02/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hoping for Audacity (on Climate Change!)

What I want from my new administration this year: a program to address climate change that is stunning in its breadth and scope.

The weird thing is: I might get it.

* The new administration will quickly pass an economic stimulus plan approaching something like a trillion dollars.

* At the same time, the administration will be handed effective control of the American automobile industry.

* All this at a time when the siren songs of free markets and small government that have dominated American politics for decades have suddenly gone silent. In their place, we have a nation, indeed much of the entire world, eagerly looking to the black man in the white house for that "change we can believe in" we have heard so much about.

A couple of years ago, if you had asked a climate change expert what it would take to begin to address climate change in a meaningful way, one likely answer would have been, "Well, you would need about a trillion dollars to spend on infrastructure, and you would need real political leadership. Oh, and you would probably need control of the automobile industry. But fat chance."


Think of what might be possible! Dormant factories in Michigan could be retooled to build light rail trains and wind turbines. Or high tech double-paned windows. Or or or... so many things! This country's blue collar workers could be put back to work. In the process of rebuilding our roads and bridges, we can re-tool them to accommodate the new cars, trains, and bikes that we will be building.

Specifics are beyond my expertise, but I know the big picture. The plan should:

1. Be stunningly audacious. It should take everyone's breath away in its scope. I am not talking about encouraging everyone to recycle, buy hybrid cars, and inflate their tires.

2. It should move fast. The present alignment of political opportunities will not last long.

3. It should have a significant component of public mobilization. First, because the scale of change we will need to address climate change will be absolutely impossible without massive public participation. Second, because this is what Obama is so good at. Third, because this will be the key to keeping the program alive once the political winds shift, as they inevitably will.

This is now a bipartisan issue, Obama's favorite kind. He can enlist John McCain. He can enlist Rick Warren, Obama's controversial pick to lead the prayer at the inauguration, who has been the loudest voice among the new generation of evangelical leaders addressing climate change.

It is a technocratic issue, another specialty of Obama's. The politics of it seem to have almost miraculously quieted, and what is now needed is political vision, sound science, good government, inspirational leadership, and social mobilization. Any of that sound familiar?

And it is an issue on which the United States could, umm, "reclaim its leadership in the world" (sic). This is Obama's game all the way.

There are many crucial matters on which Obama's administration will be hemmed in with precious little room for maneuver. I will not be surprised if Obama is hugely disappointing on Iraq. Remember, he ran on the fact that he opposed the war before it started. When he finally gets to the White House he will be confronting an entrenched debacle with no good options. Likewise in Afghanistan, where Obama is preparing a major escalation of the war, a move I very much oppose and which I am afraid will have catastrophic consequences. His most immediate foreign crisis will be in Gaza, and there is not a single thing he has said, either during the campaign or in recent weeks, that give me even a glimmer of hope that his administration will be an improvement over other recent administrations in the handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Another immediate mess he will find himself entangled in is the fate of the prisoners in Guantánamo, and here again I am almost expecting to be profoundly disappointed. (Remember his total collapse on the FISA bill last summer?)

In the days leading up to last summer's Democratic convention, I wrote a blog pleading with Obama to stop talking so exclusively about compromise and tell us the one or two core issues on which he was willing to stand and fight. To the degree that he has answered that question, he has suggested that climate change and energy policy were at the top of his list.

Obama spent the last year telling me about the audacity of hope. I listened. Now, at least on climate change, I am hoping for audacity.