Is Obama Serious About Breaking Our Catastrophic Oil Addiction?
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Not only that, but the challenge he faces is so much tougher. The Apollo mission was technically complex, but in a sense the very opposite of our energy challenge: a moon shot meant focusing all our energy on three guys and a rocket, while an energy revolution would mean, in essence, landing all of us on a different planet, one where we no longer need the fossil fuels that are currently the engine for our economy. So, advantage Kennedy. In addition, no organized interest was fighting the space shot -- if anything, big corporations were lining up for a piece of the action.
Still, as Andy Revkin recently pointed out in the New York Times, there is “every reason to think a contemporary president could articulate how this remarkable juncture in human history, as infinite aspirations butt up against planetary limits, can be met with a grand, sustained effort.”
Especially because Kennedy was taking a flier, there was no one demanding he go to the moon, and no real penalty for not even trying. (Lots of people thought we could have spent the money better close to home.) Obama, however, has no choice. The planet’s future (and his legacy) will, in the long run, be defined by his response to global warming, which is clearly the greatest problem humans have ever faced.
Forget the Cold War. Last week, new satellite data showed that this summer’s melt of the Arctic is already ahead of 2007’s record pace. We’re in the middle of a Heat War, and we’re losing badly. Globally, we’ve just come through the warmest winter on record, and it seems all but certain that 2010 will set a new record for the hottest calendar year. Every week we seem to see record deluges somewhere: May began with crazy flooding in Nashville and ended with inundation in Guatemala. Last week saw the warmest temperatures ever recorded in Asia and Southeast Asia.
So far, Obama’s barely broken a sweat on climate change: a few paragraphs in a few speeches. Now, the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf offers him the best chance he’s ever going to get to go to work. The president could stand on the Louisiana shore and say: “Bad as this is, it’s only a small and visible symbol of the greater damage we do each day simply by burning coal and gas and oil. If that black gunk now washing up here had ended up safely in the gas tanks of our cars, it would nonetheless have done great damage. It’s all dirty, every last drop and lump.”
The president already has the podium he needs to start turning history, which means more than merely pushing for the climate and energy bill introduced last month by senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman -- a prime example of baby-step politics. As with his health care bill, on energy matters, too, the administration and its envoys sought out in advance the industries most likely to raise a fuss and cut the deals those cartels wanted. Just as big pharma knew it wouldn’t face negotiated drug prices, so big oil and big electricity have been assured that there will be no serious opposition to their business model.
The bottom line: if you neglect all the offsets and loopholes, we’re aiming for a 4% reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. Make your blood stir? Obama’s not proposing real solutions to real problems; he’s ticking off items on a list. He got a health care bill, and just maybe he’ll get an energy bill(though that’s an increasingly slim "maybe"). But we don’t need the bill, we need the thing.