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“The White House Effect”?

April 22nd, 2012 · 9 Comments

My blog posts are rarely about sartorial splendor but it seems sadly appropriate to share with you what I am wearing today: the t-shirt to the right.  If you have difficulty reading or seeing it:

  • the graphic is of a heating planet with melting ice caps, the Keeling Curve behind the globe, a smiley face on the globe, and
  • the title: “The White House Effect”.

Almost old enough to merit the term “vintage“, this Union of Concerned Scientists shirt dates from Earth Day, 1990 … and, well, could well too sadly appropriate for Earth Day 2012. The decision on today’s clothing came late Friday while reading President Barack Obama’s Presidential Proclamation — Earth Day 2012 (provided after the fold).  The statement seeks to create a balance between praising efforts to date while calling for actions for tomorrow with a not light dose of praise for the Administration’s efforts. Treading such a delicate line can lead to a fall too far to one side or another.

  • Doom and gloom about tomorrow can undermine understanding and appreciation for what has been and can be achieved while weakening support for those (such as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)) whose actions protect all of us and undermining energy for action. (’Why bother since the world is heading toward disaster no matter what we do?’)
  • Solely looking toward today’s challenges as if nothing has been achieved since the first Earth Day 42 years ago can be disrespectful to those who have fought so hard to achieve real impact and, again, can weaken support for those (such as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)) whose actions protect all of us and  undermine energy for action. (’Why bother, since we can’t have an impact in the face of polluter interests and a dysfunctional political systems?’)
  • Emphasizing improvements from the past situation while glossing over the seriousness of the situation we face, again, can weaken support for those (such as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)) whose actions protect all of us and undermine energy for action. (’Why bother being up in arms since we’re doing so much better and that progress is just going to continue no matter what I do?’)
  • Embellishing achievements and suggesting that marginal programs have great positive impact while ignoring other steps that are worsening the situation, again, can weaken support for those (such as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)) whose actions protect all of us and can undermine energy for action. (’Why bother focusing on these issues, rather than other critical policy actions, because the Administration already has things well in hand?)

In seeking to tread this delicate line, the Administration seems to have almost certainly skewed far too much toward the second two while avoiding the first two to such an extent that an honest reader of the Presidential Proclamation might be hard pressed to realize that we quite likely face an existential threat when it comes to climate change and the myriad of other environmental challenges.

For understanding as to my choice of clothing, today, let us just take two examples and one minor omission from the Proclamation for illuminating the issues.

State of the Environment

Today, our air and water are cleaner, pollution has been greatly reduced, and Americans everywhere are living in a healthier environment.

Let us be clear. It has been awhile since Americans have seen a river burning, Acid Rain is reduced, lead poisoning is down, … We have seen real progress in many arenas.  We have seen real progress even as there are very serious challenges and, in many ways, a worsening of the situation.

When it comes to pollution, for example, anyone want to suggest that CO2 pollution has been reduced from what it was 42 years ago? And, well, there are a myriad of other pollutants whose impact on Americans is far worse than when the first Earth Day occurred 42 years ago or when I first put on the shirt (front to the right about “The Green House Effect”) 22 years (and just about 22 pounds) ago.

Taking from someone else reacting to this Proclamation,

Philip Shabecoff was the chief environmental correspondent for The New York Times for fourteen of the thirty-two years he worked there as a reporter.  Poisoned for Profit, based on more than five years of investigative research and reporting, reveals the cumulative scientific evidence connecting the massive increase in environmental poisons to the epidemic of disability, disease, and dysfunction among our nation´s children.”

