Climate should be Obama’s No. 1 priority, say lots of people who aren’t tree-hugging enviros By Lisa Hymas
In this week’s New Yorker, editor David Remnick congratulates President Obama on his reelection and then tells him to get his ass in gear and get moving on climate change:
Barack Obama can take pride in having fought off a formidable array of deep-pocketed revanchists. As President, however, he is faced with an infinitely larger challenge, one that went unmentioned in the debates but that poses a graver threat than any “fiscal cliff.” …
Last week, in his acceptance speech, Obama mentioned climate change once again. Which is good, but, at this late date, he gets no points for mentioning. The real test of his determination will be a willingness to step outside the day-to-day tumult of Washington politics and establish a sustained sense of urgency. There will always be real and consuming issues to draw his and the political class’s attention: a marital scandal at the C.I.A., a fiscal battle, an immigration bill, an international crisis. But, all the while, a greater menace grows ever more formidable. …
The effort should begin with a sustained Presidential address to the country, perhaps from the Capitol, on Inauguration Day. It was there that John Kennedy initiated a race to the moon—meagre stakes compared with the health of the planet we inhabit.
And it’s not only latte-sipping Manhattan liberals calling for action. Republican Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and head of the EPA under George W. Bush, has this to say:
If nothing else, the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, both fiscal and physical, should put the issue of climate change front and center for President Obama’s second term.
It’s unfortunate that Democrats failed to pass cap-and-trade to limit carbon emissions when they had control of both chambers of Congress, as getting it through the House is going to be a tough challenge now. Despite past resistance to federal cap-and-trade proposals, this solution should stay on the table. It is my hope that my Republican colleagues will see the wisdom of a market-based system for funding a public good — all very much Republican principles.
Over at The New York Times, Cass Sunstein makes his own call for climate action. Sunstein, who headed the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs during most of Obama’s first term, says Obama should follow the example of another iconic two-term president, Ronald Reagan, who took action to protect the ozone layer:
Reagan’s economists found that the costs of phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals were a lot lower than the costs of not doing so — largely measured in terms of avoiding cancers that would otherwise occur. Presented with that analysis, Reagan decided that the issue was pretty clear.
Much the same can be said about climate change. Recent reports suggest that the economic cost of Hurricane Sandy could reach $50 billion and that in the current quarter, the hurricane could remove as much as half a percentage point from the nation’s economic growth. The cost of that single hurricane may well be more than five times greater than that of a usual full year’s worth of the most expensive regulations, which ordinarily cost well under $10 billion annually. True, scientists cannot attribute any particular hurricane to greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change is increasing the risk of costly harm from hurricanes and other natural disasters. Economists of diverse viewpoints concur that if the international community entered into a sensible agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the economic benefits would greatly outweigh the costs.
And of course the biggest, boomingest voice for putting climate at the top of the agenda has been that of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I). After surveying the astonishing damage that superstorm Sandy inflicted on his city, he endorsed the president in a much-cited op-ed entitled “A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change.”
We’re used to hearing environmentalists calling for action to fight climate change. We’re not so used to hearing other, more influential people do so. Might climate change break out of the environmental ghetto for good this time?