David Suzuki: U.S. president Barack Obama must show some climate leadership

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      The race to become leader of the world’s most powerful democracy often seemed disconnected from reality. During debates, the two main candidates stooped to insults, half-truths, and outright lies. The overall campaign included appallingly ignorant statements about women.

      But the most bewildering disconnect was over the greatest threat the world faces: global warming. Republican candidate Mitt Romney only mentioned it mockingly, and President Barack Obama brought it up in passing toward the end of the campaign and in one line during his acceptance speech.

      We should probably be happy that the candidate who at least acknowledged the seriousness of climate change won. Obama has had more to say since being elected to his second term. “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behaviour and carbon emissions, and as a consequence I think we have an obligation to future generations to do something about it,” he told reporters at a post-election news conference.

      He went on to list his accomplishments on climate during his first term: better fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, increased clean-energy production, and investment in “breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere.” But those were inadequate, given the scope of the problem.

      He should have done more. As investment strategist Jeremy Grantham recently wrote in Nature, “President Barack Obama missed the chance of a lifetime to get a climate bill passed, and his great environmental and energy scientists John Holdren and Steven Chu went missing in action.”

      Part of the problem is the increasingly dysfunctional nature of a polarized and paralyzed U.S. political system—including a Congress dominated by anti-environmental, anti-tax and often anti-government Republicans. Many of us—not just Americans—hope the president will show stronger leadership this time around. Unfortunately, his news conference statement sent mixed messages. Although he acknowledged that more should be done and promised to have “a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers and elected officials” about reducing carbon, he also said “if the message somehow is that we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anyone’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

      He went on to acknowledge the costs of climate-related natural disasters and mentioned the danger of climate change as “something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.”

      In trying to say the right thing without alienating the fossil fuel industry and other moneyed interests, he came across as confused. Even though it will be expensive and painful not to act, he’s not prepared to take the necessary steps if it will impede jobs and growth. But climate change is already costing the U.S., and the rest of the world—in money, human health and lives. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events, droughts, and floods is in line with what climate scientists have been predicting for decades—and evidence is mounting that what’s happening is more severe than predicted, and will get far worse still if we fail to act.

      Because our leaders—in Canada and the U.S.—have too long listened to fossil fuel interests and their denier minions rather than scientists, it will be more difficult than it might have been to reduce carbon emissions to the extent necessary to prevent runaway global warming (if it’s not too late already), and it may require more sacrifice than it would have had we acted sooner. But there are many ways to protect the health of the planet and the future of humanity without destroying economies.

      Conserving energy and thus saving money, reducing consumption of unnecessary products and packaging, and shifting to a clean-energy economy would likely hurt the bottom line of polluting industries, but would undoubtedly have positive effects for most of us. Many scientists and economists also say putting a price on carbon through carbon taxes and/or cap-and-trade is necessary. Rethinking the economy as a means and not an end in itself would also help.

      If America wants to retain its position as a global power, its president must listen to the people and show strong leadership at this turning point in human history.

      Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.


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      Nov 20, 2012 at 6:26pm

      Unlike in Canada the US Constitution & Political structure has Checks & Balances against anyone person imposing their agenda on the Country & it's people.

      The President cannot unilaterally decide to implement any Law, Policy and / or agenda without the approval of Both Houses and within the Law as Checked & Balanced by the Judicial Branch.

      It's known as the separation of powers so that no one President can become a Dictator like we have in Canada.

      Contrast that with the warped version of the Westminster (English/UK) System in Canada whereby any party with even a 1 seat majority can DICTATE ANY Policy & Law.

      In Canada today we have a Dictatorship until the next election (hopefully) with little effective separation of powers or adequate checks and balances.

      So no the President can not do much without the consent of both the House of Reps & the Senate in Order to pass Bills into Law.

      Climate change needs to be addressed by the People first and foremost holding Politicians & Industry to account.

      Juan Carlos

      Nov 20, 2012 at 8:28pm

      I saw David Suzuki racing around downtown in his gray Aston Martin Vantage (V8) roadster not long ago... where does that factor into it?

      Meme Mine

      Nov 21, 2012 at 8:25am

      Too late:
      *In all of the debates Obama hadn’t planned to mention climate change once.
      *Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses.
      *Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets run by corporations.
      *Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier.
      *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).
      Meanwhile, the entire world of SCIENCE, lazy copy and paste news editors and obedient journalists, had condemned our kids to the greenhouse gas ovens of an exaggerated "crisis" and had allowed bank-funded and corporate-run “CARBON TRADING STOCK MARKETS” to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just over 26 years of insane attempts at climate CONTROL.
      Climate Change Belief is another speed bump on the road to knowledge.

      Since the world of science has never say it "will" happen, only "could" happen and "might" happen, the consensus is that it won't happen.
      When science says the worst crisis imaginable "WILL" happen, only then will the believers return.

