Rahm Emanuel, the former top aide in the White House, once advised a world struggling with a financial meltdown that it was not good to let a serious crisis go to waste.
But this year, despite electoral momentum and tragedies by the handful, serious crises could go very much to waste for President Barack Obama. Could this mean the world will have to wait yet again for serious action to fight global warming? It depends.
The momentum to tackle a range of big issues — including climate change — seems ethereal at best after the debacle in the Senate last week where the president could not muster the 60 votes needed to advance a fairly unambitious gun control bill.
“Who would design a system in which a President recently re-elected by a margin of almost five million votes could not move a piece of legislation supported by some ninety per cent of the country through even one chamber of the Congress—even when a majority of legislators in that chamber voted for it?” asked Ryan Lizza in a recent post for the New Yorker.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After the Sandy Hook tragedy last year in Connecticut where 26 people, including 20 children, were slaughtered by a gunman, people hoped there would be momentum to tackle gun control. After Hurricane Sandy walloped the East Coast, people saw a new consensus emerging on the need to battle climate change.
But momentum in the U.S. is often fleeting in the face of the bitter right-left divide that pervades the nation. And for the rest of the world the lack of action on global warming will be acutely felt.
The United States is facing a healing period after the horrific events of the Boston Marathon bombing and Obama will win plaudits from some for his role as healer in chief. But we know Kumbaya moments evaporate quickly in the U.S.
With the divide as great as ever, pundits in Washington are already writing off Obama’s second term. But others hope he keeps trying.
Obama did promise to take independent action on climate change if Congress did not act. And he has the Environmental Protection Agency as the chief attack dog to get industry to cut harmful emissions.
John Kerry, the new green-minded Secretary of State, issued a strong, pro-climate message for Earth Day this week, that all but commits the country to take action on pressing environmental issues:
“The science is screaming at all of us and demands action. From the far reaches of Antarctica’s Ross Sea to tropical wetlands in Southeast Asia, we have a responsibility to safeguard and sustainably manage our planet’s natural resources, and the United States remains firm in its commitment to addressing global environmental challenges.”
And when you think about it, if Obama is boxed in at home, what has he got to lose if he pushes for a “grand bargain” on climate issues globally?
Ultimately, however, he will still need Congressional support to tackle some of the bigger issues. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, recently urged the president to keep pressing on with big ideas, including imposing a carbon tax to help both the country and the environment. ”I hope the president swings for the fences,” Friedman wrote. “It’s the only way to revive the country and a moribund Republican Party.”
And it may be the only way to revive moribund efforts to tackle global warming, including getting much needed leadership from the United States.