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Obama on climate change: did you really expect miracles (again)?

June 27, 2013

The blogosphere has been full of bilious old nonsense as usual; sometimes I wonder if the world really is worth saving, given how fucking stupid some people seem to be. Then I look at the face of a child, and I remember why. I look across Dartmoor on a glorious morning, and I remember why. I hear music that moves me, art that inspires me, read about courage and determination, invention and honour, bravery and brilliance, and I remember why: we’re worth saving. Just.

Still, the public had their say, and as usual it was a confused and confusing morass of mixed messages. Obama’s speech came at a bad time for US (and UK credibility), what with all the spying and scandals. Much of the blogosphere concerned itself with character assassination – not undeserved, frankly – and the topic of climate change got a bit lost in the general melee as various expressions of disgust were offered as a reaction to being betrayed yet again, and on such a scale.

Not to worry; you can always count on the stalwarts, and once more my friend and occasional visitor to this blog MarkHB stepped up with a typically sensible remark:

“Obama has moved America in the right direction, even though it may be a small step.”

A small step indeed, although I do remember the aphorism about long journeys always starting with one. Just the same, it’s worth considering where that journey is supposed to be taking us, rather than just aimlessly wandering around the place, all good intentions, a well-stocked hamper, superb hiking boots and the best socks money can buy, but neither a map nor compass to guide us. Consequently, I have to return to the most doom-laden of my previous posts – that climate change, being the collateral damage of consumer capitalism, cannot be stopped. The best we can hope for it that the damage might be reduced a bit.

I agree it’s a positive development. I also suspect it’s about as far as Obama dares to go. He no longer has a future election to consider, but he’s also the leader of the Democratic party. To have taken actions of the kind advocated in this and other threads would provoke considerable hostility from Democratic members of congress and the senate, whose political careers would be held hostage to fortune by over-zealous White House initiatives, no matter how much applause they drew from concerned citizens.

Whatever Obama does has to be seen in context. He and his party cannot assume they will hold on to the White House, Senate or win back congress. Anything he does now could be undone in three years by a hostile incumbent – and remember, the last Republican presidential contender pandered shamelessly to the most ignorant wing of his own party during his failed campaign, ridiculing the same science he’d previously acknowledged (among other equally shameless reversals).

Obama’s ambitions seem realistic, not so drastic to guarantee immediate reversal if the next election goes badly, or the Dems lose their fragile grip (6 votes) on the senate in the mid-terms (Nov 2014). More’s the point, it’s consistent with the opinion I have held for some time: in an economic system whose effluent cannot be significantly reduced without that system failing, the issue is no longer an arbitrary target like a 2 degree C limit on temperature rises, if indeed anyone holding a legislative post ever thought it credible at all.

Now, the exercise is damage limitation, and this is as realistic a contribution to it as we should expect. Demands for anything more, any greater intervention, are hopelessly unrealistic, in effect demanding an end to the economic system we all live under.

We’ve had our cake, eaten it, and now the invoice is due. Too bad it’s our children who will be obliged to pick up the tab, but hey – isn’t that what kids are for? I am obliged to assume that most people must think that, given how extraordinarily complacent they are about climate change.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Neil Winder permalink
    June 28, 2013 9:40 am

    Your 01-10-2012 post was definitely not doom laden – more to do with offering a considered probability.

    How do you see climate change adaptation Graham? Does adaptation have a role here in the UK and if it does then what shape do you think it might take?

  2. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 28, 2013 12:16 pm

    Hi Neil – nice to see you here again.

    I’m happy to offer some views on adaptation, but can I ask you to qualify – or indeed extend – your question e.g. political, institutional, individual…each segment merits consideration both separately and jointly. Did your enquiry have a particular interest, or a general one?

  3. Neil Winder permalink
    June 28, 2013 2:34 pm

    Hi Graham

    My personal and work interests [as an architect] in climate change overlap with little separation. So my question about adaptation comes from both an individual and professional place – not from a broad political or societal place.

    I was asking because I am interested in the value you would put on preparing for the sort of possible future you identify in your 01-10-2013 post.

    Is adaptation a continuing process of [for example] change, modification and preparation and on what premise do you start when the long term future can look bleak? Or maybe adaptation is to be avoided as it could be seen to undermine developing mitigation approaches. Or maybe adaptation is becoming as important as mitigation?

  4. Graham Wayne permalink*
    June 29, 2013 5:41 pm

    OK Neil, here’s my answer:

    Climate change, mitigation and adaptation: what are we supposed to do, exactly?

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