Tuesday’s Climate Speech Doesn’t Mean Obama Is Superman, But It May Mean He’s Not Superfluous

On Tuesday, the most powerful man on earth is finally going to explain how he will tackle climate change. President Obama will explain how he’ll start to reverse the unsustainable natural resource use destroying our planet in the face of rampant denial of scientific warnings by GOP leaders.

Coincidentally, last week was the opening of the re-rebooted movie version of the other most powerful man on earth, the “Man of Steel,” whose home world is destroyed by unsustainable natural resource use after leaders deny the warnings from his father, Krypton’s chief scientist, Jor-El.

I am a fanboy — hey my father was a newspaperman (though, admittedly, less Clark Kent or Perry White than Lou Grant, but as a kid you don’t draw those distinctions) and my oldest brother collected comic books and I was like those guys on The Big Bang Theory (more Leonard than Sheldon).

For those who don’t know the basic Superman story, there’s this baby whose birth father sends him to Earth to be a God among men, and he is raised by human parents and becomes our savior. Yes, the movie lays on the Christian theology a bit much — as part of a marketing campaign “to utilise Superman myth as a mechanism for ‘educating and uplifting’ Christian audiences” (you can’t make this up!) In the movie, Clark wanders around unknown until the age of 33 where he emerges to fight evil and defend the down-trodden. Yeah, Warner Brothers, Superman is just like Jesus — we all remember the end of the Gospel of Luke where Jesus snaps the neck of Herod in the final scene. (Oh, I forgot to say “spoiler alert” but if the ending of the movie held any surprise for you whatsoever, you need to get out more or at least watch TV once in a while.)


As an aside, you may have missed this headline from last October about the “actual” DC comics character “Superman’s Alter Ego Clark Kent Quits Daily Planet To Be a Blogger”!!! More on that in another post.

Back to climate change. The movie doesn’t take the unsustainable natural resource use into the Earth story much — other than having a BP-like oil rig disaster that Clark rescues a bunch of people from, though if there’s any oil that spilled out we don’t see it and Clark doesn’t do anything about it.

But the more interesting point is that Superman gets his essentially limitless power from our yellow sun. The question of opportunity cost seems inescapable. Indeed, as the Bible teaches us, “there is nothing new under the sun,” so Dave Roberts and Matt Yglesias have already written about this — and there’s a hilarious comic strip on this I repost below.

This is kind of like the Bjorn Lomborg question — what should we be spending our time and money on to maximize the benefit to humanity? But it’s a mostly phony argument from Lomborg because there is no reason why the nation and the world can’t do multiple things at once — work to avoid the big long term catastrophe while dealing with short term problems.

BUT the opportunity cost question is more legitimate when applied to an individual — Superman, or, say, Barack Obama.


There is only one Superman, and it’s an amusing thought question to ask what is the best use of his powers. Possible answer: Generate infinite amounts of pollution free energy. Of course, Superman is fictional and to be a successful comic strip he needs to do something more interesting than continually boil vast quantities of water with his heat vision or crank a generator.

There’s only one President — and he has hardly devoted any time whatsoever to climate change. Worse, his administration actually launched the inane strategy of downplaying climate change back in March 2009.

True, Obama has many other very genuine, very serious problems to work on. But as I’ve said many times, this is the only problem that future generations are going to care about — if it isn’t dealt with now (see “Will Future Generations Call Obama The ‘Environmental President’ Or An Abject Failure?”). I’m not going to repeat that post’s long list of things Obama could had been doing for the past four years (especially during the climate bill debate) if he had given climate change the priority it deserved.

Obama doesn’t get to deliver his speech with a clean slate Tuesday — and his decision later this year on the Keystone XL pipeline could well overshadow whatever he does say.

Bottom Line: If the President lays out the science without pulling punches and if he lays out a viable plan to hit the 17% carbon pollution reduction in 2020 that he promised the international community back in 2009, that wouldn’t mean he’s superman, but it would mean he’s not superfluous.

In the meantime, here’s an incredible comic strip by Zach Weiner of SMBC (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal):