Home / General / Obama’s Climate Legacy

Obama’s Climate Legacy



Given the constraints of an extremist opposition, there’s probably not much more Obama could have done on climate change. He sums up his achievements and the need to move forward in an article in Science, written by him, although almost certainly not actually written by him. This is the first time a sitting president has ever published in the prestigious journal.

Of course one can argue that Obama’s biggest weakness is thinking that anyone cares what is published in a journal like Science instead of playing the dirty politics that actually leads to power in this country. It would be nice if this country could have nice things, but what a pipe dream.

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  • Denverite

    I’d be pretty shocked if Obama didn’t do the majority of writing of the piece.

    • wjts

      It was obviously written by Biden.

      • Hogan

        Bill Ayres. You can tell by the nautical metaphors.

      • brewmn

        That was funny.

  • ASV

    although almost certainly not actually written by him

    Does the president have grad students?

  • Joe_JP

    For further reading, criminal justice and health care.

    • Anna in PDX

      Wow, he’s prolific! Wonder how much he is going to write once he no longer has a full time job!

  • Anna in PDX

    That was a good article. Thanks for letting us know about it. Gives me some modest hope for the future.

  • mark

    The author affiliation note is fun. It’s better online, because they hide the author affiliations by default–they are long for most papers, with multiple authors and schools and you need to click the little [+] box to see them. So you click and expect to get something long and instead get “President of the United States.”

    It’s also a bit wrong I think because they don’t usually put the title, just the affiliation. So arguably you should have seen just “The United States.”

    • Jameson Quinn

      That would have been awesome.

  • humanoid.panda

    Of course one can argue that Obama’s biggest weakness is thinking that anyone cares what is published in a journal like Science instead of playing the dirty politics that actually leads to power in this country. It would be nice if this country could have nice things, but what a pipe dream.

    To think that a person that got elected president twice is a naif looks somehow wrong to me..

    • Joe_JP

      Since Erik Loomis has published some stuff, perhaps the comment was somewhat self-effacing in nature.

  • Well, he has written two books, so it’s plausible to believe he could’ve written this.

  • Since Obama was the first President since Bush the Elder to take any real action on climate, and the first ever to actually take any concrete steps to mitigate climate change, he’s probably going to be relatively well regarded. However, his “legacy” (oh, how I hate this end-of-Presidency concept) on climate is going to be a lot like his legacy on everything else’s he done: it’ll depend massively on how much damage his successor does.

    If Trump’s gone in four and a unified Democratic federal government enacts a carbon tax, pours money into renewables, and mandates serious efficiency standards such that emissions actually start to drop at the rate needed to stabilize somewhere south of 3C, Obama will be seen as a stepping stone to the change that really mattered.

    If Trump destroys the government and his Exxon SecState ramps up global carbon emissions such that we’re committed to 3C or greater by the time Furiosa deposes him, Obama will be remembered more for letting Trump in than anything else he did. If there are folks around to remember.

    • vic rattlehead

      If Trump destroys the government and his Exxon SecState ramps up global carbon emissions such that we’re committed to 3C or greater by the time Furiosa deposes him, Obama will be remembered more for letting Trump in than anything else he did. If there are folks around to remember.

      Of course, the people who see it that way will be idiots, but history is not always fair.

      • Lurking Canadian

        I think most people couldn’t tell you any particular faults of Buchanan, except that he was in charge when shit fell apart. I know there are legitimate reasons to tar him, but most people are not Civil war nerds.

        Similarly, Obama will have a hard time escaping fault for being in charge when shit fell apart. Nerds like you and I will know he was working his ass off the whole time to prevent shit from falling apart, but we are not going to live forever. It will depend who writes the books.

        • The idea of comparing Obama to Buchanan really doesn’t make any sense at all, even to the lay public.

          • Lurking Canadian

            I’m not sure it’s a comparison, so much as an unfortunate similarity of circumstances. However, I suppose it’s equally likely that, when set next to Trump, he will appear to posterity as something like a demigod, born of the brow of Zeus.

            • vic rattlehead

              I don’t think that comparison works. I don’t know if there’s a good parallel in American history. Maybe Grant to Hayes is the closest to Obama to Trump. Neither Grant nor Hayes are really comparable to Obama or Trump, but the short period of Reconstruction that was quickly rolled back (and not really relevant to the point but amusingly, the Democrat also won the popular vote in 1876). That would probably be the case if Obama were replaced by any modern republican.

