Obama Takes Lead on Climate Change

Though the future of the planet is at stake, President Obama’s latest moves to reduce carbon pollution are drawing the predictable denunciations from right-wing talkers and from politicians afraid of offending the coal lobby, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

Leadership does not consist of simply ordering someone else to do something. Nor does it consist of doing something oneself whether or not it would make sense on other grounds for tasks to be distributed that way.

It does involve persuasion of others of the importance of a task that must be accomplished jointly, and it involves the setting of an example through one’s own conduct of what needs to be done. This characterizes President Barack Obama’s recent step regarding the curbing of emissions from coal-fired power plants.pollution

It would be preferable for the nation’s direction on this issue to be enshrined more in legislation and less in executive action. But one does what one can within current political limits. One of those limits is opposition to action on this issue from those whose priorities are weighted heavily toward the short-term, parochial, and pecuniary.

Another is continued denial of the reality of the effect of human activity on the climate — denial that puts the deniers alongside members of the Flat Earth Society.

A constantly recurring theme in criticism of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy is that he allegedly is a weak leader, or when he leads does so only from behind. An action such as his recent move on power plant emissions highlights how such accusations, insofar as they are not just opposition for the sake of opposition, really aren’t about leadership at all but instead about disagreement on the substance of whatever issue is at hand.

Much criticism of the President has combined an image of him as a weak, stay-in-the-rear leader on foreign policy with a picture of an over-reaching, rule-flouting chief on domestic policy. Opponents will catalog the new rules on power plants in the latter category.

Efforts to curb destructive emissions are ultimately a foreign policy problem, however, because Earth is a single planet with a single atmosphere. Pollution problems vary with the locale, and it may be sensible practical politics for the President to talk about respiratory problems among American children, but climate change is global.

The heaviest lifting will involve getting China and other heavy polluters to do their part. It is a task as troubling and challenging as any that involve China using dashed lines on maps to make territorial claims.

The task is hard enough given the belief of developing countries that the United States and other Western nations already had their opportunity to develop and to become prosperous and to pollute with impunity as they did so. It would be discriminatory, according to this belief, for late developers to be subject for environmental reasons to more economic restraints than early ones.

The least the United States can do, to keep this task from being any harder than it has to be, is to exercise leadership by setting an example and cleaning up its own act.

President Obama also gets criticized for playing small ball in foreign policy, a criticism he partly brings on himself by talking about hitting singles and doubles rather than home runs. Stopping climate change is not small ball. Saving the planet would be a home run.

Small ball is played by those, Democrats as well as Republicans, who would rather talk about the health of the coal industry in Kentucky than about the health of the planet. And small ball is played by those who cannot or will not see beyond the powering of most of the world’s economy through any means other than burning what alternative energy guru Amory Lovins has called “the rotten remains of primeval swamp goo.”

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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One comment on “Obama Takes Lead on Climate Change

  1. elmerfudzie on said:

    As I’ve stated previously in CONSORTIUMNEWS comments, the so-called business and political leaders of this country had fifty years to plan and research dozens of conventional and novel energy sources that when combined, would meet approvingly by “green movement folks” and basic industry groups alike. It was JFK who warned in a 1962 speech, that Americas energy needs would double every ten years. Neither congress or corporate enterprises took heed, thus, our nation now suffers from electric grid brownouts such as California and at the same time, spikes to John Does monthly winter season gas and electric bills. The reasons are obvious, but again let me repeat; failure to embrace Thorium 232 over the Uranium family of nuclear power sources, failure to upgrade the two largest and (technologically) very old refineries (situated in Texas) to fully accommodate Venezuelan (tar like) oils, failure to successfully negotiate with the Mexican government and modify their heavy metal impurities methods for oil, and not to ignore other miscalculations (political) over the last fifty years, that now with hind sight, added strength to the “scarcity crowd”. This same crowd takes a certain sadistic and greedy joy in artificially dropping electrical power on our grid systems, just like delaying prompt deliveries of crude oil (destined for America) along oceanic routes back in 1973. The corptocracy menace didn’t stop there, they topped this outrageous behavior by pointing to an “OPEC conspiracy” when in reality, this was just another oil mogul strategy to minimize timely availability thus precipitating artificially greater out-of-pocket costs to John Doe. What a scam! and repeated thru out our history. Add to this situation, a fawning, so called presidential leadership, yuk!, stumbling over ancient issues about coal, sulfur dioxide and arsenic emissions (or did Obama bury that one) when after all, the actual political direction required was already articulated over fifty years ago by our very last, democratically elected president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. His leadership and wisdom repeatedly challenged American know-how to prepare and at the same time, to dream (as he did with going to the moon). Pray tell, so what did vested interests of both militarization and finance capital do in response to true leadership? why, they murdered him of course! In conclusion, the only thing Obama knows what to do, when it comes to “taking the lead” is, reflexively nodding yes, to the various demands of Wall Streeters and Goldman Sachs lobbyists!