Last month, President Obama unveiled his latest proposal on climate change and energy policy. Standing in front of a Green Hornet fighter jet fitted to run partly on biofuels, the President drew explicit links between climate change and national security, and announced an energy policy that foregrounded coal exploration, nuclear plants, and offshore oil drilling.
The point is not to criticize Obama in particular; after all, Obama has displayed a greater awareness of this issue than the vast majority of members of Congress from both parties. (The same was true of President Clinton, who signed the Kyoto protocols which failed to win a single confirmation vote in the Senate). In the midst of economic turmoil, and with surprisingly resilient denialism among the American population, legislators see climate change as an issue as all-downside. And so climate change has been de-emphasized and rebranded as energy security. The Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill in the Senate, right now the most likely vehicle for actually passing a climate change bill, is laden with substantially more concessions to polluting industries than even the highly problematic Waxman-Markey bill in the Senate.
The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which looks more and more catastrophic each day, could present a transformational moment, although it’s still too early to tell. As a native of south Louisiana, I’ve been following the story with interest mixed with horror. It underscores the urgency of developing green energy sooner rather than later, and highlights the dangers of relying on fossil fuels in the interim. New Jersey’s senators, Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, wrote a public letter to the President urging him to reverse his policy on oil drilling, so far without success.
Coming only days after a major coal mine disaster, the Gulf catastrophe highlights the relationship between our lifestyles and the environmental damage necessary to sustain them in an unusually specific and focused way. As our nuclear power plants become increasingly outmoded and dangerous, the likelihood of a similar catastrophe increases every day. What is needed is robust and honest dialogue about the future of the planet, which so far has been sadly missing from the halls of Congress.