President Barack Obama embarked on his second term with his inspiring inaugural promise to “respond to the threat of climate change” lest we “betray our children and grandchildren.” He can begin to turn ambition into action at this year’s State of the Union on February 12, the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.
Of all the bold political moves made by Obama, few are as audacious as his deliberate invitations to be compared to our nation’s greatest president Obama announced his candidacy for president at the site of Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech and was sworn into office on Lincoln’s Bible. Like Lincoln, President Obama is a great orator. But Lincoln is revered not for his great speeches, but for his actions at the moment of America’s greatest crisis. For President Obama to be remembered as a great leader, he must act decisively on the existential threat of our era, climate change.
It thus makes sense to look to Lincoln for guidance. In the decades before the Civil War, Americans struggled to reconcile deep qualms about slavery with the wealth it brought to the young nation. The country’s political class was dominated by the entrenched power of the wealthy southern “slaveocracy” committed to the preservation and the expansion of their “peculiar institution.” Failing to challenge the power of King Cotton, weak presidents instead accommodated the slave power. James Monroe ratified the Missouri Compromise, Millard Fillmore agreed to the Compromise of 1850, Pierce and Buchanan dithered as Kansas bled – until Lincoln drew a hard line against slavery’s expansion into the West.
Speaking on the steps of the Illinois State Capitol, two years before he was elected President, Lincoln described the urgency of the threat facing the Union. “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free, I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” Lincoln’s greatness derives from his willingness to force the nation to admit that freedom and slavery could not coincide — that continued inaction, indecision, and compromise meant the end of the nation. Through the nation’s deadliest war, against widespread demands for another round of compromises, another expansion of slavery, Lincoln held firm.
Today, we have again spent too long ignoring a looming crisis, one that threatens not just our nation, but the world. In 1863, the fate of the world’s only democracy was imperiled by the sin of slavery. Seven score and three years later, the fate of all the world’s people is imperiled by the poisoning of the climate. Over the course of two hundred years, hundreds of billions of tons of carbon have been dumped into our atmosphere, incurring a debt that is now being called for remittance.
Continuing on our fossil-fueled path, scientist Kevin Anderson warns, will take us into a world that is “incompatible with organized global community.” Already, New Orleans and New York, Nashville and Minneapolis, Vermont and Kansas have faced unprecedented floods, fires, and storms, with lives lost and families torn asunder. The maelstrom is now upon us.
Once again, our politics are dominated by a wealthy elite, this time a ‘carbonocracy’ of fossil-fuel corporations. Their money is freely spent to corrupt our democracy; Obama’s inaugural ceremonies this year were brought to us in part by a $260,000 contribution by Exxon Mobil. The profits of these companies depend on their capacity to convince Americans, against all evidence, that climate change is not an urgent problem, that the expansion of offshore drilling, tar-sands pipelines, and natural-gas fracking are acceptable compromises, that the challenge of global warming can be put off for another generation.
If we do not change course now, and instead continue to increase the burning of coal and oil as multinational energy companies desire, we will fundamentally transform the very land we live on, the water we drink, the air we breathe in ways that are beyond our ken.
To defend Americans from the devastating impacts of climate change, Obama must recognize that the fossil-fueled economy is a moral wrong in our society that requires action today. “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” Obama said on Monday. But if he aims to be our generation’s Abraham Lincoln, Obama must do what is hard. If Obama doesn’t present a plan on climate, one that severs our ties to a morally unfathomable economic system of planetary destruction, with the fixed idea that it must and will come to an end, the union will be lost.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, there is renewed energy on Capitol Hill and in the White House to take action against the fossil fuel industry’s destruction of our climate. President Barack Obama startled pundits with his emphasis on fighting climate change in his inaugural address. Furthermore, “Senate Democrats will push a bill to help areas vulnerable to climate change prepare for extreme weather events,” the HuffPost Hill newsletter reports.
As it turns out, Obama’s inauguration ceremony was funded in part by $260,000 from Exxon Mobil, and the HuffPost Hill newsletter is sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, Big Oil’s lobbying arm.
