Was Obama's Choice to Pass on Climate a "Blunder of Historic Proportions"?


Photo credit: US Navy

Earlier in the week, I looked at a hypothetical scenario laid out by columnist David Brooks in which he imagined Obama and the Democrats had gone forward with an energy bill instead of doing health care reform. Joe Romm of Climate Progress had looked at the same scenario, and commented in the end that ""Future generations are likely to view Obama's choice of health care over energy and climate legislation as a blunder of historic proportions." Since then, heavyweights from around the blogosphere have chimed in with their opinions on the statement, and proves fertile ground for debate. Will Obama's legacy be wracked by this one loaded decision?We've looked at a similar question once before (perhaps, actually, the last time Romm leveled the charge -- though I guess other bloggers weren't paying attention then ...), but it's useful to do so again. Reason being that given the science, from the Clinton era on, every elected official in the US has a moral imperative to act to address climate change. This is most true of the president, of course.

If the US fails to act to avert catastrophic climate change, future generations will perhaps scour history's actors and non-actors for the reason that extreme weather events have become commonplace around the globe and that once fertile and and occupied coastline has been submerged (among other phenomena, of course).

And it's why it's so dangerous to write off inaction on climate change as mere policy choice, as many of the pundits responding to Romm do. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, for example, reprints this argument from ED Kaine:

While certainly there is work to be done on the climate change front, the potential side effects of global warming are still a ways down the road, while the side effects of being uninsured are immediate. Similarly, the costs of future global warming are hard to predict, while the costs of not reforming our healthcare system are relatively easy to predict. In other words, climate change is something we are still on some levels unsure about - we know it's happening, we know we're contributing to it, but we don't know exactly what will happen in the end and for most Americans, it's still a fairly vague, abstract fear in any case.
Therefore, it's more politically beneficial to do health care. This argument, however, while underestimating the scale of climate change (the "potential side effects"? Climate change is already underway, folks ...), misses Romm's point. And that is, I think, that no matter how many valuable achievements Obama is able to make, whoever has or had an opportunity to do something meaningful to mitigate the advance of global climate change -- and didn't take it -- will have to answer to history. That includes George W Bush, and it includes Obama.

That said, I'm interested to hear what everyone thinks -- did Obama truly have a rare shot at making significant progress towards averting climate change (some think he never did)? And if so, will his failure to do so be viewed as a blunder of historic proportions?

More on Obama and Climate
Will Failure on Climate Ruin Obama's Legacy?
If Obama Had Chosen Energy Over Health Care...

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