Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: what about that Obama climate change speech?

Friends tell me I can forget about whatever it was the Prez said last week. He's weak, a bumbler in thrall to oil and coal companies, won't risk anything … And he's certainly not to be trusted; he gives a good speech, then fails to deliver.

This is a picture that accords with too much of what I've seen. I worked to elect Obama in 2008 hoping that this guy was smart enough to rein in the US imperial impulse to rush into "dumb wars" (his words); instead he got snookered into extending the killing in Afghanistan to no purpose whatsoever and has gloried in the butch criminality of assassination and covert war. I was also looking for a return to government under legal restraint, an end to extra-legal detention justified by overhyped threats of terrorism. Didn't get that either and got the spooks dragneting all of us besides.

But when I read the people who have put their lives into communication about climate change, (like Joe Romm and David Roberts) I learn that they tend to think the program that Obama laid out to control carbon emissions and transition our economic system in a more sustainable direction is a good move in the right direction. What do I know?

Responding to global warming is hard for us. It means completely changing our civilization's assumption that resources are infinite and we can use them indiscriminately, not only without danger of running out, but also without destroying the planet's ability to absorb the alterations we are making to her balance. Oops -- can't do that. Used to be able to because we just weren't powerful enough to cause much damage, but our oversize brains have given us enough power to screw things up.

Like most people, I used to fear that that preserving a survivable balance on the planet meant reverting to a pre-technological standard of living. But that's not true. It means changes, but not necessarily deprivation. Heck, a clean sustainable society would almost certainly be a boon to most humans. The technological solutions to getting to a low carbon world either exist or are within reach. What doesn't exist is the political capacity to move our societies into that sustainable future.
One cause of our apparent immobility is that the changes that need to happen are themselves technical, not the stuff of mass understanding. In thousands of areas of human endeavor, we are going to have to organize lives and our work differently. Human beings don't do that sort of thing overnight. A tweak there and a regulatory shift here and pretty soon we''re walking a new path is more how it goes. That's more or less what the Prez is proposing in the "reducing" and "adapting" segments of his plan as enumerated in the graphic.

And guess what? The U.S. can't do this alone -- though anything we do matters a lot. We've gotten a disproportionate share of the goodies of a destructive global economic system. We can at least try to be responsible global citizens -- that's the misnamed "leading" section of the infographic. We aren't leading, but we have to be part of human parade.

Along the way, in a democratic state, large numbers of people have to be mobilized to make a change. Visible, terrible, wrongs are what get people moving. The people who benefit from those wrongs will usually hang on to them for dear life. The rest of us have to storm the barricades -- for the sake of our lives! The items in the "not included" section of the infographic are the current content of this struggle. They are the parts of the enormous puzzle of moving into a sustainable future that have won our attention. They matter vitally.

But these too are all just pieces of the enormous changes we must be living. Doing the boring stuff in the first two sections would help create the context for ending coal and oil dependency -- and for reassuring most of us that we'll still have hot water, plumbing, and our computers as we make the change.

So Obama didn't grasp the handful of stinging nettles that is Keystone, or offshore drilling, or mountaintop removal. People power can make him grasp more of them. Unexpectedly, he even asked us generate enough to give him cover for denying Keystone. But he laid out a program. Our job is to make him and his successors stay on that path -- and to never give up hope that human ingenuity can outrun human greed and destructiveness.

H/t to TckTckTck for the infographic.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- reminders of an inconvenient truth.

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