Monday, January 28, 2013

Climate Change & The Second Term

Except for a brief and exceptionally tasty weekend diversion to The Spotted Pig for my sister's birthday celebration (and yes, we ate pig... don't make me link a photo), I spent the better part of my free time this week reading and rereading Obama's Second Inaugural while trying to keep up with the pundit reviews. I wrote last week directly after hearing it, that it was a great speech not destined for immortality. A lot of political commentators seem to have reached the same general conclusion. Jonathan Chait thought it was stridently progressive. Matt Yglesias described it as a "Strong Defense of Economic Liberalism." Timothy Egan argued that Obama's speech was an indication that modern liberalism was more in step with a reliable voter coalition than conservatism. Right wingers naturally did not give the speech much praise, but in many quarters offered grudging respect. Yuval Levin and Reihan Salam, both writing for the National Review, acknowledged the deep political inroads of Obama's liberalism reflected in the speech even as they decried that philosophy. Robert Costa tweeted as much, and in more dire terms, on the afternoon of Inauguration Day:
Consensus among my GOP sources: Obama is expertly repackaging old-school, tax-and-spend liberalism as the status quo, conservatism threatened
So called moderate conservative David Brooks was impressed and unimpressed at the same time, noting that Obama "came across as a prudent, nonpopulist progressive. Predictably Brooks then complained that neither Obama's party nor the Republicans shares his politics and what a sad fate for the nation that is. That his own views are nonsensical has not yet occurred to Brooks, although it certainly occurred to everyone who read his column the week before, which blamed the Democratic Party for radicalizing politics over the next four years in advance of their doing so and with no evidence but the fever dreams of Brooks' imagination. In response, Jonathan Chait tried to have Brooks committed. No luck.

What took most left-leaning Americans by surprise was the central place in the speech that Obama gave to fighting climate change. If there was one issue from the last four years that was characterized by hope without change, climate change was it. After the Second Inaugural, a lot of folks were wondering how seriously they should take Obama's word this time around, especially since Congress has no plans to pass any climate legislation.

But many environmentalists reacted favorably despite a gridlocked Congress because of the many steps Obama can take without Congressional approval. Andrew Revkin, New York Times dotearth writer, published this 9-point list for climate change progress for Men's Journal. (Some points, like transitioning away from coal use, seem more important than others, like reintroducing bison in Montana.) The NRDC has published its recommendation for Obama, using the EPA to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. (The flexibility built into this plan for utility companies has garnered a lot of interest.) Damien Carrington thinks the only way forward is with a major bilateral agreement on climate with China. The Economist, referencing a new important study, suggests targeting soot (or black carbon) since it has a much higher warming effect than previously thought, especially in the arctic. Its effects on Beijing are not so great either.

Long and short, a lot of people have a lot of ideas about climate change, and Obama can take real action without worrying too much about the next election (although he will be invested in the 2014 midterm outcomes).

But I would add a recommendation to the top of the climate change to-do list, one called for by Jon Carlson, a professor of law at the University of Iowa: creating an international framework for governing geoengineering. If Obama is to be the FDR of the 21st century, then this would be his Breton Woods.

More on that in coming weeks...

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