What are the Three Rs? Reduce, reuse, recycle.
Right now, I am wondering, when it comes to clothing that makes a political statement, whether the choice is reduced to recycling for reuse a now 20-year old t-shirt.
This Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) t-shirt dates from (I believe) the 1990 Earth Day amid efforts to goad President George H.W. Bush and his Administration to take a leading role in addressing human activities driving change in the planetary system. Part of the challenge, the White House rhetoric and language about their actions exaggerated just how much they were doing to address an issue driving mounting concern in the specialist scientific community.
- The front of the t-shirt: a melting planet with the words “The Greenhouse Effect”
- The back of the t-shirt: a melting planet with a smiley face with the words “the White House Effect”
no one has defined the issue as squarely as George Bush the elder when he said, prior to the Rio summit in 1992, that “the American way of life is not up for negotiation.” That way of life (already quaint and humble to us SUV-piloting descendants a decade later) stands somewhere near the center of this debate. So far, we’re willing to entertain the possibility — and indeed the fact — of things like massive polar melting and the spread of tropical diseases to a temperate climate, but aren’t really even willing to discuss what we might need to do to bring climate change under control.
Thus, for the (first) Bush Administration, the t-shirt remained relevant.
Sadly, this t-shirt remained relevant through the Clinton Administration where there was some action. There was the signing of Kyoto. Efforts went on to raise awareness (within and external to the government). Etc … On the other hand, the Clinton Administration (even with Al Gore as Vice President) did not manage to drive through measures like increases in automobile efficiency (CAFE standards), huge leaps forward in energy efficiency, major increases in renewable energy deployment, or even replacing the solar panels on the White House roof that Ronald Reagan had removed. Thus, amid the critical issues such as Travelgate and debates over the devilish stains on a blue dress and …, the t-shirt had some continued relevancy even if it wasn’t the first thing out of the closet (and actual spent much of this time essentially in storage).
Obviously and sadly, the three Rs came into play with President George W Bush and the Cheney Administration which undertook a campaign to distort and downplay climate science’s increasingly urgent highlighting of humanity’s impact on the planetary climate system and the serious implications that this already had and would have for human civilization (and American security and prosperity). This shirt moved from gathering dust to top of the pile, ready to pull on for a bike ride to the store or time in a national park or … The message well, if anything, had even greater truth during the son’s Administration.
With President Barack Obama’s election, however, this shirt went from the pile to (what was hoped to be) long-term storage … hopefully something to be recycled into cleaning rags or into a museum piece. After all, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama had talked seriously about the importance of addressing climate change as a top priority (and the power of energy efficiency) and President-elect Barack Obama’s second policy statement focused directly on climate change:
The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear
Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.
… too often, Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership. That will change when I take office. My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.
That will start with a federal cap and trade system.
These were far from isolated words.
Those were heady times for those knowledgeable about Global Warming’s threats to America’s prosperity and future prospects. Candidate and President-Elect Obama had committed, forcefully and repeatedly, that addressing climate change would be core to his Presidency.
Since then, however, one might say that reality has intervened. To be clear, the Administration (and President Obama) have done many things to help move clean energy and climate change mitigation forward: significant funding in the Stimulus Package; a serious Executive Order mandating reduced resource waste, increased clean energy use, and inclusion of sustainability in departmental planning; etc … (There have, as well, been many steps that foster continued dirty energy practices.) The Administration understands, at least at some level, climate disruption, has many top-notch people in critical jobs, and certainly represents a rejection of the Bush Administration’s embrace (leadership) of The Republican War on Science.
When it comes to “a federal cap and trade system”, promised by President-Elect Obama as where his Administration would start its leadership, the House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act and, then, crickets … The Senate went nowhere. And, as for serious White House engagement, this seems to have been an issue relegated to back of the pack behind Health Care and, well, so many other issues. There is much literature on this but this line from Climate Bill, RIP captures the situation well.
Obama, so far, has shown no urgency on the issue, and little willingness to lead – despite a June poll showing that 76 percent of Americans believe the government should limit climate pollution.
“Little willingness to lead” is certainly the impression of those heavily engaged in the fight for climate legislation.
In the face of the actual record,White House communications Dan Pfeiffer recently claimed: that
“the president obviously pushed very hard” to convince the U.S. Congress to pass climate legislation.
What’s the expression? Putting lipstick on a pig (or, per Sarah Palin, a pit bull)?
Pfeiffer’s comment simply doesn’t seem to comport with reality.
- When were the late-night Presidential huddles with Congressional leadership to try to push through legislation?
- When did the President address a Joint Session of Congress on the serious risks from climate disruption and the huge opportunities to enrich America via climate mitigation?
- What threats did the President give to Democratic members of Congress who didn’t support climate legislation?
But in spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding.
… without presidential leadership that focuses intensely on making the public aware of the reality we face, nothing will change. The real power of any president, as Richard Neustadt wrote, is “the power to persuade.” Yet President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.
Here is the core of it: we are destroying the climate balance that is essential to the survival of our civilization. This is not a distant or abstract threat; it is happening now. The United States is the only nation that can rally a global effort to save our future. And the president is the only person who can rally the United States.
Simply put, it is rather hard for any observer to see where “the president pushed very hard” to drive climate legislation through the Congress.
And, when Dan Pfeiffer’s statement is so clearly at odds with reality, it makes one wonder whether the situation when it comes to climate mitigation policy has been reduced to recycling this old t-shirt for reuse.
NOTE: To be clear, the most serious problems to establishing meaningful action to foster a prosperous and secure American future are not in the Oval Office, the West Wing, or any Obama Administration Office. Attacks on climate science and disinformation about the value of a clean-energy future from fossil-foolish interests and Anti-Science Syndrome suffering Haters Of a Livable Economic System are root causes. Frustration with (many) Obama Administration policies and statements does not translate into putting the onus for inaction solely — or even primarily — on the Administration. Pfeiffer’s comment, however, does not pass the most basic laugh test and should not stand unchallenged. Instead, it is time to help President Obama understand the fundamental truth that Gore laid out:
the President has reality on his side. The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past. Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act.