President Obama’s climate plan is a political gamble that will be hard to win. Under the Copenhagen Accord, the United States has committed to reducing carbon emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 — an objective that Mr. Obama did not mention, and with good reason. The United States cannot possibly meet that target, no matter how many members Mr. Obama enrolls in his Hot Earth Society.
Baby, it’s hot out here.
With these unspoken words, President Barack Obama announced his climate action plan, a piece of political theatre as much as it was a stab at hard policy. In a sun-drenched space at Georgetown University, in typical 33 Celsius Washington summer temperatures, Mr. Obama played the scene for all it was worth.
Mr. Obama in fact opened his speech with these words: “And my first announcement today is that you should all take off your jackets. I’m going to do the same.” A century of presidential press conferences in typical steamy Washington conditions, and this may be the first in which a president took off his jacket and then, with painstakingly deliberate moves with a fat, white handkerchief, mopped his not-that-sweaty brow.
We’re down to our sleeves out here
Presidents don’t sweat, unless they’re under potential indictment, in a TV studio — or trying hard to beat out a propaganda theme on the perils of global warming and the need for dramatic policy action. Oddly, at 33 degrees and only 55% humidity, it wasn’t even that hot a day in the U.S. capitol, about average for June. It just needed to be seen to be really hot to make the president’s steamy policy rhetoric seem plausible, if not credible.
The temperature’s got to fall
It was so hot that he was forced to claim not only that carbon is a pollutant, but that it is a “toxic” pollutant. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free,” he said. A White House fact sheet upped the toxicity of carbon even further. The Obama administration, it said, is putting in place “tough new rules to cut carbon pollution — just like we have for other toxins like mercury and arsenic.”
Never mind that a few ounces of arsenic can kill while all human life on Earth depends and thrives on the existence of vast tonnages of carbon in the atmosphere. Once you’ve labelled carbon toxic, however, you can pretty well justify any policy, no matter how inappropriate or ineffective. Mr. Obama’s plan contains much of both, a smorgasbord of random programs and heavy-handed interventions — from new rules on coal plant emissions to more subsidies for greener energy sources.
Let’s throw everything at the wall
For all his rhetoric, including calling people who deny the reality of global warming “members of the Flat Earth Society,” Mr. Obama backed down on key issues. No carbon tax or pricing schemes were hinted at, let alone proposed. And Mr. Obama could not bring himself to issue a clear statement on the Keystone XL pipeline.
“I want to be clear,” he said before delivering a round of unclear policy waffle. Keystone is the single most important issue motivating his green ENGO supporters, but Mr. Obama failed to deliver a straight statement. “Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” he said.
But what if it’s not that hot
That’s like a motorist saying he promises he will not significantly exceed the speed limit. In other words, the Obama administration will allow oil sands product through a Keystone pipeline even if it produces greater carbon emissions. But then he added more waffle by changing the subject from carbon to climate. “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.” Net if what?
ENGOs such as the Sierra Club claimed victory. By stating that Keytone approval “could ONLY happen IF it didn’t lead too an increase in greenhouse gas emissions,” said the Sierra Club of Canada’s John Bennett, the president had clearly issued “a death sentence for Keystone.” Misrepresenting the statements of others has been an ENGO staple for decades.
If anything, chances are Mr. Obama’s comments increase Keystone’s approval odds and may even guarantee the pipeline’s future.
All that data on the storms
While the pipeline carbon-counting wrangle plays out in the months to come, Mr. Obama appears to have committed himself to being a full rhetorical member of the Hot Earth Society.
Along with the president’s speech, the White House issued a wordy 21-page document titled “The President’s Climate Action Plan” plus a colourful fear-mongering, school-friendly graphic that made exaggerated claims about U.S. weather, storms and droughts. Much of it is open to debate, which is what the president presumably wants to generate if he is to seal his carbon policy legacy.
May be within the norms
It’s a political gamble that will be hard to win. Under the Copenhagen Accord, the United States has committed to reducing carbon emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 — an objective that Mr. Obama did not mention, and with good reason. The United States cannot possibly meet that target, no matter how many members Mr. Obama enrolls in his Hot Earth Society.
So maybe it’s not that hot out here