yet always go on the nice streets which have nice every things. Yes the reasons why not seem to be that the school bus might need to be able to drive over anything someday. Or that for insurance reasons the school bus that can drive over anything needs to take just one student from the closer school area to the other school much further away because it is nicer at the other school for some reason. Why yes, the reasons left to the choose of the many for social mutiny are very widespread and lawyers seem to back it up with various actions. Still the reason for the standard sized school.bus is that it has 40 something students to transport. But to be necessary for the transport of one student it seems that a much smaller vehicle could do the job quite nicely. Don’t know of any reasons that it is still that way except for the fear of mutiny.

  15. Here’s a paragraph from an email I sent a guy who contacted me because of a comment I left on Dot Earth. The fellow thinks we, the people, should make an effort to persuade the “right people” to do what needs to be done. My response:

    Concerning Obama, Holgren, Munziz, Kerry et. al., I’m waiting to see (but not holding my breath) what happens with the Keystone pipeline. I’m pretty sure they will approve it, then give us a big song and dance about how Obama’s fuel-efficiency mandate will offset the effect and some other blather about assorted climate and environmental initiatives that won’t happen, or won’t affect the fossil-fuel industry if they do happen. Upon retiring, they can all throw up their hands and say “non mea culpa” as the planet continues to fry and they rake in their millions in consulting fees.

    But we’ll see. Maybe the right people will get it right. But I wouldn’t put any money on it.

  16. Ed Leaver says:

    Rolling Stone has an interview with Joe Biden that tells everything we need to know about the Administration’s climate “policy”:

    So we have a great opportunity here to figure out how we can not only begin to wean ourselves off of carbon-based fuels but wean the world off of them too. It’s just a gigantic opportunity, and it produces a boatload of jobs. There are going to be 600,000 new jobs out there in the gas industry over the next 10 to 12 years.

    Seriously.

  17. Paul Magnus says:

    The Saviour President…

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      False Messiah.

    • Paul Klinkman says:

      Noah built an ark that preserved not only his own children, but two of every species. The other species on this earth are our children’s inheritance, which this generation sells for a mess of pottage.

      If Mr. Obama wants to follow in a prophetic path, perhaps he should.

  18. Tony says:

    Good post with lots of good points. However, I’m confused by this oft repeated notion that limiting temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial times. Hasn’t the IPCC stated that anything over 1C will cause rapid and non-linear changes in climate? Wasn’t the 2C limit a political limit? Are you saying that at 1.9C, the effects are manageable but at 2.1C they aren’t? From what I’ve read, the science that might have informed the 2C limit has moved on and is now suggesting that the same risks apply to 1.5C, or less.

    • Raul M. says:

      I think he is saying worse than worse is worser.

    • Superman1 says:

      Kevin Anderson makes that point specifically in his papers; 2 C was what the diplomats thought they could sell to their electorate; 1 C is at danger’s edge. My own view is the temperature at which the Arctic ice started to melt rapidly should have been the limit, about half of what we have today. If we threw in a safety factor, probably 0.2 C or thereabouts should have been the ceiling.

      • Superman1 says:

        Anderson does his emissions ceiling computations based on 2 C, and even in that meaningless case the emissions constraints he generates probably have no chance of being met. In my view, there is no way we can come close to 1 C. We have maxed out our carbon budget credit card, and the collection agency (aka Mother Nature) is about to come calling.

    • Mark E says:

      Somewhere I read about the 2C thing being the benchmark for a 50-50 chance of avoiding really dangerous impacts;

      And that the night following the UNFCC member states embracing that target various scientists met with the head politico VIP at the gig and told that person that based on the most recent research, released during the months of negotiations on 2C, they felt the newest science indicated that the 50-50 chances kick in at 1.5C. But it was hard enough to get the nations to agree on 2C and everyone was exhausted and went home.

      • Superman1 says:

        “everyone was exhausted”. Right, no sense in straining yourself for the survival of civilization. Save your limited energy for something really important.

  19. rollin says:

    It’s time to realize that the federal government is hard up for money, running it’s continuous war scenario and it’s giant internal police action to stay in control. It is also locked down by intransigent party members.

    The action has to occur at the personal, local and state level. Forget the feds, they are too busy choking the governmental process and playing in the big sandbox. Do what you can locally and prepare, big government is no longer responding and we can’t find the federal defibrillator. Support business that gives us high efficiency and the tools needed to press on, everything else is just toys that turn to junk. Playtime is over.

