One year down and three to go in President's Obama's first term as the grand poohba and while there has been a lot of humming and hawing lately about his record to date on environmental issues, I remain blissfully optimistic with a touch of niggling cynicism.
I have always counseled politicians to avoid making promises during an election; at least ones they can't keep. And definitely don't run on the broad theme of hope.
The hope card is the most powerful one in the political deck. But it's also the most dangerous because it creates an expectation for wholesale change of everything, whether you promised it or not. I ran into a lady on a recent trip to Washington, DC who was not voting for President Obama next time around because he was moving too slow on the issue of raccoons tipping over her garbage cans.
In President Obama's case, hope was what he had to run on, because it was what the public needed after 8 years of George W.
The result was that many people thought that President Obama would sprinkle magic fairy dust over Capitol Hill and that all environmental problems - the main one being climate change - would be solved. The more astute politicos knew that with Obama in the White House we would have, at the most, a fighting chance in dealing with such things.
His administration has done very well in the short time they've been in office with major investments in clean energy technology and they should be commended for that. Investing in the development of solar, wind and geothermal energy sources will make the US a world leader in this booming sector and it will create thousands of new high-paying jobs. But it's not enough.
President Obama made firm commitments during the election to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. His platform stated that if elected his administration would implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent [below 1990 levels] by 2050. His plan would also include 100% auction of carbon permits - meaning there will be no free passes given out to major polluters.
Unfortunately, there is a little hiccup called the US Congress that is getting in the way of his plan. As it stands right now, the clean energy and climate change bill falls far short of the commitment we need and the one he promised. Supporters argue that this bill is only a first step and that once it is enacted it can then be strengthened down the road.
Others argue that once the President puts the climate bill notch on his belt, there's a chance that he will never return to the issue.
I remain comfortably on the fence. I think it's way too early to be passing judgment on the President's performance on the issue of climate change. What he needs to do is send the right political signals to Congress, the bureaucracy and his fellow heads of State who are all looking for him to lead the battle
I'm here in Barcelona, Spain at an international climate treaty meeting and very little is happening with much of the blame being put on the U.S.'s unwillingness to show the leadership that is expected from this administration. A strong signal from the President would go a long way.
On this issue of commitment to short-term and mid-term targets to reduce greenhouse gas, words are enough for now, but if in three years there's still just words, my annual wrap up piece won't be so forgiving. Nor will the people who have put so much faith in the President's inspiring message of hope.
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