Rolling Stone recently printed a remarkably forthright interview with President Barack Obama, covering topics including Afghanistan, financial regulation, and climate change. The interview doesn’t pull punches, confronting Obama with the accusation that “the regulation of Wall Street â€” especially the closing down of all the derivatives trading that was really at the heart of the financial meltdown â€” seems to have been eviscerated” and that “by every index we know of, there seems to be no part of the Afghanistan strategy that is working.” Jann Wenner, the interviewer, also asked Obama whether he agreed with climatologist James Hansen’s view that “climate change is the predominant moral issue of the 21st century, comparable to slavery faced by Lincoln and the response to Nazism faced by Churchill.”
Obama argues that his effort at climate change legislation was blocked in the senate, and that his administration “may end up having to do [climate change policy] in chunks.” He suggests that economic weakness has been a major cause of inaction on climate, since unemployment and lack of access to credit for businesses strike most people as more pressing problems. Obama goes on to claim that if he gets a second term, the policies he has already implemented on fuel efficiency and those that are planned for buildings will be sufficient to achieve a 17 percent reduction in American greenhouse gas emissions, using 2005 as a baseline.
Unfortunately, Obama chooses not to comment on climate change as a moral issue. He acknowledges that “climate change has the potential to have devastating effects on people around the globe, and we’ve got to do something about it” but he doesn’t answer the question of whether the moral impetus that arises from what we know about the impact of human activity on climate rises to the level of the fight against slavery or Nazism. In the end, however, the fact that Obama hasn’t made the issue his top priority probably shows that he doesn’t take the moral implications of the risk of catastrophic or runaway climate change sufficiently seriously.
Grist has some analysis of Obama’s answer.