        • vic rattlehead

          That’s not really true though. Nothing has really “fallen apart” quite yet-although that is probably imminent. What has fallen apart that enabled the rise of Trump was mostly beyond Obama’s control. The appointment of Comey will go down in history as a major boner, and Obama believing a little too much of his own bullshit will go down as his fatal flaw, and depending on what comes to light, he may be blamed for his response to Russian interference during the 2016 campaign.

          But overall I think he will be remembered as a remarkably steady hand who did an excellent job cleaning up the shit that his predecessor kneaded into the carpet. Even if the rest of his legacy is vaporized, no one can take away from his Administration quite literally saving the world in the wake of the Great Recession. There are right wing relatives of mine who blame him for increased partisanship and polarization-but that’s asinine. He did talk a big game in 2008, but governing invariably has limitations that campaigning doesn’t. Ultimately he was constrained as we all are by his time. I don’t think we ever recovered from the Reagan years, and that’s not something that can be pinned on Obama. I think many historians looking back on where America went wrong will identify 1980 as the year America crossed the rubicon. Maybe 1994?

          I don’t think anyone blames Clinton for being followed by Bush-that would be silly.

          There’s going to be so much awfulness directly caused by Trump and his troglodytes, anything you could possibly criticize Obama for is going to be small potatoes.

          • I think many historians looking back on where America went wrong will identify 1980 as the year America crossed the rubicon.

            Chas. P. Pierce’s often writes of “that day in 1979 when Ronald Reagan first fed the [Republican] party the monkey brains” from which “the prion disease has spread” that consumed it—and left the rest of us where we are.

            • There are so many possible dates one can choose.

              • vic rattlehead

                I defer to the historian, my only point is that singling out Obama would be very difficult for an intellectually honest academic to defend.

  • Bruce Vail

    Haven’t read Obama’s article, but there is this:

    First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Opens off Atlantic Coast
    January 11, 2017

    Business Manager Michael K. Daley and everyone with Providence, R.I., Local 99 had reason to celebrate when the first offshore wind farm in U.S. waters became fully operational in mid-December.

    Providence, R.I., Local 99 Business Manager Michael K. Daley speaks during a news conference in the spring of 2016 at the Port of Providence, where Local 99 members helped build what became the Block Island Wind Farm.
    “It was awesome,” Daley said. “It was a feeling of so much pride that the IBEW had been a part of this.”

    There could be even better news on the horizon. Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm — which Local 99 not only helped build, but helped get off the ground because of its ongoing dialogue with Rhode Island officials – could lead to more work for IBEW members.

    Hopefully, a lot more.

    “The real prize was not the five turbines,” said Paul MacDonald, Local 99’s legislative director. “I look at that as a demonstration project. The real prize is what’s going to come.”

    About 50 Local 99 members were involved in the construction, most at a temporary mainland facility at the Port of Providence. Block Island is 13 miles south of the Rhode Island coast.

    The project is tiny compared to the massive offshore wind farms that have sprouted up around the world during the last two decades, particularly in European coastal areas. It has just five turbines.

    It showed, however, they have a place in the United States. MacDonald said they will hold down energy costs, which could also make it more attractive to businesses.

    “It has to come because the cost of energy is getting out of hand,” he said. “In the Northeast, it’s getting so expensive that it stymies business. People are thinking of ways to stop that.”

    “This [the Block Island project] is a demonstration that it’s feasible and that it works,” he added. “When we have these things with 200, 300 or 500 turbines, that’s when you’re really going to see a lot of jobs.”

    Deepwater Wind has received permission for another project, this one in federally-controlled waters. Called Deepwater One, it will be about 30 miles southeast of the eastern edge of New York’s Long Island. Company officials hope to start work in 2019 and the first phase is expected to provide energy for 50,000 homes when it is finished in 2022.

    The project will be within Local 99’s jurisdiction. Daley noted the turbines for the Block Island project were largely constructed overseas before being assembled by Local 99 members at the Port of Providence. For a larger project, it might be more economical for the turbines to be built domestically – more potential work for Local 99 members.

    The first phase of the Deepwater One project calls for just 15 turbines, but it is eventually expected to have about 200.

    “We’re hoping if that goes, it will spur more work in Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts in building the turbines over here on the mainland,” Daley said.

    Local 99 long was active in the push toward Rhode Island becoming the first state to approve and have constructed an off-shore wind farm. MacDonald remembers first approaching then-Gov. Don Carcieri about the possibility nearly 10 years ago. Two governors later, and after constant lobbying of local and state legislators, construction started in 2015 and Block Island Wind Farm was operational a little more than a year later.

