So, it turns out that Barack Obama is running for president in 2012. Who'd have thought? His camp made the announcement today, and released this video about how supporters from his 2008 campaign still really like him and why you should too. Some of the volunteers mention the fact that not everything has gone entirely according to plan -- but for green voters, this is especially true. Many of us were impressed by his campaign trail dedication to fighting climate change and boosting clean energy. The climate bill has since been abandoned, however, and Obama seems publicly unconcerned with what's probably the most pressing issue of our time. So what are we to make of his reelection bid? After all, the environment is one of the areas where he's disappointed most deeply -- along with failing to close Guantanamo, the failure to make any meaningful progress towards addressing the climate issue is among the most glaring on his record.
But the disappointments don't stop there -- he also opened up vast expanses of US waters to offshore drilling (right before the BP spill to boot), is still steadfast in support for funding nuclear power, doesn't really have a problem with fracking, and keeps alluding to coal's long term future. Most recently, he authorized the leasing of more federal lands for coal mining. Generally speaking, his vision on energy is a pretty feeble mishmash of the status quo, despite talk of a renewable power 'moonshot' in his State of the Union.
He has accomplished plenty, too, however, though talk of Obama being the 'greenest president ever' was almost certainly premature. His upgraded CAFE standards for automobiles was likely the single greatest federal act to reduce emissions in US history. The stimulus bill he fought for got the ball rolling again for funding cleantech research and renewable power deployment. High speed rail will be of vital importance for sustainably connecting America's urban hubs as gas prices continue to skyrocket and congestion chokes our roadways. And under his watch, the EPA took up the historic challenge of mobilizing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions -- though Obama has so far seemed all too willing to compromise away the terms on which it will do so.
And there are other shortcomings and achievements, to be sure. But suffice to say that Obama hasn't turned out to be the champion that many hoped he would be -- he had an opportunity to lead the nation in fighting climate change and creating green jobs. Instead, he hasn't even effectively communicated the threat global warming poses at all, and concern regarding the issue has slipped to new lows under Obama's watch.
However, as is so often the case with our good ol' two-party system, the best reason for greens to care about Obama's campaign is the prospect of what would happen if he lost. The Republican party has, to an amazing degree, conformed to a pervasive anti-regulatory sentiment, and shrouds itself in disbelief that climate change is even occurring.
The presidential contenders play out like a who's who of environmental opponents -- there's Newt Gingrich, who, though prone to rampant flip-flopping, is currently calling to do no less than kill the EPA altogether. Sarah Palin doesn't believe in climate change either, and is one of the most popular oil industry cheerleaders in the nation. She has also been known to support the shooting of wolves from helicopters, but I digress. Mitt Romney, who appears to have few ideas of his own, would be certain to toe the anti-climate party line. So too would Tim Pawlenty, a one-time climate action proponent who has pivoted all the way to climate denial in a bid to earn the trust of the GOP base. Needless to say, it's a pretty grim lot, as far as green is concerned.
And given what the GOP leadership in Congress is attempting to achieve right now -- gutting the EPA's budget, rolling back parts of the Clean Air Act, preventing an attempt to reign in the carbon pollution of the nation's biggest emitters, expanding offshore drilling even further, and so forth, I'd be far from optimistic that the next four years would be good for the environment if one of the above Republicans were to win the nation's highest office.
We're in an ugly spot indeed, one where climate action looks pretty untenable at the federal level. And who knows? If the economy boots up and Dems retake the House, say, in 2014, there's always the hope that Obama could use his last four years in office to get tougher on climate, with amped up legacy concerns replacing nagging reelection considerations.
So, to answer to my own question is this: Yes, we should care. Even if it's getting harder for some of us to do so.
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