Tom Freidman: Obama Must Mobilize Country to Pass Senate Bill
If Obama wants the Senate to pass Waxman-Markey – preferably strengthened – then he needs to put the same effort into it that he has begun for health care. And you, the informed public, must get more involved.
The NYT reported lasted month, “Obama to Forge a Greater Role on Health Care“:
After months of insisting he would leave the details to Congress, President Obama has concluded that he must exert greater control over the health care debate and is preparing an intense push for legislation that will include speeches, town-hall-style meetings and much deeper engagement with lawmakers, senior White House officials say.
Terrific. Awesome. About time. That, however, is also what passing strong climate and clean energy legislation will take, as I’ve said many times. Tom Friedman argues in “Just Do It,” his recent column on House passing Waxman-Markey (despite its many flaws):
Now let’s get it passed in the Senate and make it law.
Why? Because, for all its flaws, this bill is the first comprehensive attempt by America to mitigate climate change by putting a price on carbon emissions. Rejecting this bill would have been read in the world as America voting against the reality and urgency of climate change and would have undermined clean energy initiatives everywhere.
… if this bill passes. Henceforth, every investment decision made in America – about how homes are built, products manufactured or electricity generated – will look for the least-cost low-carbon option. And weaving carbon emissions into every business decision will drive innovation and deployment of clean technologies to a whole new level and make energy efficiency much more affordable. That ain’t beanbag.
And he makes the central point that it will take a very hands-on Obama:
I also hope we will hear more from President Obama. Something feels very calculating in how he has approached this bill, as if he doesn’t quite want to get his hands dirty, as if he is ready to twist arms in private, but not so much that if the bill goes down he will get tarnished. That is no way to fight this war. He is going to have to mobilize the whole country to pressure the Senate – by educating Americans, with speech after speech, about the opportunities and necessities of a serious climate/energy bill. If he is not ready to risk failure by going all out, failure will be the most likely result.
I believe Obama does understand that he will be tarnished forever if this bill goes down.
Future historians will inevitably judge all 21st-century presidents on just two issues: global warming and the clean energy transition. If the world doesn’t stop catastrophic climate change – Hell and High Water – then all Presidents, indeed, all of us, will be seen as failures and rightfully so.
How else could future generations judge us if the U.S. and the world stay anywhere near our current emissions path, warm most of the inland United States 10 to 15°F by century’s end, with sea levels 3 to 7 feet higher, rising perhaps an inch or two a year, with the Southwest from Kansas to California a permanent Dust Bowl, and much of the ocean a hot, acidic dead zone – impacts that could be irreversible for 1,000 years if we don’t reverse emissions soon and sharply. This will require an unbroken – and indeed escalating – response by our political leadership throughout this century.
But so far we have only had “half an Obama” on this. Yes, he’s been pushing for the bill with Members mostly behind the scenes, sending his senior staff to do serious lobbying and arm twisting. He’s been giving great second-tier speeches – no prime time address yet – and focusing primarily, though not exclusively, on the clean energy message. Yes, he does talk about climate impacts, but he walked away from the biggest chance he had to elevate that issue to national prominence, when he didn’t join Holdren and Lubchenco for the rollout of the landmark 13-agency report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (see Lubchenco says, “This report is a game changer,” Holdren says it’s time to act “after many years of dithering and delay,” plus a new website with full report, summaries, charts, AND a slideshow).
What was the result of the Obama no-show?
As Tom Laskaway, a media and technology professional who blogs at Grist and elsewhere put it:
… a good chunk of congressmen and women are fundamentally unserious about addressing climate change.
And why shouldn’t they be? A good chunk of the media, of Americans, of everybody really (perhaps excepting Pacific Islanders) is fundamentally unserious about it. The Obama adminstration released a horrifying new climate change report yesterday and it had the impact on the newscycle of a wet noodle. Obama’s science team all but announced the world as we know it was scheduled to end by 2090. Shrug. The tree fell. Nobody heard it. Moving on.
The “wet noodle” comment made the Swift-boat smearer’s day at ClimateDepotted, but it isn’t an indictment of the report, as the deniers would have you believe. Quite the reverse, it is an indictment of the success of the deniers in spreading their disinformation, in convincing the media that this is a political story and not a scientific story, and in persuading progressives, including Obama’s senior advisers like David Axelrod, to to soft-pedal climate science. Hence, no Obama at what is probably the single most important climate science report the administration is going to release – certainly it is the most important report it will release before Congress makes its final votes on the climate legislation that will determine whether Obama and Axelrod are viewed historically as successes or utter failures.
Yes, some environmentalists and progressives think they have polling to support this “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the subject of climate science. They are dead wrong both tactically and strategically. Pollster Mark Mellman makes the best case for why they are wrong tactically – see Mark Mellman must read on climate messaging: “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action” – ecoAmerica “could hardly be more wrong.”
Also this is a dynamic messaging environment, so if our side downplays climate impacts, it essentially gives the deniers free reign to shape half of the debate, which they do with a vengeance, indeed with a disdain for both science and scientists – see “Why do deniers like Pielke shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather?“
“In short, a strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action,” as Mellman writes.
This leads to the key strategic point. Most of the public gets this – and in particular they understand things are going to get much worse on our current emissions path. That’s why it is so crucial we keep messaging on climate science and impacts, and keep warning people about what is to come.
It is always the best political strategy to tell the truth. It is especially important in the rare cases where that truth will become increasingly self-evident to the public.
And speaking of the public, Friedman ends his piece with this admonishment to all of us:
And then there is We the People. Attention all young Americans: your climate future is being decided right now in the cloakrooms of the Capitol, where the coal lobby holds huge sway. You want to make a difference? Then get out of Facebook and into somebody’s face. Get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon. That will get the Senate’s attention. Play hardball or don’t play at all.