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False Dawn

False Dawn

Politics this year have been an utter desert on climate change issues, certainly at the presidential level where silence from the candidates and their surrogates was complete. President Obama’s victory speech only a week ago did offer some hope of change when he said that:

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

Protecting our children “from the destructive power of a warming planet” has the sound of a call to action following Hurricane Sandy’s demolition of East coast communities. But President Obama’s remarks at today’s press conference implied that any actions will be trivial and ineffectual. In response to a question, the President said he would talk with scientists, engineers, elected officials and others about “short-term” steps to reduce the carbon emissions that are blamed for global warming. He then killed hope for significant action in these words:

“I don’t know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do. 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.”

Barack Obama is a very smart man, and he must hear climate science shouting that human economic activities, particularly burning hydrocarbons and destroying forests, has altered natural systems, and that dangerous trends and positive feedback loops grow daily. Worrying about jobs and economic growth while ignoring climate change is like worrying about dinner on the Titanic and not watching for icebergs. I voted for Barack Obama in both presidential races, and I made the maximum financial contributions allowed to both campaigns, so it is with regret that I must look for explanations of why a re-elected President Obama has put climate change on a back burner:

1. It’s too hard politically to do anything – America’s voters and their elected representatives aren’t interested in making sacrifices to prevent future catastrophes from global warming; or

2. Obama has been too busy with campaigning to pay attention to climate science and to links between extreme weather events during his presidency and global warming; or

3. It’s too late – human-caused climate change has too much momentum, and the world the Obama children must cope with in 30 years will be much more hostile despite whatever people do now; or

4. Barack Obama is feinting, pretending to ignore climate change’s magnitude until he uses the President’s “bully pulpit” to change public opinion enough.

I want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and go for explanation “4,” but his remarks today were both conventional and disappointing.


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