Gwynne Dyer: Will re-elected Barack Obama focus on climate change?

It’s hard to know how much impact New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s comments about climate change after Hurricane Sandy had on the U.S. election. It’s easy to overestimate that sort of thing, but President Barack Obama’s victory in several states was so razor-thin that Bloomberg’s last-minute intervention may have been decisive. What’s crystal-clear is that Obama himself didn’t want to talk about it during the campaign.

Poll

Do you think the U.S. will take significant action on global warming during Barack Obama's second term?

Yes 21%
25 votes
No 51%
60 votes
Maybe 28%
33 votes

Bloomberg, responding to the devastation he saw in New York City, laid it on the line. “Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not have been the result of it, the risk that it may be…should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

The New York mayor, a former Republican, did not hesitate to assign praise and blame: “Over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Mitt Romney, too, has a history of tackling climate change…He couldn’t have been more right. But since then, he has reversed course.”

He said this only five days before the election, in the immediate aftermath of a national calamity that may well have been climate-related. So did Obama pick up the ball and run with it? Certainly not. Apart from a one-liner about how climate change “threatens the future of our children” in a single speech, he remained stubbornly silent.

Rightly or wrongly, Obama and his team have been convinced for the past four years that talking about climate change is political suicide. Nor did he actually do all that much: higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles was his only major initiative.

And Mitt Romney, of course, said not a word about climate change: you cannot take this problem seriously and retain any credibility in today’s Republican Party. So was all the instant speculation about how Hurricane Sandy might finally awaken Americans to the dangers of climate change just wishful thinking? Not necessarily.

Obama faces a daunting array of problems as he begins his second term: avoiding the “fiscal cliff”, restraining Israel from attacking Iran, tackling the huge budget deficit, and getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. But the biggest problem facing every country is climate change, and he knows it. Otherwise, he would never have appointed a man like John Holdren to be his chief scientific adviser.

Holdren, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is one of the leading proponents of action on climate change. He is also savvy enough politically to understand why Obama couldn’t do much about it during his first term, and he didn’t flounce out in a rage when the president avoided that fight.

Obama rarely starts fights he cannot win, and it was clear from the day he took office in 2009 that he couldn’t get any climate-related legislation through Congress. That’s why his fuel-efficiency initiative was his only first-term accomplishment on this front: that did not require legislation, and was done as a regulatory initiative by the Environmental Protection Agency. To what extent has his re-election changed this equation?

Second-term U.S. presidents, who no longer have to worry about re-election, often act more boldly than they did in their first term. The U.S. economy is clearly in recovery mode, and Obama will (quite justly) get the credit for that. That will give him more leeway to act on other issues, and the environmental disasters of the past year may finally be pushing American public opinion towards a recognition that the threat of climate change is real.

There is not yet any opinion-polling data on that, but it wouldn’t be surprising. This year has seen meltdown in the Arctic, heatwaves that killed over 10 percent of the main grain crops in the United States, big changes in the jetstream (which may be responsible for the prolonged high-pressure zone that steered Hurricane Sandy into New York), and then the fury of the storm itself.

It has long been argued that what is needed to penetrate the American public’s resistance to the bad news of climate change is a major climate-related disaster that hurts people in the United States. Even if Sandy may not have been a direct consequence of global warming, it fills that bill. It may get the donkey’s attention at last.

There is no guarantee of that, and each year the risk grows that the average global temperature will eventually rise by over 2°C and topple into uncontrollable, runaway warming. Moreover, the Republicans still control the lower house of Congress. But hope springs eternal, and at last there is some.

The past two weeks have seen an unexpected and promising conjunction of events: a weather event that may shake the American public’s denial of climate change, and the re-election of a president who gets it and who is now politically free to act on his convictions. As Businessweek (a magazine owned by Michael Bloomberg) put it on last week’s cover: “It’s global warming, stupid.”

Comments (11) Add New Comment
Issac Chandler
"Apart from a one-liner about how climate change “threatens the future of our children” in a single speech, he remained stubbornly silent."

Money takes things like global warming off the table of political discourse.
Gwynne's usage of 'climate change' underscores the succes of big oil
over science. Corporations have chipped away at this for 20 years.