Exactly three months earlier, the HuffPost Hill mocked Change.org for changing its policies to accept any corporate sponsors with the headline “CHANGE.ORG WILL SEE YOU NOW, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE.” HuffPost Hill editorialized that Change.org had “decided to reject its founding progressive principles and embrace corporate advertising, Republican party solicitations, astroturf campaigns, pro-life or anti-union ads and other sponsorships that its liberal base of users may object to.”
The U.S. House of Representatives, after nearly three months of delay, is finally voting to provide emergency federal aid for the survivors of Superstorm Sandy. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) prevented a vote in the previous Congress, leaving millions of Americans in the cold and outraging Northeast Republicans such as Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY).
Responding to the public outrage, the House voted to approve $9 billion in flood insurance funding in the first week of January, overcoming the nay votes of 67 Republicans called “jackasses” by former Senator Al D’Amato (R-NY).
Yesterday afternoon, the House Rules Committee took up H.R. 152, the $50.7 billion Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, critical for the rebuilding of the regions affected by the freakish storm. In the meeting, Republicans argued against the emergency support, attacked labor protections for workers, and praised the “logic” of cutting services for the American people to pay for emergency relief from a fossil-fueled disaster. In the meeting, the committee laid out a progression of votes at the behest of Tea Party groups like Club for Growth and David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, which have taken a hard line against disaster relief. Debate on the bill and amendments is limited to three hours, making it possible that all votes will take place today.
Below is a summary of the vote sequence:
: GOOD: Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) amendment. After an hour of debate, the House will consider $17 billion in emergency funding. This legislation is expected to pass, with only extreme conservatives voting against.
: BAD: Mulvaney (R-SC), McClintock (R-CA), Duncan (R-SC), Lummis (R-WY) amendment. Then the House will consider an amendment that demands $17 billion in mandatory cuts in services for the poor, young, and elderly. This amendment may garner significant Republican support and would set a dire precedent for Congressional disaster relief.
: GOOD: Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) amendment. After 20 minutes of further debate, the House will vote on the rest of the Sandy relief and rebuilding package, $33.7 billion “to cover current and anticipated needs in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Sandy.” This language is the other key vote. Only about 50 Republicans are expected to support this key legislation.
Following these three major votes, an additional 11 amendments will be considered in turn, with 10 minutes of debate for each. There are multiple “jackass” amendments that cut disaster preparedness and relief funding from extremist Republicans Reps. Paul Broun (R-GA), John Fleming (R-LA), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Bill Flores (R-TX), and Rob Bishop (R-UT). Broun’s amendment deserves particular attention for its special degree of jackassery:
: Broun (R-GA) amendment: “Amendment to FRELINGHUYSEN: Strikes $13,000,000 in funding to ‘accelerate the National Weather Service ground readiness project.’”
There are two good amendments from Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) that provide much-needed funding for community development and veterans’ cemeteries damaged by Sandy. Other amendments, including a submission from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to consider man-made sea level rise, were ruled out of order.
Important provisions to help the many climate disaster victims of 2012 prepare for our dangerous future are being attacked as “pork.” The opposite is true. The Frelinghuysen bill already eliminates much-needed support for many climate disaster survivors around the nation. Tea Party activists are pushing for even further cuts.
Republicans have held up this emergency spending for nearly three months because they say the U.S. can’t afford to help victims of climate disasters – but they refuse to make Big Oil pay even a share for the damage their pollution has caused. These same legislators were willing to shut down the government to protect tax breaks for billionaires.
Of the 67 Republicans who voted against the initial disaster relief, only one, Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS), has publicly changed his vote after a visit to Long Island and New Jersey. The remaining “jackasses” include 18 freshmen and at least 36 Republicans who have previously demanded emergency disaster relief for their constituents, but are now obeying the heartless commands of carbon billionaire David Koch, the wealthiest man in New York City.
In his annual address to the state of New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) raised an urgent alarm about climate change in the wake of the Superstorm Sandy. “Climate change is real,” he said. “It is denial to say each of these situations is a once-in-a-lifetime. There is a 100-year flood every two years now. It is inarguable that the sea is warmer and there is a changing weather pattern, and the time to act is now.”
President Barack Obama avoided such language in the days after Sandy struck. Obama’s second inaugural address is January 19, 2013.