Barack Obama said more about climate change in his inauguration speech—and expressed it more forcefully—than he did at any point in the 2012 election campaign and during much of his first term [...] He made a carefully calibrated appeal to Republicans, situating a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy in a religious and conservative framework of God and constitution.
The Earth and its many forms of life were thrilled to hear the American president mark his second inauguration with a long overdue promise to save the planet from human ruination. Since the Frankenstorm made it okay for centrist Democrats (and a handful of moderate Republicans) to acknowledge that global warming may deliver even more than easy punchlines for Mitt Romney, there was Hope that second-term Obama might get serious about our predicament. And he did, even if he still felt compelled to bring up the Republicans' favorite superheroes, God and the Founding Fathers. (How would George Washington and Jesus fight climate change, anyway? With a huge manly gun.)
The surprise was that Obama went beyond vague calls to "address climate change" and spoke specifically about the need to "preserve our planet." It has become a sad part of mainstream Democratic politics that talking about actual environmentalism—saving species, protecting wilderness, keeping our air and water clean—has become too radical for a president. That's the kind of crazy talk best left to Richard Nixon, who oversaw and approved the creation of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.
One of the most pathetic parts of Obama's first term was the squeamishness shown by the administration after the Solyndra bankruptcy. The energy company got a bunch of government money and tax credits, like all energy companies always get in America. And then it collapsed. If Solyndra was based in Texas and got its energy by drilling in the ground, it would be completely patriotic for the company to fail (and also for it to deal directly with Arab terrorists as business partners). But the company was based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the energy it harvested was sustainable, and this combined liberal evil caused the Obama Administration to shy away from climate change action for the entire first term. (Overall, the "green stimulus" was successful and effective.)
Now that Obama is a bold liberal (centrist) president, what will his environmental action plan look like? Here's what he promised yesterday:
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
God, founding fathers, etc. But also, specific talk about forests, mountains, rivers, "national treasure." What kind of policy comes from this, and how much can he do without House approval?
Along with the generally worthwhile Green Stimulus, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is now being credited with shaping a public lands policy for renewable energy that provides some environmental protection for public lands. Salazar did not come up with this himself, of course. Salazar, a Colorado rancher, is such a terrible excuse for an environmentalist that he threatened legal action against the Bush Administration to keep the endangered black-tailed prairie dog off the endangered species list. He initially followed the second-term Bush Junior policy of letting fly-by-night energy companies claim untouched Southwestern wilderness for their bulldozed miles-wide solar and wind factories. But thanks to intense pressure from environmental organizations, he leaves office with a plan in place to put these intensive-use facilities on public lands closer to the infrastructure of roads and transmission lines, and of comparatively less conservation value than pristine endangered species habitat. (It's still the same basic "capitalism" of energy companies using government tax breaks to build for-profit power plants from on government land, just like the oil and natural gas drillers have done for ages.)
A secretary of the Interior Department who has an interest in environmentalism would be a good start to Obama's second term. Raúl Grijalva, the Arizona congressman, is the best of the names being thrown around right now. The choice of Grijalva would also continue the Obama Administration's amusing habit of picking liberal cabinet members from a state run by comically deranged right-wing villains.
For the Environmental Protection Agency, it would be a "green move" to acknowledge the catastrophe of fracking instead of killing scientific papers that outline the dangers. Both the EPA and the Department of Energy will be getting new leadership; neither Lisa Jackson nor Stephen Chu were particularly green. The Keystone XL pipeline, a terrible project that would encourage the use of the absolute filthiest form of energy we have on Earth, should be stopped (again) and thrown in the compost heap.
Whatever the White House does or doesn't do between now and January of 2017, the droughts and wildfires and crazy storms and crushing heat and vanishing of species will continue. The actions taken now won't make an immediate difference, but the continued weather horror will likely keep people behind these policies even if they don't make a difference in the short term.
Photo by USFWS.