A Frontline PBS documentary 'Climate of Doubt' looks at their work:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/climate-of-doubt/

Some of the corporate tobacco whores work for the global warmers:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Singer#Second-hand_smoke

WTC whores are also working overtime:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9w7lVKVUmQ8
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Meme Mine
Explain this then:
*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.
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Meme Mine
NOT ONE, not one single IPCC warning of crisis isn't peppered with "maybes" and "could bes".
HELP MY HOUSE COULD BE ON FIRE MAYBE?
RU kidding?
And; "We could be at the point of no return...." they also say.
Exaggeration is obvious and REAL progressives are happy a crisis wasn't real.
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dru
My thing is, the climate IS changing. The only spot of contention is whether humans are inadvertently responsible. But whether the blame is our's or not--------we still need to take care of the planet we live on.
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peter aardvark
perhaps a few more years of texas droughts and increased hurricanes doing damage may convince them..
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Sean
American politics appears to be in for a long haul of gridlock. The Republicans have painted themselves into an ideological corner where their only option now is to obstruct, as much as possible, any Democratic intiatives. Although a shriking share of the political market, intolerance will continue to be a signifcant force in American politics into the forseeable future and the Republicans have given this force a comfortable petri dish in which to marinade. Progressive ideas, including dealing with climate change, will face endlessly uphill battles against intolerance and wilfull ignorance. But eventually, the tea-party base of Republican party will eventually die out...or will it. What will happen when the coasts are flooded, the harvests collapse, climate refugees begin to pour in, and tens of thousands die in extreme weather events? The nasty petri dish of intolerance may become America's "big tent" for all kinds of grievances affecting millions of Americans who out of sheer panic, join in to hopefully protect what they perceive to be their interests.
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P.Peto
It's too late to avert major climactic events now,the time for action was long ago and you are unlikely to ever see the world's "exceptional" nation , the US, to relieve the world's burden of anthropogenic induced global warming. Since human's are hopelessly addicted to the consumption of fossil fuels they are doomed to pay the consequences and will have to adapt to climate change. Chances are it will result in a economic,ecological and demographic collapse of the human global population and the problem will resolve itself in the long term as a result. This process has already begun but I suspect most people are praying or hoping to avoid the worst of it in their lifetime. In 100 years time,or in a mere 5 generations,the world will be much degraded, from a human perspective,than it is today. Everyone will suffer the consequences,except the very rich of course, in the meantime many will die sooner than otherwise . Homo Sapiens: wise man, indeed.
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KiDDAA Magazine
Im just glad Obama was elected. This was a guy who ended the war in Iraq, gave Americans health care and told Israel, we are not attacking Iran for not having or building nukes.
As for climate Hurricaine Katrina killed nearly the same amount as 9-11 but most of the victims were black. Racism of course but thats always around.
Obama is doing what he can, the real cheaters are China and India who continue to pollute the world like no tomorrow.
Climate change is a danger just look at these major floods and the Tsunami that killed more than a million a few years back in the indian ocean. KiDDAA gives props to visionaries like Obama but their system down south is still broken. KiDDAA intervied Far East Movement who like many Americans believe in Obama as post racial leader. www.kiddaa.com Georgia Straight thanks I dont have to read the Province and their bs.
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DW Rivait
@ KIDDAA...hows that Kool-Aid taste?....Im not fan of either party...but if you think the war in Iraq is "over" then youre not paying attention..the Yanks have built the worlds biggest military base there in the world...the type of installation that will ensure the Oil Raj as Eric Margolis might say.

The occupation will continue...leftist fools like Obama will kill off whats left of the Rust Belt and coal fired plants (which are modern and clean, its not 1850s London there) leaving America twisting in the wind with energy costs skyrocketing, and with a resultant death of their economy.
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scissorpaws
The answer is Not Near Enough. Once the house is on fire, to use that analogy in another comment, the game is done. The house is the earth, there is nowhere else to live for us oxygen sucking life forms. We thrive in a range of about -20 to +30 degrees C and even that range we couldn't manage without significant clothing, and within that range, many of us demand air conditioning and heat. We drop the oxygen content a couple percent and we'll start to die. What we have is a precious pool of conditions ideal for our existence that exists nowhere else. Remarkably few of us get that.
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FedUpWithTraitors
An idealist or a realist? Thats the question, America has to try to recover from what can only be called a treasonous theft of trillions of dollars from there nations economy. A nation (all nations actually) simply cannot ignore that oil is life blood, to not have the oil you need is to be backed into a corner. We all know how vicious trapped animals can be, now imagine animals with claws AND nuclear weapons...
Is it any suprise that the needs of today outweigh the future needs?
We all have our collective heads in the sand but the math is conclusive, Obama knows, Gwynne Dyer knows, Yes even YOU know. Dwindling resources and increasing world population is driving all of us into a corner that can only conclude in the most brutal world war of all time. We need to start thinking about our national interests above all other interest, anything less is treasonous
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