Subscribe via RSS Feed

Obama’s Climate Betrayal

[ 47 ] December 30, 2011 |

Thus is the title of Elizabeth Kolbert’s excoriation of the Obama Administration for fighting European attempts to regulate airline emissions. Rather than support European leadership on the issue, the Obama Administration is threatening a trade war against European nations.

Nowhere has Obama been more disappointing than on environmental issues. This is precisely the kind of issue where the executive can provide leadership. Yet Obama has been reticent to issue many strong environmental regulations or to protect land. Beginning with his appointment of Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior, continuing to his opening the east coast to offshore drilling without getting a single thing in return on climate change legislation from the Republicans, and now opposing regulating airline emissions, Obama has been an environmental disaster for a Democratic president.

Like on many issues, we should not look back to Bill Clinton as a better Democrat on the environment. He probably was, but only in his last year. As with labor and other consistuencies, Obama has continued a string of Democratic disappointments. Certainly the legislative climate is not conducive to leading on the airline emission issue, but Obama could also issue executive orders, craft regulations, or even do nothing. Instead, he is following the bidding of the airline industry, continuing America’s role as the climate bad guy of the planet.

Kolbert:

It’s pretty much impossible to imagine how the world can reduce the risks of climate change without imposing some sort of emissions limits, and airline emissions seems like as good a place to start as any. If the Administration disagrees with the European plan, then it would seem to be under a heavy obligation to propose its own. All it’s doing now is shilling for the airlines. Is this any way to run a planet?

Indeed.

Comments (47)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. mikefromarlington says:

    “Obama has been an environmental disaster for a Democratic president.”

    Assuming you ignore fuel efficiency standards and other EPA regs that have come down the chain.

  2. Holden Pattern says:

    How do you feel about the mercury emissions standards just propagated by the EPA relative to this critique?

    • Erik Loomis says:

      That Democratic administrations are somewhat better for the environment than Republican administrations.

      You can find decent things Obama’s EPA has done, but on major issues he has completely ceded leadership. The mercury emission rules are solid, but they aren’t anything more than more environmentally-oriented states like New Jersey haven’t already implemented.

      • “Somewhat better?”

        “Decent?”

        “Solid?”

        Erik, have you ever discussed the regulations the EPA has issued with anyone from the energy industry? Because, in the aggregate, they are a BFD. We’re going to see the phasing out of the coal-fired coal commercial power industry over the next decade or so, and its replacement by gas power (half the GHC emissions) as a result of this administration’s actions.

        • Murc says:

          Erik, have you ever discussed the regulations the EPA has issued with anyone from the energy industry?

          I can’t speak for Erik, but I trust the opinion of the energy industry on environmental regulation about as much as I do as Pentagon officials on military procurement.

          • If it was just a matter of the coal industry complaining, I’d agree. But it’s not. The gas industry is crowing and, more importantly, putting its money where its mouth is, planning for massive expansion and citing the regulation of a coal industry as a major driver of the expansion.

            Right now – today, as of December 2011 – it costs more to generate commercial power from coal than from natural gas in this country, and that is mainly a result of the regulatory burden. And it’s just going to get worse for them.

            • Murc says:

              Hmm.

              I concede that you have a point here, but am I allowed to be happy that we’ve taken steps to make coal prohibitively expensive while at the same time facepalming over the fact that we’re wasting natural gas to make electricity instead of heat?

              • We don’t need to replace coal’s contribution to home heating; we need to replace its contribution to the power grid.

                • Murc says:

                  No, no, I think you misunderstand me.

                  Natural gas is amazing for heating homes. It’s amazing for heating places in general. It burns hot, relatively cleanly, relatively safely, and it has an amazing ratio of heat generated to amount of gas expended. It’s also an extremely, EXTREMELY finite resource; we’ll probably run out of it this century the same way we’re gonna run out of oil.

                  It’s much LESS amazing for generating electricity with, and using it to generate electricity and then that electricity to generate heat is straight-up wasteful. There are much, much, much better options for replacing coal’s contribution to the power grid than natural gas.

                  Given that I think we should expend our natural resources as efficiently as possible (and I do favor expending them; unlike coal, natural gas is of no benefit to anyone laying around unburned) I sort of view replacing coal with natural gas as two steps forward, one step back.

  3. wengler says:

    The Corporate Party doesn’t agree about everything, but they do agree that the environment is an impediment to profit.

  4. rea says:

    My understanding is that the Obama Adminstration’s objection to the European regulations is that they would apply extraterritorially. Global regulations are a good idea, but they have to be adopted through a global organization like the UN, not adopted unilaterally by the Europeans and imposed on everyone else. Nobody in the admisntration is saying that airplane emissions ought not to be regulated.

    This is yet another example of righteous indignation against the Adminstration without actully bothering to examine the Adminstration’s position.

