I was offline last week, so I missed President Obama’s press conference last week. Included in it were the President’s remarks on climate change, which while acknowledging its existence offered nothing in terms of commitment to action, let alone action the scale needed to confront the climate crisis. Here’s some of what President Obama said:
So what I’m going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what can — what more can we do to make a short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary — a discussion, a conversation across the country about what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.
I don’t know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point, because this is one of those issues that’s not just a partisan issue; I also think there are regional differences. There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices. And understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.
If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.
So you can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward.
Part of what is so confounding to me is the refusal for elected officials, including but not limited to the President, to refuse to understand the scope of the crisis in front of us. And not just the scope, the presence of the crisis as a crisis in the immediate term.
As Bill McKibben has made abundantly clear, we don’t have the time. We need immediate changes to the math behind global energy policy, otherwise the planet is screwed.
Surely in coming weeks and months, we’ll see environmental groups float potential legislative options for the President and Congress to consider over the next four years. While I’m all for some of the brick-and-mortar Beltway environmental groups providing concrete solutions with an eye towards pragmatism as always, I don’t think that’s actually what a left flank looks like.
In this case, the left flank on climate needs to built squarely around morality. Specifically the immorality of continuing to destroy our planet through a fossil fuel-based energy policy (let alone one which enriches a small handful of individuals and corporations at the expense of what will be a potentially infinitely large dollar amount in climate destruction). Continued inaction or action at the snails pace we’ve seen from all American elected officials is simply immoral.
Taking this a step further, it’s clear that at the end of the day, there will be no solution to this crisis without public officials having the moral clarity to say, “The fossil fuel industry is killing our planet. This is a crime against every living person and all future generations. As a result, they can no longer exist.” The left flank of the climate crisis isn’t a set of taxes or tariffs, it’s an abolitionist movement.
If Lincoln had speechified about the danger of wiping out half of the South’s GDP by ending slavery, abolitionists wouldn’t have stood for it. Why should contemporary climate activists stand for Obama or any other politician hiding behind bad economics* in the face of a fundamentally moral question? It’s time for anger, built around moral clarity that is clearly lacking from the debate playing out in DC and in the press.
* The President’s economics are bad – a massive shift to green energy sources would be a huge economic boost, both in terms of jobs created by the required infrastructure creation and the removal of massive negative externalities that come from our reliance on fossil fuels. So not only is he wrong to hide behind economic numbers as an argument against a green energy shift, but he’s using a bad argument.