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Thursday, June 17, 2010

bigger picture

So Obama used an Oval Office speech to address what they're doing about the oil spill, but also to 'pivot' to broader issues of energy independence. He didn't mention climate change, he didn't mention taxing carbon. Perhaps it's just as well because we don't have the votes anyway. Maybe the address was just about stemming the political fallout of this ongoing disaster, and if so I hope it had some effect toward that. (I'm certainly heartened by the news since that they were able to convince BP to put $20B in an escrow fund for victims/damages)

Above is Rachel Maddow giving a fake oval office address as a way of showing what she wished Obama had said. It's good, although I really don't know if taking such a bold stance would have been the smart political move for Obama. (He needs to use whatever capital he has left on getting stuff done, not making bold proclamations)

But I just wanted to use this little platform (it's what blog are for, right?) to point out how insane this all is from a big picture point of view. The planet is hurtling towards disaster and we as a people are not engaged in the least. If we had the same sense of urgency about addressing climate change as we do now about the oil spill we might actually get somewhere. But if anything the oil spill illustrates that people don't care about risks until they are literally screwing up their own lives. But by the time the icecaps melt there will be no way of cleaning up that mess. The pooch will officially be screwed.

I personally think of this issue as even more pressing than our economy, more pressing than health care or really ANY other issue. I supported tackling the economy and health care first because I thought it was necessary to successfully deal with those issues to gain the momentum that would be necessary to make the big changes to get us on an environmentally stable track. But instead an oil spill, which one would think would spur the public to demand more environmental sensitivity from their representatives, seems to be sapping all political will to do anything. It looks like we won't even be thinking about a course of action until after the midterms, after which, even if they go well, we'll have fewer seats... so I really can't imagine what we'll be getting done then, given the Republicans' complete intransigence on this and all other issues.

I saw one study (sorry, too lazy to find links right now) in which scientists predicted that if the Kerry/Lieberman/Graham energy bill were passed and we reached some sort of global accord on carbon emissions this year there would be a 75% chance we would make the necessary changes before reaching a point of no return (not that that these steps would do it alone, but if we could make them it would show us capable of facing hard realities, thereby suggesting we could follow up as necessary) but that if we do nothing we ('we' being humanity) would have a 1% chance of avoiding calamity. Obviously with an issue as complicated as this these numbers are somewhat pulled out of the air, and perhaps intended for political effect, but the basic point strikes me as valid. If not now, when?

Sometimes I think that the human species is just evil. That we are the locusts, the Cylons, or whatever analogy you want to use. But then I think that if any other species had as much power as we did they would surely behave the same. So I try to remind myself of that whenever I see an oiled pelican. Better you than me.

But when I read Charles Krauthammer ridicule Obama for even suggesting we should/could wean ourselves from fossil fuels I know no pelican is that kind of evil.

When I read Thomas Friedman say that Republicans need to see the harm deregulation can cause (no shit) but that Democrats need to see that the government can't solve this problem through regulation, and that what we need is for citizens to start riding their bikes more often and plant gardens, I can help but wonder if he's just being willfully naive about this. I suppose a newspaper columnist who wrote about how the human species is evil wouldn't help sell many papers, but surely Thomas Friedman realizes that this problem isn't going to be solved by individuals making personal lifestyle decisions. For one thing, corporations, whose environmental impact is many orders or magnitude greater than any individual literally are NOT ALLOWED to make decisions based on a sense of environmental responsibility/stewardship, unless that can somehow be parlayed into increased profit. They have but one obligation and that is to their bottom line and their shareholders. That isn't even a bad thing, so long as our eyes are open to this reality and we are prepared to make sure that corporations' interests are aligned with society's at large. But until we put a price on carbon to account for all its "externalities" we will never make serious progress towards re-orienting itself away from fossil fuels.

I just got back from Illinois where I visited the Lincoln museum in Springfield. Obviously in many ways the challenges of his day were much greater than our own. But one way in which our challenges are greater is that if we screw this up we literally screw it up for everyone that comes after us. I am still a huge admirer of our current President, but I have to say my hope that he will be able to steer this country into making the kinds of hard decisions it needs to is dwindling. We may simply be too far along the path toward self-destruction. We may have to shift the conversation to what kind of role we want our country to play on the world stage as our planet descends into environmental chaos.

Can someone please convince me I'm being too pessimistic? I would appreciate it.

1 comment:

Lee said...

here the link for that 75% / 1% figure:

It's from an EPA study