    • howard says:

      rea, i want to follow up on your point in a takngential way.

      it’s the end of 2011; at this point, anyone who is disappointed in obama because he’s not a progressive has just been in denial for close to 4 years.

      he’s a centrist (a thoughtful centrist in many respects, not a mindless one), he’s been a centrist, he will continue to be a centrist, and he could care less whether progressives are disappointed or not.

      he’s better than the gop alternatives, he’s not what i’d like to see in a president, but he is who he is, and he ain’t gonna change at this late stage.

      • Njorl says:

        By the standards of advanced democratic nations, Obama is a centrist, but he is to the left of well over 50% of Americans, probably 75%.

        • Bill Murray says:

          that does not seem to be backed up by polling of Americans preferred policies compared to Obama’s policies

          • This is true, as long as you are extremely selective about the issues you use as a comparison.

            • Bill Murray says:

              if you had said, how you ask the question I would agree with you. But the issue as I see it is that there is a huge disconnect related to what people think the policies are and what the actual policies are.

              I live in a very red area in a pretty red state and when I discuss policy matters with my Republican friends they generally agree with the policies Obama has followed as long as I don’t say they are his policies before I state the policy. This was true back as far as Clinton’s health care policy which was liked by about 3 in 4 Americans when it was described but not ascribed to Clinton, but was disliked by 3 of 4 Americans when Clinton’s name was included with the description.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      The administration’s position is to make a technical argument that covers up the fact that it is doing the airlines’ bidding. Obama could, for instance, have his people push for those regulations in the UN. He could work with the Europeans. He could do a number of things that address what you are saying. Instead, he is doing whatever the airlines want. Which is typical of his relationship with business on environmental issues.

      • HonorableBob says:

        Obama is between a rock and a very hard place.

        If he makes the radical envioronmentalists happy with lots of new burdensome and expensive regulations, he risks tanking further an already fragile economy.

        If he doesn’t follow the envionmentalists’ agenda, he pisses off the base.

        I believe he chose the latter for the reasons cited above and that is the base will vote for him regardless of what he does at this point. They belive the GOP is so much worse.

        It’s a smart political calculation.

        • Murc says:

          If he makes the radical envioronmentalists happy

          Preferring that we still have a planet that’s livable for humans in 75 years without massive die-offs is radical now? What is sensible, moderate environmentalism, pray?

          • HonorableBob says:

            What is sensible, moderate environmentalism, pray?

            Common sense steps to keep a fairly clean planet without tubing the global economy.

            See…that was easy!

            • R Johnston says:

              And how does exactly that differ from “radical” environmentalism?

              When acid rain was the issue of the day, the “radicals” wanted to do something about it and the “moderates” claimed that doing anything about it would destroy the economy. Turns out that the “radicals” were right. This pattern is the norm.

              Of course there are the real radicals, not just the “radicals,” in any given situation, but they’re the folks out unibombing, not the folks saying we need to do something about global climate change now before it’s too late so perhaps we should consider carbon taxes and ending oil subsidies.

            • Murc says:

              Common sense steps to keep a fairly clean planet without tubing the global economy.

              I’m willing to accept that as an answer, but in return I have a second question: what if the two aren’t compatible?

              I’m not saying that’s the case. But it does seem to me that we’re getting closer and closer to the day when it will be.

    • Alan in SF says:

      The U.S. unilaterally imposes all sorts of airline regulations on other countries, as a condition of allowing U.S. flights to land there and flights from there to land in the U.S.

      • Holden Pattern says:

        Yes, but we are US! They are them. What’s right for US to do is not necessarily right for them to do, unless WE say it is.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      My understanding is that Barry Goldwater’s objection to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is that it violates the 10th Amendment. Eliminating Jim Crow is a good idea but it has to be done by the states. Nobody in the GOP is saying that racial segregation ought not to be ended.

      This is yet another example of righteous indignation against conservatives without actully bothering to examine the conservatives’ position.

      [/snark]

  5. Njorl says:

    It’s pretty much impossible to imagine how the world can reduce the risks of climate change without imposing some sort of emissions limits, and airline emissions seems like as good a place to start as any.

    The place to start is at the coal mine, the oil well and the gas well.

    You could eliminate all air travel and the effect on future climate change would be negligible.

    These measures- COLA standards, carbon offsets for air travel, light bulb efficiency – are infinitesmal. You might think that they add up to something, that we’re going to prevent warming by a lot of little steps, but we aren’t. Monumental changes are necessary.

    I don’t know what to think about these tiny measures. They might ease people into the mindset of doing something about carbon emissions but they might just ease our conscience so as to delay serious measures or they may even provoke a backlash.

    We need comprehensive carbon emission taxation or some rough equivalent. We need the high cost of carbon emissions to drive huge strides in technological innovation in conservation and clean energy production. You won’t get that by targetting each application of energy consumption. You need to target all emissions collectively.

    Yes, Obama is on the wrong side of this issue, but it signifies almost nothing at all.