    • Andy Hultgren says:

      “The action has to occur at the personal, local and state level. Forget the feds, they are too busy choking the governmental process and playing in the big sandbox. Do what you can locally and prepare, big government is no longer responding and we can’t find the federal defibrillator. ”

      I mostly agree.

      I think pressure at the federal level needs to continue. But we need to seriously up the action at the local and state levels, which is where we can expect much more rapid progress (if also fragmented).

  20. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “Outstanding post, but it will be ignored by the ideologues, who want to blame anything and everything but the central cause: us!”

    Still waiting for you to lead the way and use your super strength to set an example and show all of us weak little fossil fuel chain smokers how to break the addiction — by turning off your computer.

    Because a more non-essential use of fossil fuels does not exist.

    • BobbyL says:

      I agree. The stuff about addiction and self-indulgence makes no sense. It’s about the need for heating, food, electricity, refrigeration, transportation, and other basic necessities. The basic cause of the problem is the problem. A lot of energy is needed to simply function and finding alternatives to fossil fuels is a Herculean task. Nobody really is to blame for everything. Even if everybody were on board accomplishing this would be near impossible.

      • Superman1 says:

        Eliminating non-essential vacation travel makes no sense? Eliminating unnecessary energy intensive processed food makes no sense? Eliminating energy intensive animal farming makes no sense? There are many energy intensive missions that could be eliminated without impacting the real necessities of life.

        • Superman1 says:

          But, we’re not eliminating any of these, and we’re not going to unless it is imposed on us or mandated.

        • BobbyL says:

          You can certainly tweak some things to reduce energy use but I think at the end of the day it will not come close to solving the emissions problem. People still need basics such as housing, furniture, clothing, food, running water, electricity, basic transportation, heating, in many places air conditioning, lighting, computers, etc. All that takes a lot of energy and we are adding about a billion people every 20 years. People don’t have a choice in entering this world but now that they are here they need a lot, without getting into luxury living, etc which I think is non-essential (although for true status seekers it may be the most important thing in life).

    • Superman1 says:

      I have identified the problem and its major cause in no uncertain terms, and I have posted many times what is required to possibly, and I emphasize possibly, save us from extinction. And, unlike you and the other ideologues, I state up-front that I see no solution to the problem at this point in time. And, I have seen no solution posted here that will even come close to preventing us from going over the climate cliff.

      • prokaryotes says:

        It requires war-time affords to transitioning the energy (or read as enemy) infrastructure and mandatory bans on Co2 emitters inside of city centers and stuff like that. And ofc taxing carbon dioxide emissions – everywhere.

        We need electric cars everywhere and the energy from wind and solar will deliver.

        • Superman1 says:

          But, first and foremost, because of the time-critical nature of the problem, eliminate all but the most necessary uses of fossil fuel. If we can’t do that, and I see zero evidence of any movement in that direction, then there is zero chance of anything useful being implemented that will prevent us from going over the climate cliff.

  21. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “we’re not eliminating any of these, and we’re not going to unless it is imposed on us or mandated”

    Of course, by “we” you mean yourself.

    You have made it abundantly clear that you personally have done, and will do NOTHING to reduce, let alone eliminate, YOUR OWN non-essential use of fossil fuels — unless it is imposed on you by force.

    All you are doing here is projecting your own greed, selfishness and irresponsibility on others — and dishonestly attacking anyone and everyone who proposes doing anything about the problem.

    • Superman1 says:

      “You have made it abundantly clear”. That statement is as misleading and useless as the rest of your proposals. Show one post where I stated what you attribute to me.

      • SecularAnimist says:

        Superman1 wrote: “Show one post where I stated what you attribute to me.”

        Actually, it is the ABSENCE of EVEN ONE SINGLE POST from you where you describe EVEN ONE SINGLE THING that you have done, or are willing to do, to reduce YOUR OWN non-essential use of fossil fuels, that makes it clear that YOU are the “chain-smoking addict” who refuses to make ANY CHANGES WHATSOEVER, while projecting your unwillingness onto others.

        It’s easy enough to prove me wrong, Superman1. Just tell us ONE THING, just ONE SINGLE THING, that you have done, are doing, or even plan to do, to reduce YOUR non-essential use of fossil fuels as you constantly and hypocritically screech at everyone else to do.

