The Realities of President Obama’s Climate Change Initiative
Climate change is oft misconstrued in the world’s approach to sustainable living. Indeed US President Barack Obama’s climate change plan is a well-accepted national environmental call-to-action that has not been so strongly and clearly presented to the populace of any country in history. Essentially, the President is saying, we have to act, we have to act now, and we can no longer tolerate the “climate change deniers’” attempts to politicize this vital issue and bog down any corrective action in red tape and haranguing in favor of special interests.
His climate change action plan – presented in a speech at Georgetown University on June 25 – basically calls on US business, legislators and consumers to do three things: 1) Reduce use of energy from high-carbon pollution sources such as coal (the world’s number one electricity source); 2) transition to cleaner sources of energy such as natural gas, wind and solar; and 3) waste less energy by more responsible energy usage through our economy.
Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way
“If Congress won’t act, I will,” President Obama committed in a way that came across as sincere as it was firm. You have to applaud this level of commitment. It was much in the vein of Ted Turner’s “Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way” pioneering approach to cable television.
This level of spiritual leadership is needed and can provide motivation for a nation which is the world’s most aggressive user of Earth’s resources. If we look closely, we can see what President Obama is doing… it is for all the right reasons. But at the same time, if we are not careful, it will preclude the essential understanding of the true essence of life around the world and the myriad roots of our living practices.
Force of Nature… Not Man-Made
Climate change is a force of nature. It is not man made. Earth has gone through millions of years of climate change: ice ages, droughts, land conversions, floods, deep freezes and so many other transformations that have decimated species as well as given rise to them. Climate has also been totally transformed in drastic measure due to asteroid collisions, volcanic activity and other Earth-altering, life-decimating events. The current human species, Homo sapiens, is not going to stop climate change, but we have had to learn to adapt to it over our last 30,000 years of existence.
There is no denying human activity has had an impact on our global climate, although scientists cannot agree on what degree. We just don’t know. We can’t know exactly. But one of President Obama’s more astute points is this: Even with people doing their part to help reduce their impact on climate change, the planet will slowly keep warming for some time to come and we will have to learn ways to best adapt. Not only is human adaptation absolute fact, but it is just plain common sense.
There is a strong notion in Obama’s climate change initiative that the world looks to America to lead the world in its “fight” against global climate change. On one hand, that is true because America is the world’s largest consumer of the world’s resources (including energy) and naturally would have to take the lead in reversing that over-powering statistic. With about 4.5% of the world’s total population, the US consumes about 30% of the world’s resources including 23% of the world’s total coal consumption – the most polluting source of electricity. If we can cut that in half, the US would clearly take the lead… but the US also has the furthest to go.
Climate Change is a World Issue
On the other hand, climate change is a world issue. The concept or belief that the US is going to lead the world in addressing the major economic, technological, social and political issues giving rise to humans’ life choices is a bit arrogant. But more to the point, it misconstrues the values of a system that must foster equal participation, enthusiasm and accountability of all nations. Indeed, nations like the US have more work to do than others, but we can all accomplish it together much more effectively than we can with the United States trying to set the tone by itself.
The premise behind President Obama’s climate change initiative can have one brilliant effect because it brings important attention to a reality at the heart of the existence of humankind: sustainability. Climate change is about environmental consciousness; sustainability has everything to do with the fundamentals of living, the ecology of existence.
The Human Condition
Population, agriculture and food production, human productivity, human health, employment, potable water supplies – the human condition – are all essential elements of sustainable living. Climate change is but one of many sustainability matters. If there is an expectation of success for President Obama’s climate change initiative, which calls on all citizens to “do their part” to combat climate change, then we have to address the entire body of sustainability and understand that this is not a simple call to action.
People have many issues that make climate change a distant concern if a concern at all. Many citizens face challenges to provide for their children and families due to poverty, dismal economies, the unavailability of healthy foods and potable water, health and myriad other issues. No one can expect our global population to respond to such an incredible call to action that would seek donations, purchase of hybrid vehicles and the development of energy efficient housing when such a great part of the human population is under such duress.
Yet, President Obama invokes the simple wisdom of this process by recognizing that a sound environment equals a strong economy… a strong economy that can only be achieved by addressing the core and essential needs of its citizens.
President Obama is in the role of responsible citizen. He is bringing attention to something that has been caught up in politics and big business and naysayers ever since Rachel Carson showed the world that industry was having an adverse impact on the natural environment. His plan does not have answers… it can’t. It should be seen as one small step in the right direction of awareness and action, but needs to take into consideration a much broader set of issues and values that will bring about the solutions we seek.
Earth will continue to change, its climate will continue to evolve, and humans will always have to adapt to Earth’s continuing climate changes. The story will be this: How well will humans be able to adapt to change and achieve sustainability? The American president understands we need to act responsibly. This is what he wants. It is up to the entire world to come together as one to make it happen, realizing it is not going to happen overnight or even over many years.
As the President so aptly stated, “The challenge we must accept will not reward us with a clear moment of victory.” But we will get there with a clear understanding of our real objectives and what we can do.