Obama’s third book

2021-03-22

in Books and literature, Politics, The environment

Having just finished Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, I appreciated the chance to get his perspective on the years of his first administration. Perhaps the most consistent substantive point that struck me is the difficult and ambiguous balance between pressing a decision maker to go further on an issue like climate change and hampering that person by fracturing their support or rejecting the best available compromise. As Obama himself points out several times, it isn’t a question with a single straightforward answer. He both expresses his frustration with people who sapped support for his best efforts by demanding more and acknowledged that the science of climate change demanded more than he was able to do. He certainly provides a great deal of insight into the practical and political constraints, including the major barriers that climate change has been of lower priority to almost everybody than more immediate and practical issues like economic performance, and the difficulty in getting people to see effort and resources expended to avoid a bad outcome when compared with efforts to achieve short-term and immediate purposes.

The book documents with dismay the breakdown between verifiable facts and both public opinion and political reporting, without suggesting much about what could be done about it. Ominously, he quotes Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh saying: “In uncertain times, Mr. President, the call of religious and ethnic solidarity can be intoxicating. And it’s not so hard for politicians to exploit that, in India or anywhere else.” In a century where our destabilized climate is sure to produce more and more instability, we need to find a way to cooperate and take the long view.

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