      Meme Mine

      Nov 21, 2012 at 8:29am

      Seriously, climate change WAS a CO2 death threat to billions of helpless children. It WAS not a feel good concern for trees and windmills. Someday soon there will be real legal consequences for this heartless fear mongering of climate change. You are all acting worse than neocons.

      Lee L.

      Nov 21, 2012 at 9:28am

      "the two main candidates stooped to insults, half-truths, and outright lies"

      Perhaps if the likes of Suzuki Foundation and the rest of the Deep Green cabal would also refrain from insults, half-truths and outright lies, a balanced, public analysis of the evidence supporting their shrill demands could be made.
      Maybe they could demand that James Hansen or Kevin Trenberth be sequestered with someone like Richard Lindzen until agreement on what the evidence actually says can be found. If that agreement cannot be found amongst those deeply competent in the field, what does that actually say about the strength of the underlying science?

      Suzuki will decidedly NOT advocate for that sort of thing, since it would tend to recognize the legitimacy of those who, rightly, remain unconvinced that the science is strong enough to justify monkeywrenching of the entire world's energy supply. People starve and humanitarian disaster happens from that too, Dave.


      Nov 21, 2012 at 5:08pm

      Still ridin' the hope train, eh Dave?

      Are you one of those people who thinks that there's some sort of meaningful dialogue happening here? Like, you - and other environmentalists - are actually communicating with Obama through articles, and letters, and actions, and he's talking back to you in soundbytes through the media? Like, he's not just 100% having his entire approach crafted by handlers and advisors in response to terabytes of poll and research data?

      Dave: he's not a leader.

      What we really need is for temperatures to go up a few and knock off a couple million innocent people. That will firm up that sense of urgency in <i>the public</i>. Then those animatronic Chuck-E-Cheese bots we call politicians will dance their dance, or be replaced. As you can see by the whackjobs that emerge from the woodwork like so many pine beetles every time human-caused global warming comes up, a nice big die-off is where we're heading. The best thing to do is head for high ground and let 'em drown, starve, and burn. Some lessons come the hard way.

      Michael Huesemann

      Nov 21, 2012 at 7:18pm

      The problem of climate change, as all other environmental problems, can be analyzed using the I=P*A*T equation, where I = environmental impact (such as climate change), P = human population, A = affluence or per-capita GDP, and T = technology factor, i.e., how polluting a particular technology is. Most of the discussion of climate change in the mass media, by politicians including the U.S. President, has focused on the T-factor, i.e., how bad the fossil fuel industry is (“we need to boycott them”) and the related fossil-fuel driven technologies (cars, airplanes, machinery, power plants, etc.). Although the problem of global warming has been created by technology, the proposed solution is more technology, although of a different kind: carbon-neutral energy generation such as wind, photovoltaics, etc. However, as was shown in the recent book, which incidentally was also endorsed by David Suzuki, “Technofix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment (www.technofix.org), it is highly unlikely that renewable energy can be generated without causing other negative environmental impacts, particularly if it has to be generated at the scale to replace fossil energy. Furthermore, the mass media and politicians almost never cover the two other contributing factors to climate change, rising affluence (i.e., economic growth, which is taboo to question) and rising human population size (which is also taboo to discuss). Regarding the latter, it is interesting to note that avoiding the birth of single child has a much greater effect on reducing CO2 emissions than environmentally conscious consumer behavior. For example, if a person were to switch to fuel efficient cars (from 20 mpg to 30 mpg), reduce the number of miles driven by one third, replace ten 75 Watt incandescent bulbs with 25 Watt energy efficient lights, replace the old refrigerator with an energy efficient model, and recycle all newspapers, magazines, glass, plastic, aluminum, and steel cans, life-time carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by only 486 tons, which is 20 times less than the CO2 emissions avoided by choosing to have one less child. Clearly, making a conscious choice to have fewer children is probably the most effective way for an individual to save the planet (for more analysis, see also Murtaugh and Schlax, “Reproduction and the Carbon Legacies of Individuals”, Global Environmental Change, Volume 19, pages 14-20, 2009). Therefore, unless human overpopulation and even immigration (from poor to rich countries where per capita carbon emissions are higher) is addressed, it will be difficult to make a dent in the predicted rate of global temperature increase. Unless politicians address the problems of continuing economic growth and population growth, climate disruptions are unlikely to be avoided.

      Jon Jermey

      Nov 21, 2012 at 10:19pm

      "The problem of climate change" can be analysed much more simply, Michael, by looking for empirical evidence that it's happening; but sadly for you and people like Sigh who gleefully look forward to its carrying off a 'couple of million people', that evidence is not forthcoming; nor is there even a single experiment that empirically verifies the assumed positive feedback that lies behind the whole AGW gallimaufry.

      Hopefully Obama at least is smart enough to see that.


      Nov 21, 2012 at 11:23pm

      But, Jon:

      Have you taken into consideration the empirical evidence that you're a silly little goose that's lost its pretty little goslings?