Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quote of the Day on the Most Important Political Issue of Our Time: a New Year's Eve Post

Climate change is the most important issue of our time -- both due to its urgency (the time frame for getting a solution into place is distressingly narrow) and the direness that will result if nothing is done. If you're not convinced of this, read these two posts by David Roberts (follow-up here) -- and worry. Even if you only posit a, say, 5% change that he's right (ludicrously low), panic seems a very appropriate response. Every other issue before us will affect only a few generations, or only Americans, or some other subset of humanity -- this issue will affect the fate of humanity, full stop. It's urgent and it's dire and it's terrifying.

Let's just pause on the consequences for a moment longer. To quote "Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change in Britain":
For humanity it’s a matter of life or death ... we will not make all human beings extinct, as a few people with the right sort of resources may put themselves in the right parts of the world and survive. But I think it’s extremely unlikely that we wouldn’t have mass death at 4 degrees.

‘‘If you have got a population of 9 billion by 2050 and you hit 4 degrees, 5 degrees or 6 degrees, you might have half a billion people surviving."
Read that again. We're talking about the death of 94% of the human race. (The above-linked articles talk about the fact that we are, in fact, heading rapidly for a 4 or more degree (celsius) temperature rise.)

So how is Obama, our "liberal" president, doing on this most pressing of matters? Well, they're working as hard as they can... to sabotage a small European-led effort to work on the problem. From Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker (via):
It’s bad enough—more than bad enough, really—that the U.S. has failed to lead the fight against climate change. This is very nearly as true under President Barack Obama as it was under George W. Bush. As former Senator Tim Wirth, now the president of the U.N. Foundation, put it recently, “I don’t know who and where the climate leadership in the Administration is. It doesn’t exist.”

Now, by trying to block others’ attempts to tackle the problem, the U.S. is behaving in a manner that seems best described as unforgivable. Last week, in a letter to Secretaries Clinton and LaHood, the heads of several of the nation’s leading environmental groups noted that the Administration is “actively thwarting other countries’ efforts to effectively and efficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” a position that is incompatible with the Administration’s own stated commitment to avoiding “a dangerous rise in global average temperatures.” The groups urged the Administration to abide by the European court’s decision, “just as the Administration would wish other nations to respect the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

It’s pretty much impossible to imagine how the world can reduce the risks of climate change without imposing some sort of emissions limits, and airline emissions seems like as good a place to start as any. If the Administration disagrees with the European plan, then it would seem to be under a heavy obligation to propose its own. All it's doing now is shilling for the airlines. Is this any way to run a planet?
For those of you who like to blame the Republicans in Congress for all of the Obama administration's mistakes, please note that they are not involved here: this is Mr. Hope & Change, and his trusty deputies, all on their own.

To say that Obama is working hard to be the James Buchanan of climate change is far, far too optimistic. First, however horrific a crime slavery was, it did not threaten the extension of 94% of the human race. And, of course, Buchanan was followed by Abraham Lincoln -- whereas Obama-as-Buchanan is likely to be followed (whether in 2013 or 2017) by the climate-change equivalent of John C. Breckinridge.

Most people would probably think that I was being histrionic in saying Obama could and should be impeached for this. But the truth of the matter is that it would be ludicrously slight. Obama will be -- to quote a President whose name Obama is not fit to utter -- "damned in time and eternity" for his inaction -- or, rather, for his positive actions on the side of mass death and destruction.

Obama has been a utter disappointment in so many important areas -- civil liberties, executive secrecy, American military adventuring, coddling of 1% lawbreakers, a failure to aggressively address unemployment, a failure to confront inequality, a pathetic tendency to pre-capitulate to the forces of reaction, and an utter failure to use his famously powerful voice to articulate an alternate language to the Ayn Randian culture we have created (something which was begun -- just begun, but begun -- this year by Occupy Wall Street). But I think I could forgive all of that if he had genuinely confronted the environmental crisis. After all, if politics is about utilitarian compromise, then you could certainly argue that the climate crisis outweighs all of the rest put together.

But far from addressing it, Obama is fighting on the wrong side (just as he is in at least the first four of the items in the first paragraph, and arguably the first six (the last two he is clearly just failing miserably, or giving up without trying, rather than actively aiding the forces of Malevolence.)) What, in fact, does he have to show for all his meekness and compromise? A Republican health-care plan, and a number of small symbolic victories -- boy scout medals which he can hang on the wall moments before it is washed away by the flood which will drown the world.

So this is where we are: a crisis of unprecedented proportions, dire urgency, and the mainstream of political life caught between a conservative, business-agenda hack, and whichever loon the Republicans put up to run against him.

I don't, as a principled matter, believe in despair in the realm of the political. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light": yes. But at the moment I don't even see how to forward the hopeless struggle. If we are to fight the long defeat, we at least need to know how to do that. But now, where do we line up to fight in the hopeless battle? If that is the only question left, then I'd at least like an answer to that.

And that's where I see us located, now, on the last day of 2011. Happy new year to you all.

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