Obama doesn't have to convince the American people to do what needs to be done. "What needs to be done," if you step back and take in the full vista, is overwhelming in its size and urgency. It's radicalizing. It takes a certain kind of intellect and fortitude to face it squarely; very few people have. (For a glimpse of the big picture, watch Saul Griffith's mind-blowing presentation.)
No president can talk the American people into that far of a leap all at once. All Obama can hope to do is convince the American people, in particular 60 senators, to accept a series of moderate reforms that accelerate the energy transition. He just needs to change the trajectory. If green jobs happy talk can do that, and climate talk makes it more difficult, then happy talk it is.
Remember, the argument here is not about setting climate aside completely and forever. It's about setting it aside for the moment. The argument for the Trojan Horse message is based on a few premises:
- Climate skepticism (or mere indifference) is less about reasoned assessment than a) cultural associations of the issue with liberalism and, more deeply, b) the cognitive phenomenon whereby human beings are loathe to accept problems for which they see no solution. People generally acknowledge that climate change is real and we're at the end of the fossil fuel era, but that propositional assent will have no depth or motivational force as long as people fear (or simply don't know) what comes next.
- The argument on behalf of transforming society in the face of climate change can't be won with scientific papers, op-ed columns, or even words from Barack Obama. It will be won slowly, as that transformation touches more lives on a personal level. Only experience will make the case for more speed and ambition. (See Sara Robinson's fantastic essay on this.)
- Two things will happen in coming years. First, more communities will reap the benefits of clean energy and efficiency. Those industries will interact with more people, as employers, vendors, or just local businesses. People will begin to see that shifting to a clean economy is less costly and more desirable than predicted. And second, climate change itself will start to bite in extreme and inescapable ways. Sooner or later, people will start to panic. Both trends mean that the climate argument will get easier over time.
Or to put that all more succinctly: the case on climate will make itself eventually, but we don't have time to wait. The overwhelming priority in the short term is to get started, via whatever means of persuasion are most effective.
So if we make some modest progress in between now and when climate change really starts to kick in will we then be able to ramp up the massive changes needed in time to reverse it? From what I've read my impression is 'no,' but I obviously have no independent expertise in this area, and even experts concede the science is too complex to make predictions with any great certainty. If that's our best case scenario then I suppose we just have to do our best and hope for the best.
Rachel Maddow thinks the politics of the spill has revealed a Republican "glass jaw:"
I believe Ezra Klein will be on tonight arguing Obama should be addressing climate more forcefully.
Meanwhile, Theda Skocpol reminds disgruntled liberals to keep their eye on the ball:
If liberals do not support Obama and the Democrats for the next two election cycles, a rabid Right will be back in control, and America will devolve further into ineffective gridlock and rising inequality. Even the gains that have been made so far, a pretty good health reform, student loan reforms, improved financial regulations, and so forth, will quickly be weakened and reversed if the Republicans regain Congress and the presidency. Liberals right now should not be joining in Obama bashing on the oil spill. They should be focused on Republican blame and hypocrisy -- and should pressure the Senate to vote for good energy legislation.
There is nothing in this oil crisis in an already oil-soaked region that should prompt liberals to turn against Obama. This crisis was caused by the decades-old oil regime and the evisceration of government by "conservatives" and conservaDems. Bashing a moderate liberal President who is trying to turn things around, but needs time and patient support, is just plain self-defeating for liberals. People seem to imagine that Obama could somehow "order" a new environmental/energy policy or wave a wand and clean up the already-dirty Gulf. They are dreaming -- and their childish thrashing based on these dreams is undermining a valuable opening in U.S. politics.