Opinion: The leader of the free world leads the world in tackling climate change

 

Photo credit: Johan Viirok via Flickr.

By Anders Lorenzen

While China has now overtaken the US as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, the per capita emissions in the US are still far higher than in any country on earth. But maybe that could soon be about to change.
Earlier this month Obama finalised his Clean Power Plan, where we for the first time in US history will see US power plants regulated for their carbon emissions.
Of course, there are still major environmental challenges ahead. But let’s take a minute to acknowledge and praise how Obama has turned the US 180 degrees on climate change. What Obama inherited, both in terms of the economy and environmental policies from the Bush Administration, when he was inaugurated on January the 20th 2009, was to put it simply, dreadful. Both policy and economy impacted on how well Obama could respond to the climate challenge.
But this president has done a lot, an awful lot. He has cleverly manipulated market forces, to create the type of capitalism needed to beat the climate crisis. His argument has always been that we need to make cleaner energy cheaper, and after that the market would deal with a large share of the problem.
Just in case you had forgotten what happened during Obama’s time in office. He created the largest electric car market anywhere in the world, and the uptake of wind and solar power is bigger in the US than anywhere in the western world. The US is now taking further steps, innovating in new technologies, and leading the world in energy storage and research in electric car technology. We need to take renewables to the next level, and Obama knows that. Energy storage companies are popping up all over the US, and it is no coincidence that companies like Tesla is from the land of opportunities.
Even the most optimistic American environmentalist could not have dreamt during the Bush years, that this is where Obama would take them. Even just having an American president, who talks about climate change as a reality, is a monumental breakthrough.
The EU has for a long time held the world leader position when it came to climate policies and addressing the issue. They could now be about to lose that status. No country in the world is now as aggressively tackling climate change as the US is, apart possibly from Denmark and Germany. Even at international summits like G7, G8 and G20 it is Obama who lobbies the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron and other world leaders to do more on climate change.
Of course, we can always find things to criticise Obama for, and there is of course room for a debate about the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and Arctic drilling. But there has to be a fine line when we hold Obama to account and when we don’t. Environmental groups should have joined together and have praised Obama for what he has achieved in very difficult political circumstances, where both the Republican controlled House and Senate oppose his plans.
And, thankfully, that is what the largest environmental group in the US, the Sierra Club did; calling it the most significant action that any US president has ever taken to combat climate change.
But unfortunately the radical environmental groups, Greenpeace and 350, chose to single out Obama for what he hasn’t done. Perhaps this is the reason why the Sierra Club completely dwarfs Greenpeace in size, and with this kind of rhetoric the environmental group will continue to be a minority player in the US climate debate. There are times to oppose and then there are times not to oppose, and this was definitely a time not to oppose.
If I were a US citizen , I would be immensely proud that my president had done what Obama has done, and which could prove to be one of the historical and defining moments when the US became a leader in tackling climate change.
 

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3 responses to “Opinion: The leader of the free world leads the world in tackling climate change

  1. As impressive as what Obama has done is, it still won't whatsoever contribute sufficiently to keeping the world within even the 2° increase limit. That needs to be acknowledged, and it's important to ensure that contradictory, counterproductive policies such as permitting drilling on public lands and in the Arctic, continuing to lease off-shore tracts for drilling, and enabling tar-sands extractions via new pipelines all be criticized for taking us far in the wrong direction. If Greenpeace and 350.org didn't take the role of emphatically advocating for consistent, universal remaking of corporate, societal and governmental practices such that we in fact have a sustainable future, all the best intentions of those who limit their vision to only what they believe is “possible” would still have us on a trajectory toward global catastrophe.

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  2. As impressive as what Obama has done is, it still won't whatsoever contribute sufficiently to keeping the world within even the 2° increase limit. That needs to be acknowledged, and it's important to ensure that contradictory, counterproductive policies such as permitting drilling on public lands and in the Arctic, continuing to lease off-shore tracts for drilling, and enabling tar-sands extractions via new pipelines all be criticized for taking us far in the wrong direction. If Greenpeace and 350.org didn't take the role of emphatically advocating for consistent, universal remaking of corporate, societal and governmental practices such that we in fact have a sustainable future, all the best intentions of those who limit their vision to only what they believe is “possible” would still have us on a trajectory toward global catastrophe.

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  3. Hi Alasti,
    I share your concern about Arctic drilling and other offshore drilling activities as well as fracking.I think Obama does to and that he would reject these permits if he could or he would do more. But what I tried to argue was that with a hostile and climate denying Republican party and Congress he can't actually do more than he is doing. Even if he could, you have to make these changes gradually to win peoples support, otherwise it will just end up collapsing through lawsuits. With regards to Keystone let's remember it has not been approved and rumor is that he will reject it.

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