Obama May Not Act On Global Warming, But We Sure Can.
Climate hawks were shouting victory across the broad expanse of the Blog O’Shpere this week after president Barack Obama used his second inauguration speech to address our growing global climate crisis, “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. Failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Bold words, if it were still the 1980′s.
Since the mid 50′s, scientists have foreseen that the burning of billions of tons of fossil fuels each year would begin to alter the makeup of Earth’s atmosphere. They knew that excess carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen oxide would trap additional solar energy, eventually causing warmer climates, destructive storms, extended droughts, wildfires, desertification, melting polar ice caps, and rising sea levels. We needed to hear a president issue these kinds of warnings a generation ago. That would have been real leadership.
During Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, no corporate money was allowed to pay for the events and festivities surrounding the occasion. Hope was alive. This time around, oil leviathan Exxon/Mobile chipped in $250,000.00 to help cover the tab. Despite numerous petitions and the pleading of nonprofits, Obama still has not fulfilled his largely symbolic promise of returning solar panels to the roof of the White House that have been notedly absent since the Reagan administration. And most telling of all, Obama has refused to halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that climate change champion Bill McKibben deemed, “the fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet.”
Obama isn’t alone in his inability to do the right thing on Keystone. Former president Bill Clinton voiced his support for the pipeline, urging Americans to “embrace” the controversial project. Leave it to Bill. Just this week Nebraska governor Dave Heineman sent notice to potential pipeline profiteer Secretary of State Hilary Clinton that he has approved the project’s route through the cornhusker state. Keystone contractor TransCanada’s CEO Russ Girling’s response was pathologically dissonant, “The project’s need grows stronger as North American oil production increases…it remains in America’s national interests to approve a pipeline that will have a minimal impact on the environment.”
With the sheer volume of cash and influence the fossil fuel lobby has at their disposal, it’s difficult to take Obama’s climate remarks seriously. In his first term, Obama did enact new vehicle fuel efficiency standards, but failed to enact any legislation to cap carbon emissions. The amount of money controlling congress will not allow our elected representatives to chart the correct course that environmentalists like McKibben have demanded. The public may have finally woken up on global warming, but the the political climate in Washington, DC remains unchanged.
Really though, did we expect the oil companies to tolerate any threat to their status quo? It should surprise nobody that 8 of the 10 most profitable companies on the planet drill for oil or strip-mine coal. When every person on Earth is your customer, you’ll never be at a loss for profits. And with the human population increasing by 125,000 people each month in the United States alone, demand for the oil cartel’s polluting product will only keep soaring.
We have to do something different. We cannot wait for politicians making vague gestures when we know how much money is propping them up. Elected leaders are never going to solve our climate crisis for us. Changes to infrastructure and investments in public transportation can make a small dent in the problem, but beyond that, we’re going to have to radically alter the way we live our daily lives.
The list of excuses I’ve heard from people who expect government or the free market to solve the climate crisis is limitless. I have to drive, I live 45 minutes from my job. It’s too expensive to live in the city close to public transportation. That’s nice you like riding your bike around, but I have a family to care for. And on and on. America was once know as a nation of ingenuity and creativity. Now we seem locked into a narrow vision of corporately defined existence.
The excuses need to stop. When somebody tells you they drive dozens of miles to their job, as though this were a normal, acceptable way to live, their line of reasoning needs to be challenged. It makes no sense. There is no reason anyone should be trapped in a car for hours a day just to get to the building where they work. Negative social reinforcement may not win you any friends at first, but it is often a necessary first step in helping people recognize their bad ecological behavior.
And yes, you can afford to live close to your downtown office blocks from the nearest passenger rail platform. It can be done. With the money you’ll save on gas alone you could afford the difference in rent or home payments between suburban and urban dwellings. You might even go all out and start living totally car-free, saving upwards of $10,000.00 per year for each vehicle not driven.
And yes, you can ride your bicycle, especially if you have children. Kids love riding bikes, and you can have far more fun going to the grocery store when it becomes an active family occasion instead of the common hassle of searching for a parking spot for the family mini-van.
How much impact does living car-free have? Each gallon of gasoline burned produces about 20 pounds of CO2, adding up to between 5 to 10 tons per vehicle each year. That’s about half of your total carbon footprint right there. Imagine the drastic reduction in our fossil fuel dependency if even 20% of Americans started riding their bike to work each day instead of driving. This would be a reduction of hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gasses in just the first year. This would be significant, practical action to combat climate change.
It’s time to take some personal responsibility. It’s time to stop expecting politicians married to their big oil backers to ever do the right thing on a national level. If the recent super-storms and mega-fires around the globe won’t incite radical change in our politics, then they certainly must provoke the public to start living like we give a damn.
See you in the streets.