“How can Obama lead the world into the clean-energy future when he can’t lead the Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress?”

October 1, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Posted in environment, politics straight up | Leave a comment
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Hafenstrasse, Copenhagen, Denmark.  Detroit Publishing Company, c1905.  (Library of Congress)

Hafenstrasse, Copenhagen, Denmark. Detroit Publishing Company, c1905. (Library of Congress)

Matthew Yglesias has a post up at American Progress about the coming December meeting in Denmark and the effect our current domestic political problems will have on President Obama’s ability to lead, or even participate, in shaping the world’s response to climate change.

This is not only a profound crisis for the world but a much more profound crisis for American global leadership than is generally recognized in Washington. Our position in the world is largely determined by the enormous size of our economic output, land mass, and population. But to a critical extent the United States leads a coalition of friendly nations — and has done so for decades — because we’re generally perceived as the “good guys” of international politics. Better us than the Nazis, then better us than the Communists, and more recently better us than Islamist fanatics. The premise here is that whatever disputes may arise between friends, the U.S. and its major allies are generally on the same side of the biggest disputes of the era.

On climate, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The United States is, historically speaking, by far the largest contributor to the problem. And it’s not a minor problem — the quantity of lives at stake far exceeds the number threatened by conventional terrorist attacks — and rather than be a part of the solution, we’ve been steadily making things worse.

Foreign elites have a reasonable understanding of American politics and will forgive Obama for not being able to show up in Copenhagen with a fully formed piece of legislation. But unless some kind of realistic roadmap exists where people can see how a serious climate bill might be enacted, we’re hurtling toward ecological and diplomatic disaster. It’s not too late for the climate crisis to join the list of serious international problems solved by a U.S.-led coalition. But for it to happen, conservative and “moderate” U.S. politicians need to ask themselves if they really want America’s future to be that of an isolated country, despised by all for having wrecked the planet.

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