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Obama's Environmental Legacy Precipice

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President Obama has drawn the line he must cross to achieve an enduring legacy as a pivotal leader in halting--and reversing--the planet's environment degradation.
He rhetorically laid out the parameters in his first major climate change speech back on June 25th.

"Our founders believed...we are elected not just to serve as custodians of the present but as caretakers of the future. They charged us to make decisions with an eye on a larger horizon than the arc of our own political careers."

There--he said it. How many presidents have made such a bold pledge, especially in regard to the quality of life for future generations?

What would constitute bold action on his part? Overall, Obama will have to incrementally restructure our economy to no longer rely primarily on obsessive material acquisition and planned obsolescence. He will need to facilitate the transition from a fossil fuel dependent economy to one revolving around clean, renewable energy sources. Efficient use and conservation of resources will have to become the norm in all sectors of society. That will entail convincing Americans to live within nature's constraints and their own means. International cooperation to husband scarce resources will be required, and that means reaching accommodation with some countries that are not our greatest admirers.

Obama must display adept and courageous leadership to resist pandering to the public's instant gratification. He then faces the challenge of persuading the very same public to accept some ostensibly short term sacrifices for far greater long term gain.

Specifically, he needs to set the stage for (if not implement) a tax on carbon emissions before he leaves office. No one likes a "new" tax, but global warming cannot be effectively addressed without it (and rebates can make it more tolerable to low income earners). He must stand firm on establishing regulation of carbon pollution from new and existing coal fired power plants as well as the rest of his climate change agenda that does not require approval of a fractious Congress.

All this will be no easy task in the midst of a fierce political partisan divide, widespread unemployment, a slow economic recovery for the middle class, and numerous tensions abroad.

But as Obama says, "we need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors and more concerned about the judgment of posterity, because future generations will have to live with the consequences of our decisions."

If he can stay true to those sentiments through concrete actions, it is not only ethnicity that will make him a transformative president.