Pressuring the Obama Administration on climate change, redux

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before.

One would like to believe that in the face of a massive and growing emergency, our benevolent governors will recognize the need to do something, figure out what to do and then, do it. With respect to climate change, none of that is happening. I have created a very modest little mechanism through which anyone concerned can help exert some pressure on the Obama administration to at least begin developing a plan for coping with climate change, which I’ll get to downstream a bit.

Everyone who acknowledges the reality of climate change recognizes that it constitutes a crisis. Five years ago, a staid military think tank called the Center for Naval Analyses commissioned and published a report on the national security threat posed by climate change.

In the national and international security environment, climate change threatens to add new hostile and stressing factors. On the simplest level, it has the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today. The consequences will likely foster political instability where societal demands exceed the capacity of governments to cope.

CNA is populated by retired admirals and generals whose climate change concerns run mostly toward preparing the US military to cope with the consequences of long-term, escalating global unrest. They’re not a group of flamboyant alarmists. Neither are the technocrats and fat cats at the World Bank, whose concerns are keeping the world safe for development, and who last month issued a frankly terrifying report on climate change called “Turn Down The Heat,” in which they predict a 4-degree rise in global temperatures by the end of this century if the threat is left unaddressed. There is, say the authors, “no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”

In other words, if we proceed as we are then the next generation but one may get to witness the fabled end of the world as we know it, and we’ll all walk down a long mile of very bad road in the meantime.

The end of the world is a pretty big deal, and staving it off will require equal measures of blind optimism, controlled panic and homicidal rage directed at the people who control the resources that must be mobilized in order to succeed. Many people are marshaling their stockpiles of those qualities and doing great work, Bill McKibben at, and Michael Klare, who writes often at the invaluable TomDispatch, among them. (I mean no slight to everybody I don’t mention; just trying to keep this relatively short.)

Most recently, Klare wrote about the International Energy Agency’s offhand suggestion that even if everybody does everything more or less right, we’re looking at “a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C,” or more or less the same apocalyptic scenario the World Bank says we’re headed for if we don’t do everything right. This is in the context of a report that says thanks to the forward-looking fossil fuel policies of current and recent US administrations, along with the woes of everybody else, the US is poised to become the world’s biggest oil producer by the end of the decade. Which is in no conceivable view a good thing.

As I said up top, I’ve had an idea — a very modest one, but I think rather clever — about how to pressure the Obama administration into doing something concrete and visible to raise the profile of climate change and possibly even to begin developing a concrete plan to do something about it. I created a petition at the White House “We the People” forum — you know the place, where people go to secede from the Union and protect our right to use energy-hog lightbulbs — requesting the administration to commission a National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change.

25,000 signatures gathered by December 30 are required to trigger a White House response to the petition. The current total is 98, or 52 shy of the number required to make the petition visible to people searching for the term “climate change” among the extant petitions. This is somewhat discouraging, but I have summoned the blind optimism component of the formula for success and I think the possibility of finding 24,902 additional signatories is pretty good. Obviously, though, I need some help, specifically, yours. I need everyone who reads this to sign the petition and share it with your friends.

As I say, it’s simple and modest. In the best case, enough people will sign to trigger a White House response, the response will be positive and we’ll receive the benefits of both an enormous shitstorm from climate change deniers and an official document outlining the national security implications of climate change.

Even a White House rejection of the petition would have positive results; the administration would be on the record refusing to take what is by any measure a reasonable step toward dealing with climate change. More pressure points are better than fewer; more publicity is better than less.

In the worst case, the petition will go nowhere and generate no publicity around the issue. If that happens, it will have cost no one anything other than the few seconds everybody invested in signing it.

Here’s the petition in its entirety:

Commission a National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change

The United States cannot effectively cope with the consequences of climate change without understanding how climate change will affect local, regional and global security, economic and political situations. This petition requests that the Obama administration commission a National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change in order to gain the intelligence community’s assessment of the impact of climate change on our national security.

Simple, specific, and insanely easy to support. Please do. I live on a subtropical island, like to keep my head above water a while longer. Mahalo nui loa.

14 thoughts on “Pressuring the Obama Administration on climate change, redux”

  1. Bringing the redoubtable Occam to bear, it’s not hard to imagine why it should be necessary to petition the celebratedly cerebral Democratic president and father of two who favors the executive order for action over something “everyone” who means anything supposedly agrees “constitutes a crisis”.

    It’s the same reason why those tech-savvy, long-term and forward-thinking investors the Chinese have been yawning bemusedly at Kyoto and any potential successor protocols for years now, even though unlike in the States their own politicians typically come from the ranks of mathemeticians and engineers.

    The likeliest explanation, it truly pains me to say, is that despite occasional and perfervid lip service to the contrary, “everyone” in a position of influence who thinks and reads is NOT in fact convinced there’s a crisis warranting immediate ameliorative domestic and global action in the name of public health and welfare.

    Possible corollaries: most “everyone” may indeed be at least partly convinced, just not as to the immediacy and extent of the “crisis”; or they may be convinced for the most part on the crisis itself but not the efficacy or advisability of the various proposed ameliorative efforts.

    Meanwhile, the United Nations at the Doha climate chane conference prioritizes raising money for poor nations we’re told are somehow “most affected” by anthropogenic climate change (doubtless it will go straight to wind turbines and solar panels), and China happily serves the emerging Western eco-jeremiad market like the cocaine dealer who wisely doesn’t use.