    • Marek says:

      This is incorrect. Air travel is a huge contributor to climate-change enhancing emissions. But I agree with the rest of your point.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        The impact of air travel is especially huge because the gases are released so high in the atmosphere, exacerbating their effects.

        • Anonymous says:

          One of the funniest things I’ve read in the NYT was a piece on Aspen that mentioned some damn restaurant and noted approvingly that all ingredients were from local farms using sustainable techniques (or some such blather. Maybe it was the WSJ too). Aspen? Really? With more private jets per capita than just about anyone?

          • HonorableBob says:

            One of the funniest things I’ve read in the NYT was a piece on Aspen that mentioned some damn restaurant and noted approvingly that all ingredients were from local farms using sustainable techniques (or some such blather. Maybe it was the WSJ too). Aspen? Really? With more private jets per capita than just about anyone?

            I found your statement interesting because it demonstrates AGW is a religion as much as anything and to advertise it brings in business.

            Truth be told, we’ve seen this science/politics synergy before and it was then Eugenics. The whole scientific community signed off on it, the president, most of the elite and the media just knew it was true. It was a pseudoReligion. It was the new world.

            I used to buy into most of what is now promoted as AGW, but the facts are not bearing them out. There are thousands of qualified scientists now that are saying it’s all a bunch of hooey and that the most likely cause is solar activity cycles. Bottom line is the “consensus” if nonexistent.

            The political end of this is a power grab. “If you don’t follow our agenda WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!”

        • Indeed. This is why it is so important that Obama got billions in high-speed rail funding the stimulus bill, and so unfortunate that Congress slashed funding for 2012.

          You can’t talk about airline emissions and climate change policy without talking about rail transportation.

          • Murc says:

            Honestly, I think high-speed rail and rail-based mass transit are, to a degree, money-wasting canards, when pursued in isolation.

            People aren’t going to take trains instead of flying over the long or medium haul, even if the rail infrastructure exists, unless steps are taken to make flying much more expensive than it is now, especially over the short haul. And people aren’t going to start using mass transit unless steps are taken to make dense urban living preferable to living in a detached unit in the suburbs with a two-car garage.

  6. Alan in SF says:

    I’m so old I remember when the airline lobby — and hence the Clinton Administration — opposed locking cabin doors, because they were too expensive. (Yes, it’s true — every slum apartment in America could afford door security technology that was too expensive for a 747.)

    • Bill Murray says:

      and sadly that was in response to the initial draft of the administration’s own commission report on aviation safety and security

  7. Stag Party Palin says:

    Nowhere has Obama been more disappointing than on environmental issues.

    For argument’s sake I’ll grant all your environmental points. However, there is no way that those policies even compare with Obama’s record on civil liberties and various other constitutional issues. This is the first president in my life that I will vote for and at the same time at whom I will throw both of my shoes if I ever get the chance.

  8. shah8 says:

    This goes as small beer in terms of betrayals. First, I don’t think this is even really fought on environmental grounds–just another trade dispute, like the stupid China tire dumping fiasco. Moreover, these essentially internationalist regimes via bilateralism relationships are notoriously unreliable agents of *any* sort of change. Lastly, as long as this dispute has been going on, I think it’s pretty probable that the bureaucracy underneath Obama has the initiative. Obama isn’t going to ask for hell to pay unless it’s *really* important.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Given that climate change is the single biggest issue of the 21st century, an issue for which our descendants will desecrate our graves and heap curses down upon us, I don’t think it’s small beer at all. If Obama had done anything worthwhile since he named Steven Chu Secretary of Energy, I’d take this with a grain of salt. Instead, we are salting the earth.

      • shah8 says:

        This particular policy? In this particular context?

        Oh yeah, small beer.

        Not contesting the whole evils of climate change. I already know we’re fucking doomed. Just have the small hope that we might be lucky enough in some miraculous way.

        But airline emissions are pretty far down the list of good reasons to piss off your underlings (who was here before you and will be here after you) and their corporate supporters. We have enough fucking trouble just to see to it that minimal safety oversight happens in our nuclear plants. The sheer, comprehensive combination of regulatory capture, failure, and corporate stupidity that underlies the BP explosion and subsequent massive pollution of the Gulf is just a bit more immediate, and the sheer slowness of executive actions that have to get around local bureaucracy/judicial powers is dismaying.

        It is beyond naive to think, given how rarely the US cooperates in international legal schemes, to think that it was going to be any different now. If it were otherwise, we’d have international criminal courts, bans on landmines, not to mention joining the goddamned Kyoto Protocal. The only reason we even banned CFCs, it seems like, was because we could make money selling substitutes.

      • If Obama had done anything worthwhile since he named Steven Chu Secretary of Energy, I’d take this with a grain of salt.

        You don’t actually seem to have a very good understanding of what Obama has done on the issue of climate change, so I’ll take your grain of salt with a grain of salt.

Leave a Reply




If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.

  • Switch to our mobile site