Barack Obama has said time and again that change comes from the bottom up at least as much as from policy directives from on high. He’s right–and he seems to be giving signs that pressure from below is going to be needed to keep him true to his own campaign promises.
This past Sunday, I opened the New York Times to the front page headline: Economy May Delay Work on Campaign Pledges. Obama’s campaign pledges, of course. Uh, oh, I thought. I hope climate change policy isn’t on that list. But it was. The Times reports that Obama may “put off” restricting carbon emissions and initiating a cap-and-trade program.
The President-Elect has put some terrific climate crisis-savvy people on his team for energy matters (Stephen Chu) and science (John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco). But if they are to be more than mere window dressing, Obama needs to remember that climate change policy isn’t a frill. It’s basic. While I personally think a tax on carbon is best (combined with comparable cuts on payroll taxes and subsidies for consumer use of renewable energy and conservation), an effective cap and trade system is at least a step in the right direction.
Moreover, Obama seems a bit cheaper than his word when it comes to the funds allotted for clean energy in his stimulus package, as Joe Romm noted January 9th on his blog Climate Progress. The plan offers a measly $10 billion in an overall package of $300 billion. Heck, Obama was willing to throw almost three times that much—no strings attached–to the Detroit boys who helped put us in this mess–and who continue to fight tooth and nail against controlling the greenhouse gases spewed by their products.
If Obama ends up putting off his campaign promise to control carbon emissions, it would indicate a disturbing lack of judgment. He would be subscribing to a the bankrupt idea that the economy and the environment play a zero-sum game. In fact, their fortunes go hand-in-hand. If he thinks we are “running out of time” to fix the economy, he ought to consider that we are running out of time on the climate crisis, with far more devastating results–to the economy and everything else.
The current recession will look like the days of wine and roses when compared to the lean and barren years ahead as we try to cope with crop losses due to megadrought, infrastructure damage due to extreme weather, loss of life and property, lack of potable water and the staggering costs of disease and resource wars that are sweeping down on us on the back of the climate catastrophe. New Orleans was the first major U.S. city to be devastated by global warming. Think about New York and Boston. There is literally no time for delay.
So I’d like to quote some words of wisdom about the climate crisis to Mr. Obama from someone he knows very well: “The science is beyond dispute… Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.” Those words, Mr. President-Elect, are yours. And for the rest of us: it’s up to us to keep Mr. Obama’s feet to the fire.