There’s significant evidence that Barack Obama as an individual cares very deeply about climate change, particularly in his role as a parent.
However, he built a governing team around him with deep, unresolved conflicts on climate action. Inspiring scientists like John Holdren, Jane Lubchenco, and Stephen Chu are at key leadership positions in his administration. However, his top economic advisers – Timothy Geithner, Peter Orszag, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers – reflect the false economic orthodoxy that climate action comes at the price of economic growth. (Even though Summers believes that climate change is on par with nuclear war as an existential threat to the human race.) His top political advisers – Bill Daley, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Jim Messina, Anita Dunn, Stephanie Cutter – believe climate action to be a political loser.
As president, he economic advisers hold sway first, followed by the political advisers, then last the scientists.
As a candidate, the political advisers come first, followed by the economic advisers. The scientists are thought to be irrelevant.
This has led to problems.
A popular metaphor for understanding how global warming pollution causes more extreme weather is how steroids created the Home Run era of modern baseball.
The metaphor usually goes: “Climate scientists compare global warming to steroids and extreme weather to home runs. While we can’t attribute any single home run to the use of steroids in baseball, we can attribute to such performance enhancing drugs the increased frequency and magnitude of long balls.”
But that’s not where the metaphor should stop.
Perhaps we can’t attribute any single home run to steroid use, but we can attribute immune system damage, liver damage, gynecomastia, testicular atrophy, ventricular thickening, premature epiphyseal fusion, and fetal disorders to steroid abuse.
The influence of manmade greenhouse gases on our climate system is systemic and cumulative. It’s not just changing the frequency of extreme weather events; it’s changing what weather is.
Frankenstorm Sandy wasn’t just a home run powered by global warming—it was a home run hit by a climate system with systemic damage caused by global warming.