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Obama’s Goals

Obama’s Goals

President Obama’s victory speech this morning included determination to protect our children from being “threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” The President acknowledged the obvious truth that global warming is real and dangerous, and he seemed to propose a new public policy goal – minimizing human-caused climate change. The speech content was a hopeful step, and the public awaits his administration’s solutions to conflicts between handling a “warming planet” and other Obama goals such as increasing domestic oil and gas production.

In his second term, the President will need to choose between maximizing short-term economic growth and acting to slow greenhouse gas production.  Science is clear that carbon dioxide and other products of mining and burning fossil fuels contribute to global warming  (press “Science is clear” above to view “Climate Change: Lines of Evidence” video by National Academy of Sciences).   Scientists and entrepreneurs have created tools to move the world towards a less-carbon-intensive economy, but those innovations will not be enough, for decades at least, to cut coal, oil and gas use as much as natural systems demand and still allow today’s high energy consumption.

For a century, United States economic activity has been the largest contributor to world greenhouse gas emissions, and we still burn much more fossil fuel per person than the rest of the world. To date, Presidents such as George W. Bush have rejected carbon dioxide emission limits on the ground that slowing CO2 production could diminish American economic growth. Obama, who is widely admired abroad, has an opportunity to lead the world towards more respectful treatment of nature and her limits. But he’ll need to exercise exceptional, transformational leadership skills and to fight for actions that many Americans will resist, and resist fiercely.

Image by Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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