    Other groups joined in the campaign, including the state’s other trade unions along with industry and environmental groups. MacDonald said building that coalition was essential, but the IBEW can take pride in that it saw the potential before most others and stayed with it.

    He complimented Local 99 members for contacting legislators, attending meetings and even handing out lapel pins with a miniature wind turbine.

    “In Texas, they say drill baby drill,” said MacDonald, whose grandson, a Local 99 apprentice, worked on the Block Island project. “In Rhode Island, we say turn baby turn.”

    “We’ve got an awful lot to be proud of,” he added. “If it wasn’t for the IBEW, I don’t think we would have seen a blade turn. We stayed with it. Most everyone up here would admit that we’re the godfather of wind.”

    Daley said Deepwater Wind officials appreciate the work done by Local 99 behind the scenes. They respect the work done on the turbines by Local 99 members and signatory contractors.

    That should pay off in the future, he said.

    An aerial view of the Block Island Wind Farm.
    Photo provided by Deepwater Wind.
    “They know that we were critical,” Daley said. “We were there and we were supporting them throughout the regulatory process. Without us, this may not have happened.”

    Rhode Island likely will be a leader in offshore wind development, which also should be good news for Local 99 and its members. Gov. Gina Raimondo recently was named chairman of the Governors Wind and Solar Energy Coalition,, a bipartisan group of governors interested in promoting wind energy. She and other state legislators have said repeatedly how important its development is to the state’s future.

    “It means a cleaner source of energy, a lower cost of energy, a diversified energy supply,” Raimondo told Providence television station WPRI. “It means a lot of jobs.”

    “This is the way to rebuild our economy,” she added. “We cannot bring back old-fashioned manufacturing.”

    Deepwater Wind Chief Executive Officer Jeff Grybowski told the Washington Post he doesn’t expect incoming President Donald Trump’s administration to have much impact on the growth of wind energy,, adding that local markets have created more of a demand than national policy, even though outgoing President Barack Obama’s administration was a strong proponent of it.

    “Taking offshore wind from a theoretical thing to a reality is what Block Island has done,” Grybowski said. “As the first project to cross the finish line, it’s really proven that offshore wind can be done in the United States.”

    Deepwater Wind is asking Maryland officials for approval to build a wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ocean City. It also is working with the utility PSEC to build a windfarm off the coast of Cape May, N.J.

    Other companies are expected to enter the offshore wind farm business in the United States as well. The federal government has issued 11 leases for wind farms up and down the East Coast between Massachusetts and Virginia.

    All that means additional work for other IBEW locals and trade unions, so Daley suggested that other union leaders looking to use the growth of industry to find work for members work closely with companies committed to it – like Local 99 did with Deepwater Wind – and realize it’s going to be a long process, he said.

    “You have to be patient and you have to persevere,” he said. “There are definitely going to be naysayers. There will be people that don’t want it for various reasons, but this is going to happen. It makes too much sense.”

  • Morse Code for J

    One of the most infuriating things about this election was the realization that the five years which went into the Clean Energy Plan/40 CFR 60 were for nothing, at least until the next Democratic presidency. Or never, depending on how this rewrite of the APA goes.

  • randy khan

    I won’t say I’m optimistic, but one thing that’s happened in the last eight years (and is part of Obama’s legacy) is that the increasing deployment of wind, solar, and other renewables is starting to make fossil fuels less economically viable. I don’t think we’d be nearly as far along that curve without the Obama Administration.

  • Obama’s climate legacy is much, much safer than his health one. The epochal Paris Agreement was a very hard slog starting with the fiasco in Copenhagen in 2009. But it is now a done deal, and the Marrakesh COP-22 meeting showed no sign of defections post-Trump. His and Tullerson’s attempts to sabotage the international consensus will merely make the USA look stupid, venal and powerless.

    Domestically, wind and solar have win the battle against coal and even gas, see Lazard’s 10th survey of comparative electricity generating costs. The learning curve on electric car batteries is so steep that EVs will be cheaper in cash terms in a decade, and in total cost of ownership long before that. The expiry of the federal tax credits for wind, solar and EVs will only impose a short delay.

    • vic rattlehead

      I think his health legacy may stay at least partially intact (knock on wood). I don’t want to get too optimistic but there is still a fight to be had.

    • Brett

      I hope so. I’m more worried about Republicans latching on to dirty power as part of some stupid cultural thing, like how they occasionally do stuff just because Democrats are making fun of them. They could actively try to hinder renewable power, or help utilities to hinder it.

      That’s still a faint worry, though. I hope that renewable energy and electrified replacements proceed apace.

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