Can Osama Bin Laden's Death Lift the Climate of Fear?

Photo: Getty Images

The week has begun with a story that is sure to dominate headlines for weeks to come: Osama bin Laden has been killed. The world's most wanted man was shot dead after a military raid orchestrated by the Obama administration. Now, I recognize that this may not have a direct, immediate impact on the environment or sustainability issues, but it is no doubt a world-changing event. So I couldn't help but begin thinking about some of the ways that bin Laden's death may leave the world a greener place. Note that these are, of course, just some off-the-cuff thoughts and speculations, but here goes:

Obama's Re-Election Chances Just Got Better

How much better is still a matter for debate, but nothing comes in handier during election cycles than a slogan like "I defeated America's #1 enemy". So what does this matter for climate, energy, or green? He's been a fairly lousy, middle-of-the-road leader on such issues thus far; why would a second term change anything?

Because he's positioned for himself a pair of legacy projects -- building high speed rail and powering the majority of the nation with clean energy -- that he'd very much like to accomplish. Right now, digging into the trenches on either issue is less of a priority than getting reelected -- but if history is any guide, in a second term, expect to see a bit more gall from our compromise-happy president. We're still unlikely to see major climate legislation so as long as the Congressional majorities continue to oppose it. But consider that any conservative leader elected in the current political environment will likely disavow climate change altogether, shun clean energy incentives, and would almost certainly abandon high speed rail aspirations. Obama is the greener bet.

Getting Out Of Afghanistan

We will now be much more likely to remove our forces from Afghanistan sooner, as American support for the war will probably soon erode. Military operations are a drain on resources, and how reducing spending there can benefit environmental policy. So suffice it to say for now that in an ideal world, all that freed up cash could find more sustainable, productive outlets -- even if it was, say, cleantech R&D; aimed to increase the energy security in future operations.

A Change Of National Attitude?

For a decade now, the War on Terror has permeated the American subconscious. It has imbued us with much of the paranoia carried over from the Cold War and stirred new fears of the globalized world amongst our citizens. It had us view foreign policy from a defensive, fearful perspective -- it advanced a pernicious 'Us vs. Them' narrative that obscured progress and encouraged division. And for an entire generation -- the one graduating college to a nation bereft of opportunity -- it has been a defining trait of how the world works.

With any luck, the death of Osama bin Laden will help bring about a symbolic end to this era. Of course, we're not about to stop worrying about terrorism, or cease hearing politicians call to ramp up homeland security measures even further. There will be more violence, more adventuring for oil, and intervention in foreign affairs, as our involvement in Libya attests. But perhaps this milestone will lend some closure, some solace to this generation, and to Americans in general. Perhaps this is wishful thinking -- but if Americans dedicated the energies we've spent worrying about foreign invaders and terror on, say, solving the climate crisis, solar power would have grid parity right now. If the specter of the War on Terror can be lifted, perhaps some of the ideological divisions that are preventing meaningful change can be too.

More on Climate and Clean Energy
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Tags: Global Climate Change | Oil | Renewable Energy | United States


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