Leaving The Wrong Legacy?

Leaving The Wrong Legacy?

In a scathing piece for Rolling Stone, 350.org's Bill McKibben tore into President Obama's lack of action on climate change. He concedes that the cynics have been right -- that nothing the president's done has lived up to his promises to “end the tyranny of oil” or “slow the rise of the oceans.”

Bill McKibben for Rolling Stone:

"Two years ago, on a gorgeous November day, 12,000 activists surrounded the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Signs we carried featured quotes from Barack Obama in 2008: "Time to end the tyranny of oil"; "In my administration, the rise of the oceans will begin to slow."
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"Here's Obama speaking in Cushing, Oklahoma, last year, in a speech that historians will quote many generations hence. It is to energy what Mitt Romney's secretly taped talk about the 47 percent was to inequality. Except that Obama was out in public, boasting for all the world to hear:

"Over the last three years, I've directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We're opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We've quad­rupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We've added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth, and then some. . . . In fact, the problem . . . is that we're actually producing so much oil and gas . . . that we don't have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it where it needs to go."

Actually, of course, "the problem" is that climate change is spiraling out of control. Under Obama we've had the warmest year in American history – 2012 – featuring a summer so hot that corn couldn't grow across much of the richest farmland on the planet. We've seen the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the largest wind field ever measured, both from Hurricane Sandy. We've watched the Arctic melt, losing three quarters of its summer sea ice. We've seen some of the largest fires ever recorded in the mountains of California, Colorado and New Mexico. And not just here, of course – his term has seen unprecedented drought and flood around the world. The typhoon that just hit the Philippines, according to some meteorologists, had higher wind speeds at landfall than any we've ever seen. When the world looks back at the Obama years half a century from now, one doubts they'll remember the health care website; one imagines they'll study how the most powerful government on Earth reacted to the sudden, clear onset of climate change."


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Still, McKibben sees an opportunity for the president to redeem himself by doing "the right thing on Keystone XL, a decision expected sometime in the next six months."

However, "even on this one highly contested pipeline," McKibben writes, "he's already given the oil industry half of what it wanted."

"That day in Oklahoma when he boasted about encircling the Earth with pipelines, he also announced his support for the southern leg of Keystone, from Oklahoma to the Gulf. Not just his support: He was directing his administration to "cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done."

"It has," McKibben laments. "Despite brave opposition from groups like Tar Sands Blockade, Keystone South is now 95 percent complete, and the administration is in court seeking to beat back the last challenges from landowners along the way. The president went ahead and got it done. If only he'd apply that kind of muscle to stopping climate change."

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Bill McKibben is a bestselling author and environmental activist, as well as a frequent contributor to various magazines including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Orion Magazine, Mother Jones, The New York Review of Books, Granta, Rolling Stone, and Outside. He is also a board member and contributor to Grist Magazine.

Bill has been awarded Guggenheim and Lyndhurst Fellowships, and won the Lannan Prize for nonfiction writing in 2000. He has honorary degrees from Green Mountain College, Unity College, Lebanon Valley College and Sterling College.

Bill currently resides with his wife, writer Sue Halpern, and his daughter, Sophie, who was born in 1993, in Ripton, Vermont. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College.

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