        You obviously have plenty of time on your hands to post repetitive falsehoods, bumper-sticker slogans, sophistry and insults. How odd that you can’t seem to find even ONE MOMENT to tell us what you personally are doing to set an example for all the “chain-smoking addicts” that you incessantly berate for failing to do what YOU won’t do.

        • Superman1 says:

          Again, irrelevant for addressing what is required to prevent us from going over the climate cliff. Unlike you, I see no point in providing statements about my actions that cannot be validated. But, given the empty proposals you present, I can see why you would like to divert attention.

        • Tom L says:

          You’re a real warrior Sec. The Ego has landed but you are stronger. Thanks and never surrender!

          • Superman1 says:

            Warrior? His modus operandi is: if you can’t blind them with brilliance, or inundate them with insight, then baffle them with bullmanure. In that, he is King of the Hill, and I leave it to your imagination as to the constituents of that hill.

          • Superman1 says:

            If you think Sec is a warrior, you must think Custer at Little Big Horn was a military genius.

        • Superman1 says:

          So, you admit in a round-about way that you attributed a statement to me that I in fact never made. Sort of like the fictions that constitute your proposals. Well, at least you’re consistent.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          He’s got a nice tag-team going with BobbyL, too, both preaching resignation to our fate and surrender to the inevitability, corrective action being too hard. I know that they are wrong, in theory.

    • Superman1 says:

      “anyone and everyone who proposes doing anything about the problem.” A proposal that will take us over the climate cliff, like each and every one of your proposals, is not what I call ‘doing anything about the problem’. It is doing nothing masked as action!

  22. Paul Magnus says:

    Can we add a green line on the curve that indicates the temp that we are committed to with the current concentration of GHG.

    (Heck we could even refine it more with other colours depending on the various paths we go down)

    • Superman1 says:

      Paul, there have been computations made assuming we stopped using fossil fuels today. The temperature rises for about three-four decades due to climate warming commitment’ and aerosol forcing, then slowly starts to decrease.

      • Superman1 says:

        The peak temperature during that interim, which appears to be the major concern, ranges from about 1.5 C to over 3 C, with a few outliers showing well over 3 C. The difference depends mainly on the assumptions made for ‘climate sensitivity’ and ‘aerosol forcing’. My estimate from my own computations is about 2 C.

        • Superman1 says:

          Any of these numbers is well into the zone of high danger, and to insure against runaway (if that is still possible), rapid carbon recovery and perhaps some low-risk (if possible) geo-engineering would be required in parallel. But, such scenarios are completely orthogonal to where we are heading presently, and the proposals by ideologues such as Secular would be only marginally better; they are guaranteed to drive us over the climate cliff.

  23. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    That is your best posting in a while, Joe, it is superb! While all about you are making excuses for Obama, you see him for what he is, an abject failure on the environment and on climate change in particular.

    You dwell a little on the fact that Obama is spineless, and I agree, he has no courage whatsoever. He spent his first term dealing with the health issue, a topic of no importance compared to global warming, but it gave him the cover he wanted for not dealing with climate change. It was so pathetic I cried with frustration and disbelief.

    In his second term, he started off with a few oblique references to climate change, simply to silence his critics. But so far he has done absolutely nothing and, as one of your commenters said above, do we need any more evidence that he is running away from the climate problem?

    There is another thing besides his pure cowardice that should be highlighted: what does he stand for, if anything? What motivates him? What does he want to do in his years as president?

    So far, it is not apparent that Obama has any personal goals, anything that he would love to achieve, things that would give him a huge sense of personal satisfaction and pride in his achievement. The thing is, I don’t think he’s got anything, I think he’s an empty vessel. He is just being bounced from one problem to the next, making his speeches when required, but he’s not actually pushing to achieve anything of his own volition. The only time he seems to relish the power he’s been bestowed with by the American people is when his drones kill a lot of innocent people in far-off countries or his hit-men take out the Al-Qaeda leader in his pyjamas. He is itching to carpet-bomb some unfortunate country in the Middle East to prove he is ‘the man’. But, sadly, he ain’t the man…because he is not tackling the only problem that matters, and that is climate change.

