With less than two years to go in office, President Obama has already sealed his fate with regards to his legacy on climate change.
When historians look back and assess his actions on what could be one of the biggest issues of his presidency, they will undoubtedly be using the term “disappointing” quite a bit.
The main problem is not that he has ignored the issue as his predecessor, President George W. Bush, did; it is that he has consistently said one thing about the threat of climate change and then done the exact opposite of what he has called for.
When he was first running for president, Obama made it clear that his approach to energy was an “all of the above” platform that included coal, renewables, oil, natural gas, and even nuclear. This was his way of trying to appease both the fossil fuel interests and those of us who understand that renewable energy is what’s needed to protect the planet.
It isn’t unique for politicians to backtrack on campaign promises. In fact, that is the status quo for the most part, and when you take into consideration the fact that Obama was very up front with us about his energy policy, we cannot accuse him of being dishonest in this situation.
But what is unique in this situation is President Obama’s constant public reminders that climate change is a threat to the United States, proclamations that are typically followed by an anti-environment executive action.
These past few weeks have given more great examples of the President’s bipolar disorder on climate change.
At the end of May, the Bureau of Land Management announced that it would issue a total of 28 new coal mining leases for the Powder River Basin. Greenpeace points out that the amount of coal that could be excavated and burned from just these new coal leases is enough to completely negate (and surpass) the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would be cut by President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. In sum, Obama’s most ambitious action on climate change is already being made useless by his administration’s decision to lease more coal mining operations.
On the issue of offshore drilling, this is what candidate Obama told a crowd in Florida during his 2008 campaign against Senator John McCain:
“John McCain’s proposal, George Bush’s proposal to drill offshore here in Florida, and other places around the country, would not provide families with any relief, this year, next year, five years from now…Believe me, if I thought there was any evidence at all that drilling could save people money who are struggling to fill up their gas tanks by this summer or the next few years, I would consider it, but it won’t.”
In that statement, candidate Obama told us that he would only consider an increase in offshore drilling activities if it would have an immediate impact on consumers’ wallets.
But seven years later, President Obama’s stance on offshore drilling has clearly changed. Rather than worrying about the immediate economic impacts, and certainly without considering the environmental impacts, President Obama has proposed opening up previously off-limits areas of the Atlantic coast for oil drillingincreased the number of offshore oil drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico (after he presided over the single largest environmental disaster ever to take place in the Gulf); and he’s even allowed the fracking industry to operate in near secrecy in the Gulf of Mexico.
It seems like every action the president has taken to combat climate change has been met by an equal attempt to appease the dirty energy industry.
And this is all occurring at the same time that the President has ramped up his tough talk about the need to combat climate change in order to protect future generations of Americans.
Unfortunately for Obama’s legacy, climate change is not an issue that can be addressed in a way that makes every side happy. You cannot give handouts to the dirty energy industry while trying to combat climate change, so you’re going to make some folks unhappy.
That’s the job of the president — to put the needs of the people over the profits of private corporations. But in this case, like in so many other areas, President Obama is so afraid of a fight that he is willing to let the planet burn because he can’t make up his mind on which side he actually wants to take.