Sleeping giant wakening? Obama-Biden campaign looking to climate change as political issue?

For too long, the Democratic Party "machine" has been eerily silent when it comes to the scientific consensus on climate change and the risks that catastrophic climate chaos creates for America and Americans. While much has been said and heard on 'clean energy' and 'green jobs', the words "climate change" and "global warming" have almost seemed to disappear from the Democratic Party's lexicon as the Republican Party headed into ever-more extreme rejection of science with embrace and promotion of fossil-foolish global warming denialism. Thus, when it came to political leadership, the voice in the Village Square has been overwhelming shrill rejection of scientific knowledge.

The Democratic Party's aversion to climate discussions derived from a mistaken 'Village' perception that climate change was somehow a losing political issue. This mistaken perception derived, it seemed, from concerns over how Faux-News watchers might react with serious discussion of climate science issues. In fact, as a Yale University report (pdf) recently documented, engaging on climate change is a winning political issue for Democratic politicians. Discussing climate issues won't get Tea Party-ites any angrier but they will engage with open-minded independent voters concerned about climate issues and motivate Democratic Party activists disheartened by what they see as inadequate engagement on the most critical issue that humanity faces.

Six months ago, those concerned on climate issues saw a ray of hope that Presidential candidate Barack Obama might engage heavily in climate issues. In a Rolling Stone interview, the President correctly noted (in what is actually an understatement) that "those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared and concerned about a general lack of sufficient movement to deal with the problem." The President also predicted that climate change would become an issue in the 2012 campaign.

After that ray of hope, however, the silence from the White House and Obama-Biden campaign seemed deafening with the slightest of mentions of climate on the campaign's "environment" webpage (commenting that fuel efficiency measures will reduce carbon emissions and help address climate change) and week following week without campaign commentary or White House press conferences about climate change even as the nation burned (both with high temperatures and fires), faced record droughts, crop yields were being devastated, and ... The crickets were thriving amid the stunted corn stalks.

The Republican Party continues to play to its anti-science base with candidate Mitt Romney and those at the Republican National Convention seeing climate change to be a joking issue.

With Mitt's joking false pitting of economy vs the environment (when, to be clear, it is environment + economy), President Obama's prediction that climate change would become an issue in the 2012 campaign seems to be coming true.

Since then, in multiple campaign events, President Obama has made comments along these lines:

The decisions we make as a country on big issues like the economy and jobs and taxes and education and energy and war and climate change -- all these decisions will directly affect your life in very personal ways. And I've got to say, this is something I’m acutely aware of when I make these decisions, because they’re decisions that are going to affect Malia and Sasha, my daughters, as well.


Governor Romney wants to pass a new $5 trillion tax cut targeted towards the wealthiest Americans. That's not going to cut our debt. Ignoring inequality doesn't make it go away. Denying climate change won’t make it stop. These things won’t make for a brighter future. They won’t make your future stronger.

As Joe Romm put it so well in an analogy to Harry Potter, the President is speaking outloud the name that can't be said.

And, the President's lines in speeches are being echoed in campaign mailings. From an email in my inbox,

Here's something Mitt Romney actually joked about with pride -- and plenty of scorn -- while formally accepting the Republican nomination for president of the United States:

"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet."

And the crowd went wild.

It is nothing short of terrifying to imagine a party that openly mocks climate change taking back the White House.

It is "terrifying to imagine a [major political] party that openly mocks climate change" let alone dealing with the reality that global warming denial dominates one of America's two major parties and that this energetic anti-science attitude could occupy the Oval Office.

The campaign took the correct measure and moved from climate science to climate change mitigation, highlighting the difference between Obama-Biden and Mittens-LyinRyan when it comes to clean energy programs

The contrast between our candidate and theirs couldn't be any clearer.

President Obama has more than doubled the amount of electricity we get from wind and solar over his first term -- and his plans for wind power are expected to help grow the wind industry to support 100,000 jobs by 2016. Both Romney and Ryan want to kill the wind production tax credit, which could come at the expense of 37,000 American jobs. Oh, but they would keep giving $4 billion in tax breaks to Big Oil every single year.

And just this week, while President Obama's administration finalized historic fuel economy standards to double our vehicles' mileage by 2025 and cut carbon pollution from vehicles in half, the GOP adopted a platform that could kill investments in clean energy, and calls on Congress to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations.

Surprise, surprise -- according to the Los Angeles Times, the platform "was written at the direction of the Romney campaign," making it heavily influenced by Big Oil interests.

So there you have it -- the stakes for clean air, clean water, and clean energy jobs couldn't be higher.

While most Americans wouldn't, at this time, define the November choice in this way: this is truly an election about science -- climate science and what to do about climate change not least of these issues.

Climate change's emergence into the political dialogue in the past week suggests that the Obama-Biden campaign is waking up to how climate change -- and respect for science (and scientists) -- is not just an important policy arena but a winning political issue.

Note: An excellent, related discussion by Peter Sinclair, Is Obama Rolling Out a Climate Campaign?

As the reality of the arctic ice melt sinks in over coming weeks, and as extreme weather continues, Romney, and the GOP in general, may regret having made this a go-to soundbite in the campaign. There are rumors that Romney will begin trying to walk back the climate rhetoric, more on that later, but the party as a whole is way out on a limb.

