Remember Sasha and Malia!

Future Hope column, July 23, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Democratic Party’s Failure to Fight on Climate

By Ted Glick

“I am firmly convinced that the passionate will for justice and truth has done more to improve (the human condition) than calculating political shrewdness which in the long run only breeds general mistrust.”
Albert Einstein, “Moral Decay,” 1937

1)—Harry Reid’s statement yesterday about why he would not be putting forward legislation on the climate crisis blamed the Congressional Republicans. It’s true that, with a few exceptions, Senator Susan Collins of Maine being at the top of the list, the Republican Party deserves withering criticism for their joined-at-the-hip allegiance to Big Oil and Dirty Coal.

2)—But the Republicans don’t control the White House, the Senate and the House. The Democrats do. And there are oil and coal appeasers – “soft” climate change deniers, in effect–very much within the leadership of the Democratic Party. If the Democratic Party were united behind the need for strong action to address the climate crisis, it is likely that they would have gone forward, and done so long before now, with an effort to pass climate legislation, if only to lay the basis for Democratic candidates this fall to contrast their party’s position with that of their Republican opponents. After all, numerous polls show that big majorities of the American people support a shift away from fossil fuels to renewables. This support was demonstrated during the 2008 elections when both Obama and McCain talked about the climate crisis and the need for action to address it.

3)—It is absolutely clear that Barack Obama either doesn’t really get it on the seriousness of this issue or, if he does, hasn’t yet developed the guts or the courage to give the needed leadership on it.

4)—Indeed, a likely point at which Obama began to lose his political nerve on climate was in the spring of 2009 when the Senate voted down a key, climate-related section of his proposed fiscal year 2010 budget authority resolution. Obama proposed that $650 billion of revenues be included over a ten year period that would come from expected-to-be-passed, future climate legislation, from an auction of emissions permits to polluters. I remember hearing last year from people who had White House connections that this vote by the Senate really upset the White House. This may well have been the point at which Obama started down the road of vacillation and indecision regarding how much he would make climate legislation a priority.

5)—But Obama’s continued vacillation and indecisiveness even after the BP blowout disaster, his unwillingness to connect the dots and rally the American people at this time when the seamy reality of our fossil fuel addiction is so obvious to everyone, is really inexcusable. “Pathetic” is the word that comes to mind.

6)—Given the deepening of the climate crisis – 2010 the hottest year on record, major methane releases in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf – and the fact that leadership from the President of the United States is absolutely essential if we’re to get the kind of federal legislation we need, it seems to me there are two course corrections that climate groups should be making.

7)—One course correction is to jettison the failed cap-and-trade model. There are better options, better in terms of their practical effect and better politically as far as support from the American people to undercut the Republican and fossil-fuel-Democrat problems. Cap and dividend, in particular, as put forward in Senator Cantwell and Collins’ bi-partisan CLEAR Act, has been picking up support ever since it was introduced last December, from climate groups, AARP, religious organizations, The Nation magazine, Senators Cardin and Merkley and others. And this approach – 100% auction of permits, most of the money returned in direct dividends to the American people, a chunk of it used for various clean energy investments – is exactly what Obama campaigned on consistently as a major part of his 2008 platform! He got elected with this as a major piece of what he talked about!

8)—The other thing we need to do is to appeal to Barack Obama as a father, not as the President or even as a politician. Barack Obama needs to be hearing over and over that we want him to think Sasha and Malia when he thinks of what he should do about climate and energy.

I’m afraid of heights. But in October, 2006 I climbed 25 feet up a ladder to an 18 inch wide ledge over the main entrance to the D.C. area headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. With Paul Burman I unfurled a banner which said, “Bush: Let NOAA Tell the Truth,” in reference to the suppression of climate scientists at NOAA by the Bush-appointed top leadership. Paul and I clung to that ledge for four hours before we were brought down and arrested by the police.

Paul and I spent hours practicing before this action, including climbing up a ladder. I remember that the way that I overcame my fear of doing so was to think about my two nieces, Abby and Ellie, then two and four years old. I kept thinking about the kind of world they will inherit if we are not successful in our efforts to prevent the catastrophic climate change that is our fate if we as a species don’t get serious very, very soon about getting off fossil fuels, protecting and rebuilding our forests and treating our Mother Earth with love and respect.

Thinking about Abby and Ellie gave me the courage I needed to climb that ladder. Hopefully, a Barack Obama who thinks “Sasha” and “Malia” when considering what he needs to do to recover from an absolutely terrible defeat on climate in the Senate would be different than the one we’ve seen so far.

Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Past writings and more information can be found at