I can't claim to be fully objective when it comes to Barack Obama, who is one of the best speakers I've ever heard, perhaps the best. But perhaps my fandom will make the following point a little sharper.
Mr. President, when you speak about the climate, you really haven't found your way. When you speak of terrorism, and the "false choice" between security and civil liberties, we thrill to your idealism. When you speak of the hard times we face, and challenges we must meet, we admire your sobriety, and your insistence that we are all in this together; red states, blue states, rich, poor, white, black, native and immigrant. When you allude to the criticism you often hear from your beautiful and accomplished wife, we understand your humility.
But when you speak of the climate, you haven't found an effective voice.
On June 3rd, in a speech marking your victory in the Democratic primaries, you said that "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
The phrasing was widely mocked on the Right, and with justification. It over-reached and over-promised. We can hope that an Obama administration will slow the inexorable rise of greenhouse gas emissions, and that such will mark the high-water mark for sea level rise, but the numbers say no.
In your Inaugural address, you declared that "With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the
nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet."
This somewhat less grandiose statement seemed to go over a little better, but it's a poorly mixed metaphor — how does one roll back a ghost? And if climate change is a ghost, is it really necessary?
Mr. President, this is not to imply that you don't know the subject. Your answers to questions on the campaign trail show that indeed you understand.
"There's no reason we can't do the same thing on climate change that we did on acid rain," you said in New Hampshire. "You remember everybody said it couldn't be done, it's too expensive, it's going to cost too much? But year after year we reduced those pollutants, and you don't hear much about acid rain any more. Because when we decide to tackle a problem, it gets solved. But we've got to make a decision collectively. As a people."
This is the crux of the matter: our willingness to act, or, in Al Gore's phrase, our ability to find the political will. And, to be fair, some climate advocates admired the boldness of the inaugural address.
I disagree. As long as the climate issue is made part of the energy issue, it will be enslaved to the rise and fall in energy prices. Nothing will be done when gas prices are perceived to be too high, as we saw last summer, and the issue will be ignored when prices are low, as we see now. Given the division on the issue among the public, may I suggest, Mr. President, that you will need to find a better metaphor with which to inspire that political will on climate, because what you have said so far just isn't working.