Is there anything more thrilling than two Democratic politicians duking it out? One guy opens with … punishing inaction! The other counters with … an unforgiving steel 7,000 word essay in Rolling Stone! If that’s your idea of fun, you’re in luck, because it’s Gore vs. Obama and you don’t even need Pay-Per-View.
Gore’s essay makes the case that Obama has completely failed to prioritize climate change in proportion to the threat it represents. Unlike George W. Bush, who at least defended the war in Iraq at every opportunity (even if his defenses didn’t always make any sense), Obama has yet to even step up to the pulpit when it comes to convincing the public that climate change is a clear and present danger to the United States and, indeed, all life on earth.
The truth is this: What we are doing is functionally insane. If we do not change this pattern, we will condemn our children and all future generations to struggle with ecological curses for several millennia to come.
Gore is sympathetic to the suite of problems Obama inherited, from the worst economy since the Great Depression to two hugely expensive foreign wars. Worst of all, he contends, is the fundamental breakdown of the systems by which our democracy evaluates the truth or falsity of scientific issues like climate change.
Continuing on our current course would be suicidal for global civilization. But the key question is: How do we drive home that fact in a democratic society when questions of truth have been converted into questions of power? […] We haven’t gone nuts — but the “conversation of democracy” has become so deeply dysfunctional that our ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired.
The way to cut the Gordian knot of America’s denial of the already-here climate crisis is for Obama to take up the issue as if the lives of all our children depended on it — because they do — says Gore.
Yet without presidential leadership that focuses intensely on making the public aware of the reality we face, nothing will change. The real power of any president, as Richard Neustadt wrote, is “the power to persuade.” Yet President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.
Gridlock on issues of utmost importance is nothing new in the U.S., concedes Gore, even if the internet and cable news seems to have rendered us more ignorant in direct proportion to our ability to selectively filter the information we consume. That’s why people who care about this issue simply cannot give up on the political system, he argues — because grassroots action and pressure from the base is the only way forward.
Next up: barbed wire cage match!