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|U.S. President Barack Obama came to
office promising hope and change. But on climate change, he has
followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Now,
should the climate summit in Copenhagen fail, the blame will lie
squarely with Obama.
The folder labelled “climate change” that George W. Bush left behind
for his successor on the desk of the Oval Office in January likely
wasn't a thick one. Although Bush once said that America is overly
dependent on oil, he never got beyond that insight. He was too busy
waging war on Iraq and searching for a legal basis for extraordinary
renditions to pay much attention to the real threat facing humanity.
“Forget the climate” seems to have been Bush's unofficial motto.
But few people expected that Barack Obama, of all people, would
continue his predecessor's climate change plan. When he took office
at the beginning of 2009, it was clear that the success of the UN
Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen in December depended almost
entirely on the U.S. and that America needed to take a clear
leadership role on a problem that could shake civilization to its
Only if the U.S. manages to reduce its excessive energy consumption,
commit itself to mandatory CO2 emission reduction targets and help
finance poorer countries' move away from oil is there still a chance
that countries like China and India will do the same and that a
dangerous warming of the Earth can be stopped. On the weekend, Obama
announced that there would be no agreement on binding rules in
Copenhagen. It was the admission of a massive failing and the
prelude to a truly dramatic phase of international climate policy.
Obama lied to the Europeans
Barack Obama cast himself as a “citizen of the world” when he
delivered his well received campaign speech in Berlin in the summer
of 2008. But the U.S. president has now betrayed this claim. In his
Berlin speech, he was dishonest with Europe. Since then, Obama has
neglected the single most important issue for an American president
who likes to imagine himself as a world citizen, namely, his
country's addiction to fossil fuels and the risks of unchecked
climate change. Health-care reform and other domestic issues were
more important to him than global environmental threats. He was
either unwilling or unable to convince skeptics in his own ranks and
potential defectors from the ranks of the Republicans to support
him, for example, by promising alternative investments as a
compensation for states with large coal reserves.
Obama's announcement at the APEC summit that it was no longer
possible to secure a binding treaty in Copenhagen is the result of
his own negligence. China, India and other emerging economies have
always spoken openly about the fact that the U.S., as the world's
largest emitter of CO2, has to be proactive in committing itself to
targets agreed on by way of international negotiation. But that is
not America's style. The U.S. is quite happy to see itself as the
leader of the Western world. But when it comes to climate change,
America has once again failed miserably for the umpteenth time.
If the rest of the world were to follow the U.S. example in their
approach to fossil fuels, the oceans would not only heat up, but
would probably soon begin to boil. American per capita CO2 emissions
are about twice as high as those in comparable industrialized
nations and many times greater than those of the developing world.
The climate change bill that is currently making its way through
Congress does not go nearly far enough and that is Obama's fault.
The bill proposed reducing CO2 emissions by a ridiculous 4 percent
relative to 1990 levels, by 2020. Climate researchers believe that
reductions of 40 percent or more are required.
The bill has since been watered-down even more by exactly the kind
of lobbying interests that the new U.S. president had promised to
overcome. Obama has neglected to communicate the importance of
climate change to his fellow citizens by speaking about it in a
major speech or in his much-loved “town hall” meetings. And he has
left it to the Europeans to take the lead.
Americans do not look beyond their own borders
Obama's priorities are wrong. Copenhagen is not just any old summit
it is the long-awaited climax of many years of negotiations,
negotiations whose failure was only averted at the last minute at
the Bali summit two years ago. Industry and energy companies around
the world will use the results of the Copenhagen summit as a
benchmark when planning their investments for the coming years and
Obama was quite happy to make the trip to Copenhagen in October to
support his hometown Chicago's bid to host the Olympic Games. But he
is currently leaving open the question of whether he will come to
the Danish capital in December for the UN Climate Change Conference.
In doing so, he has given other world leaders the signal that they
do not need to attend. If the Copenhagen summit, which energy
strategists and environmentalists have been preparing for two years,
is a failure, then it will mainly be Obama's fault.
Admittedly, the Europeans have been slow to make concrete pledges of
the billions of Euros that are needed to help developing countries
combat climate change, but at least they are prepared to make
significant CO2 reductions of up to 30 percent, relative to 1990
levels, by 2020. The U.S., however, is dragging its feet, preferring
tactics to strategy just as was the case under George W. Bush.
Dreamt up by Hollywood
For most Americans, the world beyond the U.S.'s borders is nothing
more than an irritating nuisance. For this reason, arguments based
on appeals about drowning Bangladeshis, starving Africans and
flooded islands in Indonesia have little effect. In Hollywood, the
United States has an industry that continually pushes the
materialistic ideal of Western prosperity to billions of people
around the world, while at the same time bombarding them with
apocalyptic visions in the form of disaster movies.
Many Americans clearly also believe that real climate change is just
something dreamt up by the entertainment industry.
Obama has proven himself to be unable to put an end to the lies that
modern American society is based on. He is unable to overcome the
entrenched lobbyists of the oil and coal industries and make the
reality clear to his compatriots: They are the worst energy wasters
on the planet and are thus, indirectly, a major threat to world
peace in the 21st century. Although they do not enjoy a higher
quality of life than Europeans, Americans consume twice as much
fossil fuel per capita. Their cars are too big, their homes are not
energy-efficient, and they have yet to focus their talents for
innovation away from trivial entertainment gadgets and toward
The Main culprit
It may seem arrogant to take the Americans to task to such a degree.
But at least in Europe, many are willing to question their own
lifestyle and to look at events beyond their own borders.
The Copenhagen summit, which is just three weeks away, is not lost
yet. But if the worst-case scenario becomes reality at Copenhagen
and at the follow-up conferences if, in other words, world leaders
ignore the findings of the global scientific community then the U.S.
will find itself in a very uncomfortable position. America will be
seen as the primary culprit of global warming and this after the
U.S., with its rampant real estate speculation, has given us a
global economic crisis that has not only destroyed assets, but
pushed 100 million people worldwide into hunger. With that kind of
track record, the U.S. hardly has a claim any more to the leadership
of the Western world let alone a Nobel Peace Prize for its leader.
A world of flooded coasts, dried-up rivers and disappearing
rainforests will lead to massive refugee movements and conflict. The
Nobel Committee should postpone the award ceremony for the Nobel
Peace Prize from Dec. 10 to Dec. 20. Only if Obama has achieved a
convincing deal at the Copenhagen conference will there be a real
reason to honour him.