What Should Obama's Environmental Policy Platform Look Like For 2012?


photo: Joe Crimmings/Creative Commons

President Obama has just announced, to no one's surprise, that he will be running for a second term in office, with the campaign website says they'd like the start a conversation with supports to help "shape our path to victory" in 2012. So with the environment in the front of our minds, let's help kickstart that conversation. Here are some of my initial thoughts on energy and climate change messaging:Without Committing to Getting Off Fossil Fuels Entirely, We Won't
Last week Obama outlined his ideas on energy policy, like every president in recent memory centering it around getting the US off imported oil, touting natural gas, nuclear, renewables, and energy efficiency as the ways to do that. Not horrendous but not exactly ambitious nor straight talking.

Not once in his speech was it acknowledged that what's really needed is to transition off fossil fuels entirely and as quickly as possible, let alone even hinting that the problem isn't so much imported oil but oil in its entirety--and the very real fact that demand is expanding far more quickly than supply. See, you can mention peak oil without saying peak oil.

While it's probably not a good idea to require specific technologies to make than transition, beyond the requirement that they be renewable, without even committing to the idea that ditching fossil fuels is what should be done you all but guarantee that it won't be done.

Obviously that won't sit well with oil companies, coal companies, natural gas companies, but 1) this won't happen overnight or perhaps even in the next decade, so there's time to prepare and adapt and 2) it's time for more of a tough love approach here--there is far more at stake here than the corporate profits, suck it up Big Oil and Big Coal.

Set Higher Climate Change Targets, Knowing They'll Be Lowered
One of the biggest disappointments I've had with the President is leadership on climate change policy. It's like neither he nor climate hawks in Congress have ever had to haggle over the price of something in a bazaar. In case you're unfamiliar: The seller generally offers a price that is ridiculously too high (and knows it); you feign shock and maybe even threaten walking out, then offer and equally ludicrous price on the low side. This goes back and forth until some agreeable price is agreed upon which recognizes the value of the object in question.

If you apply that to climate policy, wanting to end up with a policy that is in line with the best scientific advice, you don't start by offering up something that is already less than halfway to that goal. Granted, even such pathetically modest offers were non-starters in the past couple of years. But if that's the case and passing domestic climate legislation is likely to be no less difficult in coming years, at least start with a proposal that is scientifically solid--not the laughably low 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, but perhaps 50-60% below 1990 levels by 2020. That way in the ensuing haggling you have at least a small chance of reaching a compromise that isn't a mockery of science.

Obviously there's more to environment policy than climate and energy. There's also agricultural policy (how about GMO labeling Barack?), transportation policy (more high-speed rail and walkable communities please!), and dealing with issues of social sustainability (historically high income inequality, the troubling issue of corporate personhood and some huge corporations paying little to no taxes while recording billion dollar profits, reviving domestic manufacturing, etc) all figure into my definition of the scope of environmentalism.

So what do TreeHugger readers think? What should Barack Obama focus on, environmentally-speaking, as he runs for a second shot at being president?

More on Barack Obama:
The 11 Green Milestones in Barack Obama's First Year as President
Barack Obama Faces Environmental Clean Up After Two Centuries of Bingeing: Bill McKibben

Tags: Barack Obama | Energy | Global Climate Change