Climate Change

Published on December 14th, 2012 | by Stephen Lacey


In 20 Years, Climate Will Be The Issue Obama Is Judged On, Van Jones Says

December 14th, 2012 by  

This articles has been reposted from Climate Progress with permission.

President Obama’s legacy will be defined by a number of issues: the stimulus package; killing Osama bin Laden; his endless battles with Congress; his support for gay marriage.

But arguably the biggest issue he’ll be judged on — one that is still rarely mentioned in Washington policy circles — is climate change.

It is true that this President has done more than any other leader in American history to promote clean energy. But that will only be one piece of his legacy. The rest of his climate record will be marked by his decision to allow drilling in the rapidly melting Arctic ocean, his choice to approve or deny the Keystone XL pipeline, and his ability to once again lead on pricing carbon. These are all still very much up in the air.

Van Jones, the former White House “Green Jobs Czar” and a progressive moment builder, is warning the President that he needs to find the “courage” to stand up and deal with these issues in a climate context. In an interview with science writer Chris Mooney for Mother Jones Magazine, Jones says he believes that climate will be “the issue he’s judged on”:

Mother Jones: What would real climate leadership look like? You gave President Obama a “B” or “B-” on the environment in his first term, what would he have to do to earn an “A” in the second one?

Van Jones: An “A” would be a major energy and climate bill as a centerpiece of his legacy. He obviously has to deal with the economy and the budget issues that the Tea Party keeps trying to politicize. And there’s a question of immigration reform, which is critical as a major part of the progressive coalition. But, ten years from now, twenty years from now, the only thing people are going to be asking of this president is either, why he didn’t find the courage to do something on climate change, or they’re going to be asking how he found the courage. I think from the viewpoint of history, this is going to be the issue that he’s judged on. We’ve seen a lot of conversation about this fiscal cliff, which is an invented, manufactured crisis, but very little talk about the climate cliff, which is a real, unavoidable crisis.

So if we can have the president of the United States on TV every day talking about the manufactured fiscal cliff, then he can use all of those resources to put pressure on Congress to do something about the real climate cliff.

After his re-election last month, President Obama hinted that he might once again talk about climate change in his second term: “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t…threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

However, in his first post-election press conference, the President backed away from acting on climate and attempted to separate the environment from the economy: “If the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

The White House likes to point to the stimulus package, EPA regulations, and other executive orders as evidence of the President’s work on climate — often without really talking about climate. While these actions do set us on a pathway toward emissions reductions, they are still not nearly close to what scientists say we need, and not quite bold enough to convince countries like China and India that the U.S. is leading internationally on climate.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a range of new research telling us that we are on the brink of catastrophic climate change — right now. In the next twenty years, everything we know will be influenced and transformed by climate. And when people look back, they won’t be nitpicking about which policies did more to incrementally reduce emissions.

Assuming that Obama stays mum on climate, they’ll be asking why the President of the United States didn’t use the opportunity to rally the country when the science demanded it.

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About the Author

is an editor at Greentech Media. Formerly, he was a reporter/blogger for Climate Progress, where he wrote about clean energy policy, technologies, and finance. Before joining CP, he was an editor/producer with He received his B.A. in journalism from Franklin Pierce University.

  • Steven,

    Van Jones is correct when he states that the “climate Issue’ is what will define President Obama’s legacy. But there is one really big monkey wrench in the machine here. Because of our increasing knowledge of climate science and the fact of our refusal to address the issue in a timely manner, there won’t be anyone around to muse on his presidency in 20 years if he/we don’t address, and I mean seriously address, climate change. The science says that if we fail we are looking at a Permian-Triassic level event.

    Due to the , what I like to call, methane bomb…it’s no longer simply an issue of pipelines, carbon taxes, electric cars (sorry Bob) or any of those issues. Though they still must be done. The stakes have been exponentially raised and in the poker game of life and death Mother Earth has gone “all in” and is waiting to see if we will call her bet.

    Harold Hensel, avers that there is a technology that will allow us to destroy methane in the atmosphere using a specific radio frequency. if we fail to address this all important issue it’s “game, set and match” for humanity. Then we will still need to abandon fossil fuels immediately (yea I know that that hasn’t worked so well to date) The politicians seem to think that jobs and growth are more important that addressing climate change but if we truly attack this (they seem to like war so much) in a Manhattan Project manner there would be jobs aplenty and all the economic growth that they will ever want. Wringing their hands about the “debt” bullshit and consequently doing nothing will get us a nice shiny coffin to spend eternity in.

  • TwoBob

    I agree. While Obamacare is a significant achievement, it will quickly become part of the social furniture. At present, the world is still in Business-As-Usual mode. At some point in the next two or three decades, BAU will become impossible and humanity will be fully engaged in a desperate scramble to mitigate the worst effects of this self-inflicted catastrophe. Then there will be a reckoning for the political and business leaders of this generation, especially for those that are still alive. If he fails to grasp his great opportunity he will be known forever as The Great Disappointment.

  • Bob_Wallace

    I think this article misses the point.

    If PBO does little from here on out to combat climate change then his reputation will likely suffer. Along with the rest of the world’s leaders.

    I suspect drilling in the Arctic won’t be part of his legacy. North Dakota oil is taking a lot of pressure off Arctic drilling. And I expect we’ll be moving to electric cars before any serious Arctic drilling gets underway. Drilling in ND is so much easier and shipping already in place. That’s where we’ll likely concentrate.

    The Keystone XL pipeline,if built, will be forgotten along with all the other millions of miles of pipelines in the world. We’ll scrap out the metal and clean up the messes.

    I suspect PBO will lead with some sort of carbon pricing before the end of his term, but that will depend on the American people evolving adequately to accept and even start demanding a price.

    The President is not a dictator. He can’t tell Congress what to do. Only citizens can do that and until we insist that Congress pass legislation there will be nothing for PBO to sign.

    Steven, Van and the others need to be putting pressure where it is needed. On Congress. Get a good climate bill to PBO’s desk and he’ll sign it. And then he’ll get his administration working hard to put the changes into action. Look what he’s done with the EPA and shutting down dirty coal plants. You’ve got to give him the tools.

    These guys continue to think that you can help their team by throwing stuff at their own quarterback.

    PBO’s legacy? Universal health care. Presidents get remembered for what they accomplish much more than what they fail to accomplish. Even if PBO has the opportunity to make larger inroads against climate change that won’t show up on his list of accomplishments.

  • Ronald Brak

    Apart from the milestone of being Australia’s first female Prime Minister, I think Julia Gilard will be remembered for the passing of our carbon price, even though it was the chance of the Greens holding the balance of power in Parliment that resulted in a half way decent package . But that’s the way it goes. If something big happens on your watch, either good or bad, that’s what you get remembered for.

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