Posted by: JohnnyRook | November 8, 2008

President Obama, It’s Climaticide and the Survival of Civilization, Not Just Energy and Environment

The Obama transition team has hit the ground running. They already have a web site up, http://change.gov/ where you can follow their activities. There is also a page where you can answer a poll and (they’ve now dropped the poll) make comments on what the new administration’s priorities should be. To go directly to the poll/comments page you can click here.

Below are the comments that I submitted plus links and other discussion that I’ve added for this posting:

Climate change is by far the most pressing problem facing us. All of our other problems occur in the context of Climaticide. I believe that it is imperative that the new Obama/Biden administration take urgent, radical action to halt global warming in accordance with the ideas put forth by Dr. James Hansen of NASA’s GISS. [check out his somewhat technical article in volume 2 of The Open Atmospheric Science Journal all the way at the bottom of the page: Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim? if you want to get a sense of the science behind the urgency.]

Science of 350

I am dismayed not to see climate change as one of the options above. Energy and Environment is a rather back door way of describing climate change. This problem is so big that it can only be solved if your administration takes the lead in calling it by it’s true name.

We are just finishing with an administration that relied upon the trickery of false names because it was unwilling to level with the American people. If your administration is to fulfill its promise it must tell people the truth no matter how unpopular that may be.

The reality of Climaticide is that it’s not just Energy and Environment. It’s Energy, Environment and the Survival of Human Civilization.

Bill McKibben had an essay in the Guardian a couple of days ago that reflect similar concerns. He begins by paraphrasing Hansen:

[I]f we keep increasing carbon any longer, the earth itself will make our efforts moot.

Hansen’s calculation is a scientifically grounded way of saying: Everything must change at once. To meet his target, before enough feedback loops kick in to irrevocably warm the planet, Hansen says fossil-fuel combustion, particularly coal, must cease around the planet by about 2030, and that it must happen sooner in the industrialized nations. As the climate observer, and tireless blogger, Joe Romm observed when Hansen’s paper was published, it means that “we need to go straight to the government-led WWII-style effort for the whole planet that is sustained for decades.” (Well, back to FDR, what do you know.).

Anyway, here are some of the pieces of what Obama must push for:

• Massive government investment in green energy. For this to have any hope of being politically viable, it will need to be seen as the single huge stimulus effort that might lift us out of our financial swamp. (That’s almost certainly true, by the way — name another emergent technology capable of re-floating the economy for the long run). We have at least some of the technologies we’d need — wind, the newly promising desert solar arrays, and the ever-useful insulation (the installation of which would at least create a lot of jobs — you’re not going to send your house to China for a layer of fiberglass). You might also push for nuclear, but it takes a long time and it’s probably too expensive to make a rational list. Still, no holds barred.

• A stiff cap on carbon, which will help drive the process. Again, to have any chance of passing politically, it will need to come with the feature proposed in recent years by Peter Barnes, and that Obama has semi-endorsed: a “cap and share” approach that would return the revenue raised directly to consumers. That is, Exxon would pay for the permit to pour carbon into the atmosphere, a cost that would rise steadily as the cap was lowered. But instead of the money going into government coffers, every American would get a check each year for their share of the proceeds. They’d be made whole against the rising cost of energy, while the shock that the price signal would send would be preserved. Current versions of cap-and-trade are too weak and too riddled with loopholes — getting a clean, tough bill through Congress needs to be a preoccupation of President Obama.

• Once the president has done all that tough stuff at home, he’ll need to do it all over again, globally. The world is meeting in Copenhagen in December of 2009 to come up with a successor to the Kyoto treaty, the modest first international effort that George Bush walked away from weeks after taking office. If Hansen and others are even close to right, this will represent the last legitimate shot the world has at putting itself on a new carbon regime in time to make any difference.

McKibben goes on to identify the dilemma created when science confronts politics:

Any hope of succeeding will require Obama to grasp, deep in his guts, the fact that climate, energy, food, and the economy are now hopelessly intertwined, and that trying to solve any one of these problems without taking on the others simply makes all of them worse. More, he needs to understand, again viscerally, the single stark fact of our time: No matter how many votes, no matter how much lobbying, no matter how much pressure you apply, you can’t amend the laws of physics and chemistry. They aren’t like the laws that politicians are used to dealing with. They will be obeyed, like it or not. 350 is now the most important number on the planet, the red line that defines reality reality. [my emphasis-JR]

It doesn’t define political reality, however. The political reality goes like this: George W. Bush was so terrible on this issue that the bar has been set incredibly low — Obama will get all the political points he needs with fairly minimal effort. Doing what actually needs to be done will be politically…unpopular isn’t even the word. It might well wreck his political future, because it would involve — directly or indirectly — raising the cost of continuing to live as we do right now.

Although, McKibben sees Obama as a centrist disinclined to make radical changes, he is inspired by Obama, the man, and manages to end on a note of hope:

A better sign is simply that, by every testimony, he’s one of the smartest men ever to assume high political office in this country. Not just smarter than Bush. Really smart. Smart enough, if he sits down to really understand the scale of the problem he faces, that he might decide to take the gambles that the situation requires. He said, not long ago, “under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket” — which is a sign of someone who is aware there may be a reality to come to grips with.

E&E Daily (subscription required) has some encouraging sounding news from an Obama advisor:

Obama has 76 days to prepare his new government, a job that likely will include a major expansion and integration of top posts in the White House and across various agencies that deal with global warming and energy issues, said Dan Kammen, a University of California, Berkeley, professor and key Obama adviser.

“You’re starting to see why this isn’t just elevating the EPA secretary to the Cabinet,” Kammen said. “It’s really a much bigger integration.”

The incoming Obama team is considering a “listening tour” around the country on energy and environmental issues before Inauguration Day in an attempt to build momentum for its policies and legislative plans. Kammen said details on the sessions remain in the planning stage.

Let’s not wait for the tour, although we should turn out by the millions if they actually do hold one. Right now you can go to the Change.gov web site and add your comments. Tell the Obama transition team that you know that the economy, energy independence, social justice at home and abroad, and Climaticide are all interrelated. But also tell them that they need to level with the American people: stopping climate change is fundamental. If we solve every other problem on the planet and don’t stop Climaticide it’s as if we’ve solved nothing at all.

For John Podesta’s of the Center for American Progress take on how solving the climate crisis goes hand in hand with solving the economic crisis see:

Green Recovery: A New Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy

Find out more at 350.org

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Responses

  1. Amen!

  2. Of course, it might just be easier to amend the constitution: From “for ourselves and our posterity”

    Just change one word:

    “For ourselves or our posterity.”

    Did Bush forget to do that?


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