    Strangelovian Greens like Bill McKibben, Obama science czar John Holdren, and Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute—who’s said, “complex technology of any sort is an assault on human dignity”—salivate over the prospect of a loincloth ‘n spear New Age wherein Mother Gaia is not despoiled by concerted human impact of any sort. For now, anyway, they find common cause with the standard-issue Marxist-collectist levellers at the U.N. and elsewhere.

    1. The much simpler explanation is that coping with climate change is a monstrous task and people are, as they tend to do until they are forced into doing otherwise, leaving it to the next shift.

      It’s even less complicated than you thought.

      adding, I’ll bet the 2016 State of the Union speech prominently features climate change.

  2. You stated it more succinctly, but it appears we largely agree? The cries of “Imminent Crisis Requiring Immediate Action” from the scientific community with whom Everyone Agrees are nonetheless unconvincing to world leaders, at least where the “immediate action” part is concerned.

    Everyone agrees with the value of life insurance in principle? Still, it’s not clear world leaders in fact do consider dangerous anthropogenic climate change to be as certain as death. It gives one the impression that the “imminent crisis” science is also not the universal truth it’s cracked up to be.

    1. No, not at all. You seem to be thinking that there’s an accurate correlation between the severity of the threat and the seriousness with which political leaders react to it, which is surprising — one wouldn’t have thought you had that kind of faith in them.

  3. All facetiousness aside, I think there’s a strong and accurate correlation between the belief of well-informed world leaders in the existence and severity of the threat, and the seriousness with which they react to it. That may or may not be probative on the merits to us yutzes—but I do assume Mr. Obama and Wen Jiabao have better information than me…

    1. Why would you assume that? If the subject was what are our competitors doing under cover of darkness, then sure, like as not the president knows more than most people, but on the matter of climate science, well, that stuff isn’t secret. And national leaders have more immediate concerns than what’s going to happen to their countries in 20 years, when they’re long off the stage, if we don’t do something to forestall the problem now. If you’re a Chinese political leader, how long do you suppose you would last if you said something like, look, all these developed countries who have things we want got those things by wrecking the climate for humans, so now we have to put our plans on hold until we figure this out even though those other people aren’t serious about fixing the damage they’ve done? No; they’re just leaving the shitstorm for the next crew to deal with.

  4. I assume that if Barack Obama really cares about his children and their progeny, he’d act decisively while he had the power to do in order to secure their futures….if indeed he really believed that their future was imperiled. If a meteor was set to hit in 2075, or a virus detected that would decimate the fifth generation along, he’d act. Now.

    I assume that Wen Jiabao or anyone who reaches the apex even in post-Deng in China feels very strongly about the long-term as well as the short term health, welfare, and hopefully supremacy of China. He also would act if he found a good reason to, if only to have a world and a world market to dominate, and to ensure ways to demonstrate Chinese superiority.

    1. Obama and his kids will be fine. Wherever the weather is nice, they can go live there.

      National leaders make horrible decisions all the time, and this particular crisis has no historical precedent. It’s only natural they would fuck it up, given the constraints under which they operate. I really am surprised at your faith.

  5. I have tremendous faith in the reliable operations of psychological egoism, whether applied to the welfare and prominence of one’s family or one’s people! But bottom line it’s about overall momentum, or lack thereof. If enough persons of quality and influence worldwide really believed in a cognizable crisis, something big would happen. Since it hasn’t, I conclude they don’t (fully) believe, and from that I question the certitude of the alarmists.

    1. Well, as I say, I expect Obama to become mortally alarmed just as soon as he can no longer be expected to do anything about it, meaning SoTU day in 2016. I don’t expect China to get alarmed until the US does, because why should they?

  6. It seems to be a human trait to kick the can down the road when action will be painful. Intellectually understanding the problem has nothing to do with it. The military is concerned about the problem. So, for a while, are folks on the east coast. Liklihood of action that will be effective? Not much.

  7. JackD (nice to see you, by the by)—

    It’s absolutely a human trait to kick the can down the road. It’s also a luxury those who believe thay’re facing down a genuine crisis requiring immediate action cannot afford. Self-evidently, the leaders of America, China, and elsewhere do not view the AGW status quo as remotely analagous to my meteor or progeny-virus examples, above, nor do they believe the scientists “everyone” agrees with. Why on earth not? Facts breed motivation….once accepted anyway. I draw my inferences accordingly.

  8. Good to see you as well. They can afford it because in the short term they profit and down the road it’s someone else’s problem. It’s not responsible or ethical but it’s the way they behave. Not unlike the Republican hostage taking tactic with respect to the debt limit. Not unlike the corporate tunnel vision on short term profit.

    Bear in mind it’s not just Obama’s beliefs at issue here. He can’t really do much on his own. There’s also the problem that any effective action has to be world wide. What we can do on our own can help but can’t stop the world wide problem. Your hypotheticals are interesting but my guess is that no matter the evidence lots of people and leaders would refuse to believe it if it was going to cause short term pain. Selfishness, even to the point of eventual disaster, is also unfortunately a human trait. Look at our continued pursuit of policies that continue to widen wealth disparity. Ultimately, that is destroying the markets to which the plutocrats wish to sell. No money, no demand. Henry Ford knew better but he’s dead.

    1. Hey, Jack, thanks for stopping by. Those are pretty much the things I had in mind, too, as obstacles to action. Reluctance to dash one’s self against the rocks is in play as well.

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