Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Climate change - is it about words or deeds?

About midway through the presidential debates, a meme emerged on the left about climate silence - the idea that neither candidate was talking about climate change enough. That meme has only grown in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

As this meme was developing, Michael Grunwald - author of The New New Deal - wrote this:
...while it’s absolutely fair to complain that Obama doesn’t talk about climate change anymore, except at rallies when he’s firing up his liberal base, it’s also worth noting that he’s probably done more to prevent climate change than anyone else on the planet. His stringent new fuel efficiency rules for cars and light trucks are expected to reduce emissions by 6 billion metric tons by 2025, the equivalent of wiping out an entire year of emissions. As I’ve written here, and in The New New Deal, Obama’s stimulus bill also launched a quiet clean-energy revolution, with unprecedented investments in wind, solar, geothermal and other renewables; energy efficiency in every possible form; blue-sky research into low-carbon technologies; the smart grid; electric vehicles; advanced biofuels; and the factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S. It almost goes without saying that Republicans opposed all of these shifts towards a greener economy, as well as a cap-and-trade plan that had been part of McCain’s agenda. They’ve blocked Obama’s efforts to kill tax loopholes that benefit the oil industry, and extend tax credits that benefit the wind industry. But U.S. emissions are still falling even though the economy is growing.

The point here is not to excuse Obama’s climate silence. He’s got a big megaphone, and what the president says and doesn’t say matters. It would be nice to hear him talk about clean energy as a planetary imperative as well as a source of green jobs, and hear him call out Romney for backing away from climate science to pander to Tea Party activists. But if his words have been unsatisfying, his deeds have been impressive. Which matters more?
That's a pretty bold statement up there...that President Obama has "done more to prevent climate change than anyone else on the planet." But as he says (and has literally written the book about), "Obama's stimulus bill launched a quiet clean-energy revolution." It is only quiet now to people who haven't read what Grunwald wrote.

What he hasn't written about is the part of this quiet clean-energy revolution that has interested me...the fact that the Department of Defense is going green. As I quoted there, Pike Research had the following to say about the military's efforts to develop renewable energy.
The various composite branches of the DOD, as an organization, combine to form the single largest consumer of energy in the world – more than any other public or private entity and greater than more than 100 other nations. Energy consumption is the lifeblood of the U.S. military – and the supporting governmental infrastructure that facilitates and controls it.

Military investment in renewable energy and related technologies, in many cases, holds the potential to bridge the “valley of death” that lies between research & development and full commercialization of these technologies. As such, the myriad of DOD initiatives focused on fostering cleantech is anticipated to have a substantial impact on the development and growth of the industry as a whole.
So you take the fact that the largest single consumer of energy in the world going green along with the quiet clean-energy revolution underway as part of the stimulus bill and its hard to argue with the fact that President Obama has done more to prevent climate change than anyone else on the planet.

What these climate silence propagators are looking for is a spokesperson for their cause. There is a time and a place for that (Al Gore anyone?) But what's even more important is to roll up your sleeves and get something done about it. That's where President Obama has excelled.


  1. This is one of those examples of how thoroughly screwed up our system is. Climate change should not be a political issue, yet it is.

    This is one of those things where the president's willingness to compromise with political reality is still a bitter pill. I imagine it is for him as well. Clearly, the goal is to get as much forward momentum into the legislation that he has that can pass. I don't think he hasn't done that. Really, it's very impressive and far more than any president before him.

    The truth of the matter, though, is that climate change is inextricably linking to capitalist accumulation, and our problems with it will not change until we develop an economic system that integrates short and long-term environmental effects into decision-making. I often say that the question is not whether capitalism will cease to be, but if it will cease to be by social or by climatic means. This is what I'm talking about.

    The real accomplishment of Obama's legislation is to create some actual changes that in themselves aren't close to enough, but which would make it very easy to duplicate in other sectors once the political will to do so manifests. That's important.

    If there were real social pressure in this country for real economic change to deal effectively with climate change, the president would be all over it. There's not. People still imagine we can sustain "our way of life" with people driving upwards of an hour to work each day in their own cars from their suburbs to the city. People still feel like taking a bus is frightening or demeaning. Until that changes, we're still stuck.

  2. he’s probably done more to prevent climate change than anyone else on the planet.

    Well, yeah. What with the US being the largest emitter and fossil fuel user historically, our cutbacks would be necessarily larger in size as well. That's pretty basic mathematical logic.

    If we take it as true, however, that other countries are doing a better job at reducing emissions (from a lower base) and expanding renewable generation more quickly than US efforts, then it's hardly controversial to say the US is still lagging somewhat on a global scale.

    The test where the rubber meets the road is that the administration obviously believes their efforts to be insufficient so far, or else they wouldn't still be strategizing for additional legislative action and EPA regulations to come. It is their actions that speak as well.

  3. It's like that with everything. He's done what he could with certain issues. I guess huffing and puffing feels good. What do you have at the end of the day? He's got the country's pulse and knows what he can get away with. Quiet is the way to go when you're in a position of weakness. It's been that way for him his whole life.