More truth-telling about Obama and climate policy from Bill McKibben


“[T]here were plenty of cynics who said Obama and his insiders were too closely tied to the fossil-fuel industry to take climate change seriously,” our friend Bill McKibben writes in the current issue of Rolling Stone. And “it’s looked more and more like they were right – that in our hope for action we were willing ourselves to overlook the black-and-white proof of how he really feels.” A must-read article that calls for pushing the President hard while working around his obvious limitations.

McKibben’s new article, “Obama and Climate Change: The Real Story“, is available online and appears in the current (December 19-January 2) issue of Rolling Stone. Bill writes:

If you want to understand how people will remember the Obama climate legacy, a few facts tell the tale: By the time Obama leaves office, the U.S. will pass Saudi Arabia as the planet’s biggest oil producer and Russia as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas combined. In the same years, even as we’ve begun to burn less coal at home, our coal exports have climbed to record highs. We are, despite slight declines in our domestic emissions, a global-warming machine: At the moment when physics tell us we should be jamming on the carbon brakes, America is revving the engine. …

This, in response to those who always point to the same few items in contending the President has taken challenging steps:

In his first term, Obama used the stimulus money to promote green technology, and he won agreement from Detroit for higher automobile mileage standards; in his second term, he’s fighting for EPA regulations on new coal-fired power plants. These steps are important – and they also illustrate the kind of fights the Obama administration has been willing to take on: ones where the other side is weak. The increased mileage standards came at a moment when D.C. owned Detroit – they were essentially a condition of the auto bailouts. And the battle against new coal-fired power plants was really fought and won by environmentalists. Over the past few years, the Sierra Club and a passel of local groups managed to beat back plans for more than 100 new power plants. The new EPA rules – an architecture designed in part by the Natural Resources Defense Council – will ratify the rout and drive a stake through the heart of new coal. But it’s also a mopping-up action.

Obama loyalists argue that these are as much as you could expect from a president saddled with the worst Congress in living memory. But that didn’t mean that the president had to make the problem worse, which he’s done with stunning regularity. …

Read the indictment for yourself.

Putting the current state of the relationship between Obama and the climate action movement in perspective, with pained expression:

The reason for fighting Keystone all along was not just to block further expansion of the tar sands – though that’s required, given the amount of carbon contained in that expanse of Alberta. We also hoped that doing the right thing would jump-start Washington in the direction of real climate action. Instead, the effort necessary to hold off this one pipeline has kept environmentalists distracted as Obama has opened the Arctic and sold off the Powder River Basin, as he’s fracked and drilled. It kept us quiet as both he and Mitt Romney spent the whole 2012 campaign studiously ignoring climate change.

We’re supposed to be thrilled when Obama says something, anything, about global warming – he gave a fine speech this past June. … Inspiring stuff, but then in October, when activists pressed him about Keystone at a Boston gathering, he said, “We had the climate-change rally back in the summer.” Oh.

McKibben and the movement he’s done much creative work to develop and represent exemplify the need for widespread grassroots action across a broad political front, both to fight battles at the state and local level and to bring that pressure from below to bear on the dismal political swamp we here in the nation’s capital live with every day. Thus:

Which doesn’t mean anyone’s given up – the president’s inaction has actually helped to spur a real movement. Mostly … people are working around the administration, and with increasing success. Obama’s plan to auction Powder River Basin coal has so far failed – there aren’t any bidders, in large part because citizens in Washington state and Oregon have fought the proposed ports that would make it cheap to ship all that coal to Asia. Obama has backed fracking to the hilt – but in state after state, voters have begun to limit and restrict the technology. Environmentalists are also taking the fight directly to Big Oil: In October, an Oxford University study said that the year-old fight for divestment from stock in fos­sil-fuel companies is the fastest-growing corporate campaign in history.

None of that cures the sting of Obama’s policies nor takes away the need to push him hard. …

A few earlier posts:

McKibben on Keystone XL, the Obama problem, and fossil fuel divestment

Still drunk on oil: Obama’s speech in Cushing (March 3, 2012)

What would liberals be saying if President Bush – or hypothetically, a President McCain – had given the speech President Obama gave in Cushing, Oklahoma, on March 22?  “We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some. We are drilling all over the place – right now.”  And of course, not a word about climate change in talking about why we might not want to expedite tar sands production with the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Obama and Harper — Modes of Support for Fossil Fuel Development”

[D]espite the numerous constructive action items in Obama’s Climate Action Plan, there appears to be a contradiction at the heart of Obama’s policy, as indicated by the administration’s adoption of what they call an ‘all of the above’ approach to energy development. …

There are sIgns that the administration may be allowing political pressure from the natural gas industry to compromise investigations by the Environmental Protection Agency into fracking contamination incidents. The EPA has pulled back from several high-profile investigations in a manner that raises questions about whether this indicates a pattern of failure to act on scientific evidence. …

Climate Science Watch comments to the State Dept on the Keystone XL pipeline Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

There are multiple reasons to reject the Draft SEIS as inadequate and misleading and to oppose granting a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Most urgently, there is an overriding ‘national interest’ in forestalling the development of a major new fossil fuel source that will exacerbate global climatic disruption and undermine the transformation of the energy system to decarbonized sources. …

A policy with scientific integrity and commensurate with the magnitude and urgency of the problem of global climate disruption would call for leaving the tar sands in the ground. If the tar sands can find a way to the market, they will be fully developed. If we can’t say no to this, where will we draw the line? …

Jim Hansen arrest at White House tar sands pipeline protest: “We had a dream” (September 2011, video)

Keystone XL tar sands pipeline demonstrators surround White House – pipeline permit decision blocked until 2013 (November 2011, video)

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1 Response to More truth-telling about Obama and climate policy from Bill McKibben

  1. To Climate Science Watch,
    I have 4 articles that you need to see if you choose. We have a huge problem in the Gulf of Mexico. People are dying, animals are dying and it is catastrophic:
    I would like to send you the links:
    1. we are headed into a dangerous era on the planet

    2. Peter in Cedar Key is very sick this happened because he was spayed with CORE EXIT and Orwellian term if I heard one.

    3. I=Our Ecosystem is in crisis they sprayed this garbage to sink 7.2 millon Barrels of oil with a very caustic substance the woman in this article has been fishing in the Keys, up and down the coast of the Gulf this is goin on: Our fishing is gone and what is left is in Peril.

    Thanks for your time and attention,
    Trisha Springstead RN, MS

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