Look, we don’t want to be dismissive of President Barack Obama’s latest environmental policy change, a proposed 30% reduction in carbon emissions from power plants. While it’s a positive step in the right direction, is it also too little, too late? Even John Podesta, a senior adviser to Obama, is cynical about what kind of real impact this move will have.
Podesta was candid in an interview with Harper’s Magazine. “Fifty years from now, is that going to seem like enough?” Podesta asked in reference to Obama’s most recent environmental plan. “I think the answer to that is going to be no.”
Indeed, the threats posed by climate change are massive and it’s not hard to imagine that future generations dealing with the consequences are going to ask, “Is that really the best you could do?”
Podesta is particularly critical of the skewed statistics Obama has offered. When the international community sets environmental goalposts to hit, they almost always use 1990 emissions levels as the base line. Obama’s administration, however, generally uses 2005 as his starting point. With that in mind, while his plan to reduce emissions by 30% may sound significant, it actually doesn’t even measure an 8% reduction by the United Nations’ standards.
Technically, Obama has a legal obligation to commit to reform that will prevent the earth from heating more than two degrees Celsius. This plan, however, will not accomplish that number. “Maybe it gets you on a trajectory to three degrees, but it doesn’t get you to two degrees,” Podesta said.
Podesta is not alone. Harper’s asked other past and present Obama aides for their opinions on the effectiveness of the current plan. None were willing to say that this actually tackled the problem. “I don’t know about two degrees,” Carol Browner, Obama’s former chief of climate and energy policy, conceded.
As for why Obama is striking so late, Podesta faults the President’s fellow top advisers, particularly those from his first administration. Though climate change was technically on their list of issues to address, it was not prioritized. “Yeah, fine, fine fine, but it’s ninth on our list of eight important problems,” Podesta said, doing an impression of their attitude toward climate change.
Obama is certainly not in an enviable position. It can’t be easy trying to balance modern economic needs with environmental concerns for the future. Still, it’s the latter that will prove most important, and we need a leader who can make those tough, perhaps even unpopular calls to legitimately protect the earth.
Of course, some action – even if delayed – is better than no action. The trick is probably to applaud efforts that facilitate change, while continuing to push for better and stronger reform. With that in mind, Good Job President Obama!
Now quick, pursue several more aggressive environmental reforms that have an even bigger impact, and maybe history will actually be able to give you credit for avoiding catastrophe.