NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.
Looking for a little hope on climate change? Believe it or not, it’s here and it’s real. And I’m not referring to the fact that, at least temporarily, oil prices have gone
through the floor, making environmentally destructive “tough oil” projects like western oil-shale fracking
and Canadian tar sands
extraction look ever less profitable. Nor do I mean the climate changedeal
that was just reached at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and is beingcalled
"historic." It’s true that President Obama made a positive move at that summit, another symbolic gesture
in its wake, and is promising more
of the same in the future. These steps to check the worst future depredations of climate change have been hailed
as perhaps more transformational than they are. Nonetheless, in the face of a new Republican Congress in which anti-climate-change hawks
war hawks (no small feat), this is well worth noting
I’m talking, of course, about the potentially carbon-reducing long-term deal between the planet’s two major greenhouse gas polluters
, between, that is, Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both of them have been running “all of the above
— or in China’s case dig-baby-dig and import-baby-import — energy programs to devastating effect. China, for instance, is slated to bring online the equivalent
of a new coal-powered plant every 10 days for the next decade, even as it’s taken a leading position
in developing solar power technology.
The steps agreed to in somewhat hazy language by the two presidents fall far short of what will be needed to keep this planet from overheating drastically, and yet they do at least pave the way for the first global climate change negotiations that might actually matter in a long while. The genuinely good news, however, was none of the above. It has to do instead with the thinking behind Obama’s Beijing decision. The “architect” of the American negotiating position, months in the making, was presidential senior adviser John Podesta. And here’s what you need to know about him: he’s reportedly going to leave the Obama administration early in 2015 to run Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. This means that he’s essentially committed the leading Democratic candidate in 2016 to run her campaign on Obama’s gesture in China and whatever other climate change moves he plans to make in the coming year — on, that is, reducing carbon emissions.
As Coral Davenport of the New York Times explained recently
, the thinking behind this is clear. Despite the historically low-turnout
2014 midterm elections, Podesta — and the Democrats — are making a different kind of bet on 2016 based on polling figures showing that, among key presidential election year Democratic demographics (young voters, Hispanics, African Americans, and unmarried women), concern over climate change is rising in striking ways. In other words, if you can tune out an election in which an aging 19% of the prospective electorate swept a whole crew of climate deniers into office and focus on deeper, longer-term calculations, something is happening, possibly generationally, that’s potentially big enough to change future elections.
It’s big enough, at least, to catch the attention of pragmatic political types in Washington, and may be the beginning of a tectonic transformation in this country. Despite the power of Big Energy and the present hue and cry about “job destruction,” a “war on coal,” and all the rest, a rising climate movement
could potentially transform our politics and our world. No one who attended the enormous
climate change rally in New York in late September could doubt that this was so, but that John Podesta has also been paying attention matters. It tells us in a nitty-gritty way that sometimes the work of activists does pay off.
All those years in the (overheating) wilderness organizing and proselytizing, all those years when the mainstream media managed to look the other way, all those years when climate change activists in groups like 350.org had to struggle to avoid despair, may turn out to matter. That’s the positive side of the picture.
Then there’s the other side, and it couldn’t be grimmer, as TomDispatch’s energy and climate-change expert Michael Klare, author of The Race for What’s Left, makes clear today.
(See Michael Klare’s article, "Fossil-fueled Republicanism" – at TomDispatch OR at Resilience )