    The Democrats used every trick in the book to make him their front man and get him elected. A harmless guy, he wouldn’t give any trouble, he wouldn’t have such a thing as an ideology or an independent thought. God, no, couldn’t have that, could we? Now that he’s been there, in office, for five years now, it is apparent he has nothing he wants to do. It looks for all the world like all he wanted was to get into the White House for the sake of it. Not because he wanted to do anything, but just to bask in the adulation of the masses and collect the paycheck and big pension on the way out. Even on his one-day visit to Ireland during his first term, he looked like he was in a hurry to get out and didn’t even overnight. This is one guy who does not want to stand up and be counted. He will not show his true colours or put his best cards on the table. Reason being, they are all jokers.

    • Superman1 says:

      Coilin, given the recalcitrance of the American public on this issue (other than providing non-committal statements to pollsters), and his lack of an effective working majority in Congress, what specifically would you want him to do if he were really motivated to make a difference?

      • Coilin MacLochlainn says:

        I would expect him firstly to talk honestly and openly about his ambitions, his vision for the future of America and the world, where he wants America to go, what he wants the White House to achieve; in other words, speak up, do whatever it takes. If he doesn’t articulate his vision, it won’t even get into the starting blocks. John F Kennedy said the US would put a man on the moon before the 1960s were out, and it happened. What has Obama promised? Nothing. It’s time he spoke out and acted decisively. Sure, the US Congress is in terminal decline because of Republic intransigence. Obama needs to break this deadlock and inspire a new way forward. He is the most powerful man on the planet. Democrats must wield their power to break the deadlock in every way they can. They aren’t even trying. I never hear Obama say anything meaningful, he is allowing his handlers dictate everything he does and says. What does Obama himself want? No one knows because he won’t say, or he has nothing to say.

        • Superman1 says:

          “John F Kennedy said the US would put a man on the moon before the 1960s were out, and it happened.” I remember that speech, and in the mid-60s became part of that program. The mission was exciting, the science and technology challenges were a technologist’s dream, the workers were happy because of the new well-paying jobs that were created, and industry was overjoyed by the substantial profits that resulted. It was win-win for everybody!

          • Superman1 says:

            Obama faces a very different situation. If one believes Anderson and Garrett, he has to offer austerity and sacrifice for a long period as his mainstays, and, unlike the lunar program that offered results within a decade, the climate change payoffs may be for the long term and perhaps less clear. It’s more a lose-win situation, with losses coming now in the hopes that there will be long-term victory. I understand his reluctance given the required message, and coupled with the fact that he is no Churchill or even an LBJ on Civil Rights, don’t expect him to do more than he has already.

          • Coilin MacLochlainn says:

            Yes, it was great, it was stupendous, I was exhilirated by it, but all that space exploration stuff is off the table now, we simply cannot afford it on any serious scale any more. Nope. We need to pour all our money into saving the planet that we live on, because, the way we’re going, we are doomed. No two ways about it. Not just us humans, but we will wipe out all life on Earth as well.

            Unless Obama steps up and announces a radical plan to save life on Earth, we are all going down the plughole, Superman. It’s all over bar the shouting. Everything will be wiped out unless we deal with the climate issue in a totally meaningful way, within the next few years. We have until about 2030 to reduce carbon emissions worldwide to zero. If we don’t do that, we’re screwed. That’s how serious it is. I don’t think Obama will do enough, so I’m already wondering will the end come during my lifetime, or will it be the next generation, or the one after that, that takes the brunt and is wiped out en masse, leaving fewer than a billion people on Earth, struggling to survive in dustbowl landscapes. It is going to happen unless America and the world deals with it now. Which is why Obama is such a massive loser and will be remembered forever as such unless he proves he’s a man. And he has to do it now.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Obama is a marionette, a front-man and confidence-trickster, who was the ideal candidate for the rich after the Bush the Lesser years, that had raised the public’s consciousness to dangerous levels. Have a President whose ethnicity and mendacious ‘promises’ made him relatively immune from criticism from the Left. Then get the Mad Hatters to foam at the mouth, creating the false impression that Obama actually stood for something. But the reality has been the third and fourth Bush terms, in many ways (eg the persecution of whistle-blowers)even viler than those years. And always slavish service to his owners, witnessed by the amazing decision to appoint his prime financial benefactor from Chicago to the Commerce Secretaryship. The most repulsive aspect for me are the periodic charades of his speeches that promise much, but never, ever are delivered upon. In fact, nearly always the opposite. He is the Dissembler-in-Chief.

      • Coilin MacLochlainn says:

        I think I agree with you on all of that, Mulga. Very well put. You sum things up very nicely.

