It was wonderful to see President Obama make a clear and stirring statement on climate at his inaugural. After years of avoiding the issue, he came right out and said a lot of good things, on the biggest stage:
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.
The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
Good rhetoric is one of most important things Obama can bring to the fight against catastrophic climate change - especially now, with a GOP House. A successful president will truly focus the nation and set the terms of the national conversation. (Too much of our national conversation is in Reagan's terms, still.) With his words and conviction, a president can drive public opinion, the sine qua non of long-lasting change, the precursor to good legislation. As Lincoln said:
“In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.”With that in mind, let's take a look at the gems in the climate part of Obama's inaugural address:
1. "We, the People ... " - with this reference to the Constitution Obama argues that real Americans plan for the future. He does not cede "patriotism" to war-mongers and tea partiers (a classic latter-day Dem fail); on the contrary, Obama powerfully asserts that patriotism requires us to ensure our sustainability. He continues his recent pattern of referencing classic American phrases to advance liberal ideas - recall his citing "government of, by, and for the people" at the recent press conference on guns.
2. "Failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." These words - the antithesis of W's "go shopping" in the wake of 9-11 - call upon us to look at the larger picture and resist toxic selfishness. A person who thinks about the kids can feel good in a way that a narcissistic shopper never will.
(In actuality, of course, ignoring climate change betrays ourselves as well as the next generation. Climate change is here now.)
3. "None can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms." BANG! The president goes there - he puts our current extreme weather in the context of global climate change. This connection is so important to make if we are to solidify public sentiment around action.
4. "The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult." A good leader says the right thing can be hard to do. This is how we steel ourselves to do it. History shows Americans will support difficult choices if they understand why we must do so.
5. "That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure ...." The president AGAIN brings a powerful liberal frame - responding intelligently to climate change can be GOOD for the economy at the same time that it is good for us and all the creatures on this earth. He rejects the classic "jobs vs. economy" false choice that far too many Dems have accepted.
6. And finally, "That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared." This bit is Lincoln-esque.
All around, an excellent job by President Obama.
Of course, what will matter is if he and his people keep this up. We can help by going to DC on February 17 for the Foward on Climate rally sponsored by 350.org and others.
There is an opportunity to make headway on climate in the wake of Sandy, the drought, the floods, the derecho, etc. From Rolling Stone's Obama's Climate Challenge:
Now Obama gets another shot at it. "The politics of global warming are changing fast," says Kevin Knobloch, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Thanks to a year of extreme weather and Hurricane Sandy, a large majority of Americans – nearly 90 percent – favor action on global warming, even if there are economic costs. The U.S. economy is on the road to recovery and no longer offers an excuse for inaction. Big Coal, traditionally the loudest voice against climate action, has been weakened by a glut of cheap natural gas and the economic viability of solar and wind power. China has new political leadership that appears open to discussing a global agreement to cut carbon. And Obama himself has nothing left to lose. "The president has a big opportunity here," says former Vice President Al Gore. "This is a moment when he can expand the ideas of what's possible."I'm not sure about the 90 percent number, but the polls do show that a solid majority of Americans supports climate action.
Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.Mother Nature is telling us we must make the most of this opportunity. Hope to see you out on 2/17. We will encourage our newly bold president to keep bringing the good stuff.
Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.
Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.