The question is, will Obama take advantage of the increasingly obvious disconnect, and begin to make climate an issue?

(Important) NOTE: The difference on climate change when it comes to Party platforms is stark. Climate Change is not in the GOP platform. The term appears 18 times in the Democratic Party Platform with some strong language. See here for extracts and a quick look analysis.




Um, no.

Obama plans to sell it on "solar appeal" for that tiny portion of the population who are impressed that he's spending a little bit more on solar power while creating standards he won't have to enforce and keeping in place a fossil fuel economy that is destroying the planet's ecosystems.

And if you support him, maybe you can be a "green hero" somewhere between here and your ultimate destination as a servant in the luxury Arctic Ocean beachfront mansion of the estate of some rich banker who was once friends with Joe Biden.

Our Presidential selection is itself unimportant to the planet -- regardless of who is elected the President will be beholden to big business interests. What's important is the matter of whether or not the public will at some point see the Democratic Party charade for what it is. Maybe there will be enlightenment after Obama gets his "Grand Bargain" next term.

Sigh ...

Many things ...

1. This post is absolutely not whether Obama has or will do enough to avert climate chaos.

2. This post is, however, about whether the Obama-Biden team see climate change as a meaningful political issue.

I don't think that the selection is "unimportant" even if the choices, when it comes to climate change, might be described as "inadequate action" versus "no to counterproductive action".

And, well, the issue of larger political reform / need to keep grease in the ground / etc are further debates.

For years, we've been 'at odds' with my seeking to achieve something (anything, as much as possible, etc ...) 'within system' (whether that be 'Capitalism' or the current political structure) while you lay out cogently/coherently your reasoning as to why what is necessary cannot occur within the existing systems / power structures. I cannot say that I disagree with those arguments even as I strive to achieve what I can 'within the system'.

But we of course need to do both in parallel ...

BruceMcF's picture

... since while there's no opportunity to do enough under the status quo, there are opportunities to do something, and taking advantage of those opportunities builds up the potential business members for a progressive change coalition.

Being right in vain does no more good than accepting the maximum that is possible within the status quo.

Accepting that a change in the status quo is necessary then leads directly to accepting that getting policies in place which drive a wedge between supporters of climate catastrophe and others that would otherwise reflexively support the radical reactionaries are a good thing.

Not all activism is founded on a trauma ...

BruceMcF's picture

... so isn't it possible that not all activism goes through the stages of grief?

Indeed, couldn't refusing to use bargaining as a tactic when not in a position to make progress without it be equally well characterized as being in the acceptance stage regarding the collapse of human industrial society?

I don't buy the five stages of activism model. If all activism went through the five stages of grief to acceptance of the evil being fought and therefore abandonment of the cause being fought for, it would seem that the victories that were won by activists in the past would never have been won.

I hadn't read his previous post ...

BruceMcF's picture

... and without having read his previous post, your comment read like a sneering dismissal in lieu of engaging with his argument.

Having read his previous post, I don't know what to make of your comment. I can't make out on what basis you are claiming that A Siegel is in the delay the move toward solutions to climate change. Engaging the people in office today certainly isn't in the delay phase ~ the delay phase would rather be waiting until we have a majority adamantly in favor of making progress on climate change before getting started.

Perhaps ...

I would say that this is in the delay/bargaining because I see potential for moving forward without burning the entire economic structure down to get there. Perhaps simply a vain delay/bargaining hope or, well, perhaps that potential actually exists. And, if it turns out that I am wrong but have helped fostered cleaner energy systems, energy efficiency, and reduced our GHG (and other climate disruption contributors) in the process, this won't be 'failure' on my part.

Thus, perhaps "delay/bargaining" but I think with at least one eye at least partially open.

It depends on two things, however.

1) What is the opportunity cost of going for the more conciliatory to the system approach you advocate as opposed to the more radical approach which Cassiodorus advocates(and which I subscribe to? The support given to the incremental approach, if effective, would necessarily take away energy and support from those who reject the incremental approach.

2) What is the time frame in which we have to prevent the worst? If we actually do have time to try an incremental approach and then refactor after we've demonstrated to broad satisfaction that it is or is not working, then an incrementalist approach may make sense. But if one takes the view that the time may have already run out, and if it hasn't this is really the last shot (again this is my view and most likely Cassiodorus' as well), then any efforts that don't aim to reduce energy use altogether but merely make the methods of energy use "less evil" are also working in the wrong direction.

Furthering my position is a skepticism that capitalists can ever be trusted to do things for the common good. Even if we determined that we had time for a "last shot" at incrementalism and reform from within the system, why should we believe that the truth about whether or not that approach was failing would not be suffocated once again? We had our first warning in 1972. 40 years later, it was proven that business as usual with no slowdown at all was the result. And after all this, bullshit capitalist structures like Cap and Trade that merely allow for greenwashing are too far left to be politically feasible within the capitalist structure ruled by the two corporate parties.

Clean energy movements that don't first tackle the capitalist infrastructure, in my view, are unwitting accomplices of the enemies of humanity at best.