Category Archives: United States

What Obama said to Key?

President Obama upped the ante on the climate debate in his recent graduation address at University of California, Irvine on 14th June. This follows on from his move to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants through EPA regulation rather than legislative action.

A cynic might point out Obama has started talking tough on climate now the polls are starting to tell him it is safe to do so. In spite of a concerted campaign to discredit the science run by right-wing lobby groups and the fossil fuel industry, Americans who are living through some particularly torrid weather of late, are beginning to realise what they are experiencing is not normal. Scientists are confirming these events are likely driven by a changing climate and this (or worse) is the new normal.

Key quotes from the  President’s speech were:

Climate change is a real and present danger.

  • Climate change is one of the most significant challenges that our planet faces.
  • The overwhelming judgement of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest.
  • Climate change is no longer a distant threat, but has moved firmly into the present.

Those who oppose action are out of touch and use short-term political considerations to stymie needed action.

  • Part of what’s unique about climate change, is the nature of some of the opposition to action. It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist.
  • Today’s Congress is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change.
  • There are some who also duck the question because if they admit it, they will be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot.
  • The climate change deniers suggest there’s still a debate over the science.  There is not.  The talking heads on cable news suggest public opinion is hopelessly deadlocked.  It is not.  Seven in ten Americans say global warming is a serious problem.  Seven in ten say the federal government should limit pollution from our power plants.  And of all the issues in a recent poll asking Americans where we think we can make a difference, protecting the environment came out on top.
  • These days, unfortunately, nothing is happening.  Even minor energy efficiency bills are killed on the Senate floor.  And the reason is because people are thinking about politics instead of thinking about what’s good for the next generation.
  • What’s the point of public office if you’re not going to use your power to help solve problems?

This is a moral issue.

  • For if we fail to protect the world we leave not just to my children, but to your children and your children’s children, we will fail one of our primary reasons for being on this world in the first place.  And that is to leave the world a little bit better for the next generation.

The appropriate response to the challenge is to mobilise, stand up to the deniers, divest from the polluters and put this issue firmly on the political agenda to build a low-carbon, clean energy economy.

  • I want to tell you all this not to discourage you.  I’m telling you all this because I want to light a fire under you.  As the generation getting short-changed by inaction on this issue, I want all of you to understand you cannot accept that this is the way it has to be.
  • We’ve got to do more.  What we’re doing is not enough.
  • If you believe, like I do, that something has to be done on this, then you’re going to have to speak out. You’ve got to push back against the misinformation, and speak out for facts.
  • You need to invest in what helps, and divest from what harms.
  • A low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine for growth and jobs for decades to come, and I want America to build that engine.
  • You’ve got to remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that doing something about climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.

It is interesting to note that climate change was among the issues discussed by John Key and President Obama at this weekend’s audience. The track record of our minority National government puts it firmly in the problem rather than solution category regarding climate change and I’m not surprised there was still plenty of time left over to talk about golf.

The Two States of the Union

The quagmire of U.S. politics has produced a lame duck President who can’t progress policies for which he has a clear democratic mandate. This impasse boils down to fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans that seem beyond resolution. Drawing on psychological and political research Chris Mooney has discussed this issue in various forums where he argues that core values (e.g. political, ideological, religious) set up a particular framework  in the brain that is virtually impervious to facts, logic, and reason. On this basis, consensus is impossible because the two camps can’t recognise what is really going on.

This disjunct is clearly apparent in a recent survey of opinions regarding what should be the top priorities for the U.S. government. While there is a strong bi-partisan consensus that it’s the economy, stupid, there is a clear disconnect between parties as to which areas are most important and should be tackled.

These priorities generally support left-right stereotypes, with Democrats looking to Government for solutions to social problems and the Republicans more concerned about the troops, terrorism and taxes. The biggest gaps between the parties, the environment, distribution of income & wealth and poverty & homelessness are so wide that it seems unlikely there can ever be any political consensus on these issues. On this basis it is reasonable to conclude that it is unlikely that Republicans will ever advance these matters and if they are ever to be addressed, Democrat majorities in the Senate and Congress will be required.