US Poo Poos Measuring Climate Policies, Toots Own Horn

by Kyle Ash

April 4, 2011

President Obama

Every country’s climate delegation is in Bangkok explaining their climate policies. Frustrating comments from the US delegation coupled with dynamics surrounding a possible government shutdown at home make it impossible to believe the US administration considers global warming an urgent problem.

Urgent means peak global emissions in 4 years, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is likely needed to avoid runaway global warming (lost cause scenario for climate policies).

There are a lot of ways and certainly a lot of reasons the administration continues to stall an international agreement on global warming pollution. I don’t envy people in the US administration who really understand that we should have had a policy decades ago to address this developing global catastrophe.

However, I struggle to have sympathy for the President whose job is to lead on important issues like the American climate debate, since he has instead been pushing policies to feed the false notion that fossil fuels are awesome.

Here in Bangkok the US is bragging without justification, while attacking the idea that the UN Parties should use agreed methods of measuring climate policy impacts. There must be some Aesop fable to tell the story. But since I can’t think of it, I’ll just have to make one up.

Keep in mind that the US carbon pollution reduction target for 2020 is 3% below 1990 levels. This is so lacking in ambition that we have already half-way succeeded without trying because of the recent recession and existing energy market trends. Also, the US is responsible for the largest percentage of carbon pollution in the atmosphere.

Here’s an allegorical account from yesterday’s UN climate meeting:

One day, Bear announced to all the animals in the forest that he has taken bold action to avert a forest fire.

Cougar asked, ‘That’s great! What did you do? When did you do it?’

Bear said, ‘Well, there are many ways to avert a forest fire. And it doesn’t matter when – obviously it was before now.’

Squirrel piped up, ‘This morning I put out a cigarette that some human must have thrown from his car.’

All the forest animals knew Bear was a rather inconsiderate smoker himself. He’d become addicted as a cub. Also, despite his large size and relatively huge impact on the forest community, he was rather insecure as a person. So the other animals cut him some slack for the smoking habit.

Salamander asked, ‘Bear, didn’t I see you pick up a half-smoked cigarette off the road, take few drags, and throw it on the forest floor yesterday?’

Deer chimed in, ‘Yeah, actually. You may have started the last forest fire. We are happy to hear about your bold action, but what did you do, Bear?’

Bear flew into a rage, announcing, ‘Look, we don’t all avert forest fires in the same way! It’s not important how I did it, and it’s not like I’m the only one who can put out fires! Get off my back!’

The US administration has done many things that are good for the climate. But these actions are starkly overshadowed by Obama’s support for exemptions for industrial agriculture polluters, investment favor for nukes and coal technology in lieu of renewables, expanded offshore drilling, drilling on public lands, and massive coal mining expansion and exports. Unlike EPA actions to reduce global warming pollution, some of these really bad policies the President has promoted in recent speeches.

Rather than using his office and fantastic media access as a platform to campaign for climate policy, the President is promoting the fossil fuel industry and therefore feeding the obstinate climate skepticism of American voters that frustrates the rest of the world.

I don’t blame the President for a Congress that cannot get it together to pass this year’s budget. It seems we are faced with an anarchical majority in the House that wants to take government out of the business of protecting Americans from things like toxic pollution, babies getting sick, and general ignorance. Riders to the budget bill include stripping the funding for EPA to reduce mercury pollution, for Planned Parenthood, and various programs for the arts, education, and scientific research.

While President Obama will not publicly defend his own administration’s authority to address climate change, we do have a White House statement from the Office of Management and Budget that should be clear enough. “If the President is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities…. through funding levels or restrictions… the President will veto the bill.”

If Obama doesn’t veto a bill that cuts EPA funding, he must not consider dealing with global warming a ‘critical priority.’ It would be difficult to accept that the President believes sacrificing EPA authority is part of a strategy to achieve strong climate change legislation. Any chance this could have been part of the ‘spirit of compromise’ has by now faded into simply promoting policies on behalf of polluters.

Fortunately, Senate Majority Leader Reid announced on April 1st that there will be no attacks on EPA allowed in the budget bill.

Kyle Ash

By Kyle Ash

Kyle Ash formerly served as Greenpeace's Legislative Policy Expert, responsible for domestic and international climate change policy analysis and campaign strategy. He has been quoted in Politico, Greenwire, the New York Times, and CNN, and was one of the most frequently quoted sources during the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

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