President Barack Obama’s much-touted plan to address global climate change through a series of executive orders was meant to demonstrate strong leadership on a serious problem. The plan has, instead, only served to underscore the dysfunction of a federal government that seems unable to tackle big challenges with the gravity they deserve.
Obama unveiled a number of executive actions to reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and he specifically targeted the carbon dioxide emitted by many of the nation’s power plants. He also proposed new spending to help communities prepare for climate change that is already anticipated, even if new pollution controls take effect.
The public policy implications of climate change mean that the president and Congress should work together on constructive solutions. But the president, seeing little hope for consensus on the issue on Capitol Hill, didn’t propose ambitious new legislation to address climate change. Instead, he announced executive orders that by-pass Congress — essentially detouring a debate rather then engaging it.
But sustained progress on climate change will eventually require the president and Congress to work as partners, not adversaries. Obama’s policy directives, while interesting as political theater, seemed more like a photo opportunity than an occasion for national dialogue. The president’s climate change speech does not appear to be part of an extended fight for the hearts and minds of the American people on this issue. Instead of following up on his speech with a cross-country sales job, the president instead headed overseas to Africa. The timing suggests a chief executive crossing a campaign pledge from his to-do list before moving on to something else.
If Obama’s tactics here seem a tad cynical, then he’s certainly not alone in reducing climate change to an exercise in political expedience. His Republican adversaries, many of whom deny the reality of climate change in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, have largely created the stalemate that has blocked meaningful legislation to curb greenhouse gases.
Louisiana has a big stake in this issue. Its coast, like coastlines everywhere, is especially vulnerable to the rising sea levels that are anticipated as one result of climate change. Louisiana also has a large industrial corridor that could be impacted by changes to emission standards. Reconciling industrial productivity with environmental stewardship will require compromise.
Obama’s latest proposals for dealing with climate change — and the reactions those proposals inspired among the president’s critics — revealed how elusive compromise has become.