And how’s that Gulf Oil Spill cleanup going two years on?
Oh, yeah, should we mention that The Proclamation doesn’t discuss the measures the Obama Administration has taken to spark increased oil production, the areas (onshore and offshore) opened for exploration, the assistance to increased coal exports, …
Greening America’s School
As my second example, consider this paragraph
As we work to leave our children a safe, sustainable future, we must also equip them with the tools they need to take on tomorrow’s environmental challenges.  Supporting environmental literacy and a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math for every student will help ensure our youth have the skills and knowledge to advance our clean energy economy.  Last year, we launched the Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition award to encourage more schools to pursue sustainability, foster health and wellness, and integrate environmental literacy into the curriculum.  In the days ahead, we look forward to awarding the first Green Ribbons and recognizing the accomplishments of green schools across our country.
Wow!  The Obama Administration set up — in its third year — a “recognition award” when it comes to “Green Ribbon Schools”.  To be clear, this is not a bad thing.  Green School investments are the only means that I am aware of that offer a reliable (and traceable) school-focused path toward improving educational performance, improving economic performance, improving health while reducing environmental impacts and reducing educational costs.   Green Schools merit focus and investment. If the Green Ribbon recognition program helps achieve that, great … However, the “Race to the Top” has been the signature Obama Administration effort when it comes to advancing (if it does so, put that debate aside) K-12 education.  Greening schools has been notable absent from that and were certainly a late comer to the Secretary of Education’s attention. As Secretary Duncan put it in a green schools speech less than two months ago.
I would be the first to admit that historically our department has paid too little attention to the green school movement and promoting environmental stewardship.
Yes, late is better than never … And, a ‘recognition program’ is better than nothing. And … This is a recognition program which does provide greater visibility to green school but it is far from a major initiative driving a major, nation-wide investment in and focus on the myriad of value streams that schools, students, and society can derive from greening schools.  What does dedicating more than 10 percent of a Presidential Proclamation to a “recognition program” suggest to you?
That ‘oh by the way’ issue
Consider, again, the shirt that I am wearing.
The 2012 Presidential Proclamation for Earth Day does not have the word “climate” (and, therefore, zero mention of “climate change” or “global warming”).
While there is legitimate highlighting of the improved fuel economy standards, including that they will “cut greenhouse gas emissions” (actually, more accurately, lead to reduced emissions compared to what would be the case without them), there is nothing there about why ‘cutting greenhouse gas emissions’ would be something that anyone should be concerned about on Earth (or any other or, well, more accurately, every other) Day.
Yes. Okay. We all know about Global Warming. Don’t we? And, ‘if the President even mentions the word, those mean-old Anti-Science Syndrome suffering Haters Of a Livable Economic System will attack him and that won’t be good for the re-election campaign.’  Actually, the research shows that lack of significant leadership (e.g., people like the President of the United States) discussion of climate change issues undermines public understanding on the issue.  And, actually tackling climate change in a serious discussion way could provide a very useful discriminator (along the lines of 1% vs 99%) between the Democratic and Republican parties in ways that could be not just truthful but also valuable in electoral concerns.
Just three examples …
The full Proclamation is after the fold.
Judge for yourself whether the Administration is putting a smiley face on a melting globe.
Note: For an interesting contrast, see what the Obama Administration was doing around Earth Day 2010.  Also, see what President Obama’s 2011 Earth Day Proclamation said about global warming.

Looking to the future of our planet, American leadership will continue to be pivotal as we confront the environmental challenges that threaten the health of both our country and the globe.

Today, our world faces the major global environmental challenge of a changing climate.  Our entire planet must address this problem because no nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change.  The United States can be a leader in reducing the dangerous pollution that causes global warming and can propel these advances by investing in the clean energy technologies, markets, and practices that will empower us to win the future.

While our changing climate requires international leadership, global action on clean energy and climate change must be joined with local action.

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Presidential Proclamation — Earth Day

EARTH DAY, 2012

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

On April 22, 1970, millions of Americans came together to celebrate the first Earth Day.  Students, teachers, activists, elected officials, and countless others challenged our Nation to confront our most urgent environmental issues and rallied around a single message:  the success of future generations depends upon how we act today.  As we commemorate Earth Day this year, we reflect on the challenges that remain before us and recommit to the spirit of togetherness and shared responsibility that galvanized a movement 42 years ago.

America rose to meet the call to action in the months and years that followed the first Earth Day.  We passed the Clean Air, Clean Water, Endangered Species, and Marine Mammal Protection Acts; founded the Environmental Protection Agency; and ignited a spirit of stewardship that has driven progress for over four decades.  Today, our air and water are cleaner, pollution has been greatly reduced, and Americans everywhere are living in a healthier environment.

