Obama’s 2011 State of the Union


in Politics, Rants, The environment

While it did say a fair bit about cleaner forms of energy, climate change wasn’t mentioned at all in yesterday’s State of the Union address.

The absence of any reference was almost certainly politically driven, and based at least partly on an awareness of official Republican hostility to pretty much any government policy that would restrict greenhouse gas pollution. When people read this speech in retrospect – twenty or thirty years from now – perhaps they will reflect on how broken the politics of the time were, and how incapable they were of identifying and acting upon the biggest issue of the day. We are far too distracted by day-to-day and week-to-week blips; as a consequence, we are failing to properly recognize how we are making choices that will establish the conditions in which a huge number of future humans will live.

The segment on green energy does feature some specific proposals. Obama suggests that America could have one million electric vehicles deployed by 2015; he calls for 80% of American’s electricity to come from ‘clean’ sources (including natural gas) by 2035. While these objectives may be laudable, it would be a stretch to call them commitments. The last few years have amply demonstrated President Obama’s limited power, when it comes to determining what course the U.S. government will actually take.

We have to hope that a quick change will somehow take place in American politics and that climate change – this terrifically important fact about the world – ceases to be a hyper-partisan matter to which minimal real effort is devoted. How such a change could be accomplished, in a world where people seem to choose their facts to fit their ideologies, I cannot really say. I cannot help but thinking that my general optimism about humanity’s potential for making the transition to carbon neutrality in time might be excessive. Perhaps the real future we face is one filled with geoengineering, massive chaos, and suffering.

P.S. Kudos to the BBC, incidentally, for setting up a really excellent internet-embedded version of the speech. They have it divided by subject, and clicking at any point in the written transcript makes the quick-loading video jump to the section in question.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan January 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm

“Perhaps the real future we face is one filled with geoengineering, massive chaos, and suffering.”

I think it is unreasonable to believe that our thinly-veiled business aristocracy will maintain its liberal, “democratic” values very far into this sort of future. When political systems are faced with chaos, they tighten up – the dominance hierarchies become steeper and more crudely enforced. I think we’ll look back at climate change as the second crisis of democracy. So, we have a choice – either we get some politics, or we stand to lose the politics we think we have.

Milan January 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm

A more optimistic possibility is that – as the reality of climate change becomes manifest in the world – the people who argued we should do nothing will finally be discredited.

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