  24. Nell says:

    It’s not just CO2 and climate change… we’re running out of everything.
    We’re killing the bees. We’re running out of fish. We’re killing the oceans in more ways than just acidification. Our fossil aquifers are running low. It goes on and on and on.

    Let’s be honest here. The elephant in the room is an economy that requires growth to thrive. If we continue to grow we kill our mother. To a politician it is a Sophie’s choice.

    • Superman1 says:

      We have far more people living far more resource intensive lifestyles than this biosphere is able to support. We are completely out of balance with the requirements of Nature. We are now seeing the early stages of Nature’s restoration of the imbalances. The process will be swift and painful; don’t believe the fantasies of the ideologues here about seamless transitions.

    • Coilin MacLochlainn says:

      Nell, you’re spot on. The climate change problem is merely the most critical end-result of a flawed economic system, namely capitalism. Capitalism is fine in principle, but unless it is micro-managed with severe and ultra-strict regulation of the markets and of trading, with clear and exceedingly low limits on everything, we will have signed our death warrants. As things stand, we already have.

      We now await a true leader who will lead us out of our suicidal walk towards inevitable oblivion. Someone who will tame the markets. Someone who is not bought by oil barons and the plutocrats. Someone with principles, beliefs, ideology, religion.

      A key problem is the funding of political campaigns by the mega-rich. For the world to survive in any way that is sustainable, it is absolutely essential that politics and power be separated from money and go back to being founded on principles, ethics, morality, citizenship, nationhood.

      Corporate sponsorship of politics is what is destroying the whole world. Until politicians are no longer beholden to their paymasters, they will be unable to act for the common good. They need to make new laws that outlaw corporate sponsorship of politics. Yes, the multi-national firms will find ways and means to get around this, by funding astroturf organisations, and so on. But the legislature needs to keep on top of this, make sure it is not possible for the oil barons and huge multinationals to pay politicians one red cent. Only when politics is cleaned up will we see real progress in the campaign to save all life on Earth from extinction in the next two or three generations. This is so serious that Obama must act. He has the talent, and down there is the belief. We are giving him the reason. He knows we are waiting and trusting. That’s all he needs. It gives him the courage he needs. Let’s see it happen. Let’s see Obama do it. He did say, ‘Yes we can’. But can he?

  25. Mark E says:

    “what specifically would you want him to do if he were really motivated to make a difference?”

    As I’ve said before…..

    Obama’s got a National Academy of Science, and he’s got a press pool that follows him everywhere he goes. Obama could be shoulder to shoulder with members of the academy, before the cameras, doing

    - Teaching seminars
    - Town meetings
    - Disaster relief sweat work
    - Visiting field research sites

    while fully involving the National Academy scientists in the on-camera conversation.

    If Obama made decent use of the academy and the cameras he could change the Washington dialogue on climate in two years, despite his congress.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Absolutely true, but his owners are not the type to forgive an employee going ‘off-reservation’.

  26. Andy Hultgren says:

    This is a really excellent post Joe. Your play with the image of grading on a curve and the CO2 curve is very, very effective. It’s an image that I will keep in mind and hope to use.

    Here is what I take away from the post:

    1) Obama has screwed up big time (no surprises on that conclusion, and not hard to agree with)
    2) Through the EPA, Obama still has the option to regulate CO2 and cut it, but it will take time (court delays) and Obama doesn’t have a history of showing the spine required to do such a thing to begin with. That said, pressure on Obama to implement strong regulations on CO2 is still useful, but it is not a Plan A or even a Plan B because it is slow and does not give the US credibility on the international stage, and even if it is implemented it would be after 2015 when a global deal to actually do something on climate change is required.

    (2) above clarifies a difficult issue. The federal gov’t is simply too slow at this point. Of course continued pressure there is necessary, but it won’t be sufficient.

    That implies that we need to organize heavily around municipal, state, and regional actions. (That also implies we are simply left to hope that the rest of the world will act on climate change in the 2015 timeframe without US credibility. But I simply don’t see any way around that. Hopefully self preservation is a stronger motivating factor in the rest of the world than it is in the US. A complete and utter travesty!!)

    Who is taking the lead on coordinating that action? 350.org is doing more awareness raising than policy implementation or even local political organizing. Who is doing this successfully? Putting together legislative packages and organizing at the local level?