While we have made remarkable progress in protecting our health and our natural heritage, we know our work is not yet finished.  Last July, my Administration proposed the toughest fuel economy standards in our Nation’s history — standards that will save families money at the pump, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and significantly reduce our dependence on oil.  In December, we finalized the first-ever national standards to limit mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants, helping safeguard the health of millions.  We have taken action to protect and restore our Nation’s precious ecosystems, from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.  And we continue to make landmark investments in batteries, biofuels, and renewable energy that are unlocking American innovation and ensuring our Nation stays on the cutting edge.  Our country is on the path to economic recovery and renewal, and moving forward, my Administration will continue to fight for a healthy environment every step of the way.

As we work to leave our children a safe, sustainable future, we must also equip them with the tools they need to take on tomorrow’s environmental challenges.  Supporting environmental literacy and a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math for every student will help ensure our youth have the skills and knowledge to advance our clean energy economy.  Last year, we launched the Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition award to encourage more schools to pursue sustainability, foster health and wellness, and integrate environmental literacy into the curriculum.  In the days ahead, we look forward to awarding the first Green Ribbons and recognizing the accomplishments of green schools across our country.

Forty-two years ago, a generation rallied together to protect the earth we would inherit.  As we reflect on that historic day of activism and stewardship, let us embrace our commitment to the generations yet to come by leaving them a safe, clean world on which to make their mark.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 22, 2012, as Earth Day.  I encourage all Americans to participate in programs and activities that will protect our environment and contribute to a healthy, sustainable future.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

Tags: 2012 Presidential Election · Obama Administration · environmental

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John Egan // Apr 22, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Did you see the news out of France today? Not surprisingly, Hollande edged Sarkozy and leads in the polls for the run-off. But the real news is the 20% garnered by right-wing populist Marine Le Pen. Much of her support comes from rustbelt regions of France from working class voters who have lost jobs and futures in the neoliberal world economy and, thus, have turned towards right-wing populism.

    This is not unlike the Tea Party movement in the Midwest in the U.S. or the BNP in Yorkshire and the Midlands in the U.K. or the various right-wing populist movements in Scandinavia. Nearly all of these areas were left bastions a generation or two ago.

    The environmental cannot take hold unless the material is addressed with candor.

    Within this post …

    What is Greening Schools but not this?

    Creates Jobs (in no small part in ‘working class”)

    Reduces (local) government costs re education.

    Improves educational performance.

    Improves health (student, teacher, staff).

    Reduces environmental impacts.

    Hmmmm …. isn’t this “material” being addressed, even with candor, aligned with environmental?

    In all of these cases, the upper middle class has transitioned somewhat successfully into the neoliberal economy while the working class has lost out. Thus, for example, a doubling of gas prices has different meanings to different groups - - and vastly different political outcomes.

    What is happening throughout Europe, in Australia, in Canada, and at least, on the state and Congressional level in the U.S. should provide some pause for reflection.

    Once consigned to a permanent minority, the political left will have little chance of enacting even the most basic of environmental reforms.

  • 2 sailrick // Apr 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    John Egan

    Remember Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, 1960s lefty activists?

    To find an equivalent amount of extremism on the left, as now exists on the right, you would have to go back to the 1960s, but imagine that 100 Rubins and Hoffmans were in Congress, with several of them running for president.

  • 3 sailrick // Apr 22, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    OWS and N17

    great graphic comparison of OWS and Tea Party
    at David Appell’s blog. Here is most of it, without the graphics.

    Public support for -
    OWS 54% Tea Party 20%

    Public against -
    OWS 23% Tea Party 40%

    Tea Party wealthier

    Been to college-
    92% of OWS 70% of Tea Party

    Employed -
    70% OWS (23% students)
    56% Tea Party (30% retired)

    OWS younger

    Biggest Political party -
    OWS 70% Independent
    Tea Party 56% GOP

  • 4 John Egan // Apr 23, 2012 at 3:15 am

    Sailrick -

    I have no idea what you are talking about with Rubin and Hoffman. What I have consistently argued with the blog author is that unless the parties of the left address materialist issues which have pusing millions in the middle and lower middle to the edge of the abyss - and which Nu Labour, SDP Lite, the DLC, and most Green parties have failed to do - - they will jettison these millions of voters who were once core constituents.

    It has been played out over and over throughout the world in the past twenty years. But, apparently, some just dont get it.

    Considering how much and how often, I have written re the linkages between economic performance and addressing environmental challenges, it is rather odd how you seem to write as if the Tea Party and climate deniers in Australia and so on are my fault if your issue is that “parties of the left” are “environmental” without paying attention to “material”.

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