Use your imagination
For this article I would like to invite you to have to have a thought experiment. Try to imagine that instead of Obama the US had a Republican president who said and did every single thing that Obama did during his presidency. Let’s focus on his environmental legacy, imagine all the same speeches and policies… Do you think that you would have criticized him in the same way that you criticized Obama? The thought experiment is interesting for both people who vote Republican or Democrat.
Obama’s environmental legacy
It’s clear that Obama did many things that were positive for the environment, he expanded protected areas in the sea and on land, he participated in the biggest international climate agreement, he redirected a modest amount of resources towards research and investment for renewable energies. He was especially good in his rhetoric, acknowledging the reality and severity of climate change in his speeches.
At the same time, some of his less environmental-friendly actions avoided scrutiny from the vast majority of Democrats. Environmental activists weren’t shy to criticize his policies on fracking for instance, but most Democrats see him as a champion in the fight against climate change. The fossil fuel industry painted him as an enemy, and most people believed their story, despite some really disturbing facts.
For instance :
Investigative reporting by a joint team from The Guardian and the Columbia University School of Journalism reveals that the US Export-Import Bank financed around 70 coal-fired power plants and other fossil fuel energy projects in foreign countries during President Barack Obama’s terms in office. These foreign fossil fuel plants are projected to release about as many tons of global-warming gases as the Obama Clean Power Plan would have saved. Source and more information
These 70 fossil fuel projects received a total of $34 billion. By contrast, the US Export-Import Bank supported only about $2 billion in renewable energy projects.
I would bet that few people, Republicans or Democrats are aware that during Obama’s presidency US oil production skyrocketed, it increased by 88% compared to the levels when he took office. This is in fact the largest domestic oil production increase during any presidency in U.S. history. Here’s a recent video where Obama brags about this oil legacy.
And of course, let’s not forget that the fracking industry boomed under his watch despite the opposition from many environmental groups, including our community, More Trees Less Assholes.
How would you have reacted ?
There is a lot more that could be said about Obama’s policies, both good and bad, but let’s go back to our thought experiment. My guess is that if you’re a Republican you would have criticized the president much less. You wouldn’t have focused on the couple of billions he threw at the renewable energy sector in his 2009 stimulus package, you would have praised him for the steady increase of oil and gas production.
And I guess that if you’re a Democrat you wouldn’t have been so easily swayed by his good rhetoric, and would have criticized his inaction on climate change much more vigorously and you would have recognized the hypocrisy of his actions much easier. How can you simultaneously acknowledge that climate change is the biggest issue facing humanity, while breaking records on oil production ?
I think that this thought experiment can be really useful to help us guide our action and energy on the topic on climate change and environmental degradation in general. We need to keep our elected official responsible for their action or inaction especially when they are on our side.
We need radical, not incremental change
We can’t really solve climate change, it looks like the 2°C increase is inevitable and it seems like we’re headed for a catastrophic 4°C increase by the end of the century. Small incremental changes are not going to be enough to deal with this crisis. The people who care and understand the importance of this issue need to criticize the people who are at least acknowledging the problems. We can’t expect that Republicans, and their European counterparts, will demand action on climate change from a Democratic president or Congress. It’s the people who vote Democrat that need to hold them accountable while they are in office. This is really important because it will be very easy for the next Democratic president to look really reasonable without doing much to restructure the dysfunctional economic systems that are responsible for the severe environmental damage .
After all, his actions and rhetoric are going to be compared to the previous administration, and this is where the ‘Trump effect’ will kick in. In another article we talked about what I called “The Trump effect”, the idea is simple. Trump is so bad on environmental, social and economic issues that future presidents and current world leaders are going to easily avoid criticism on these issues, because of the shear contrast between them and Trump. Read more of my thoughts on this effect in this article.
To conclude the thought experiment I would say that we would be living in a much better world if Republicans were acting as Democrats, because presumably, that would imply that the Democrats would dare to go further and implement more effective environmental policies. Let me know what you think !
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