Barack Obama: Climate Change’s Neville Chamberlain?

Environmental peace in our time?

At Salon today, environmentalist Bill McKibben says that, with regard to global warming, civilization has an existential threat before it akin to Adolf Hitler. The slow-working of politics as usual, in other words, won’t work. You either throw-in with a war-like footing against a real collective threat, or you see your very existence overtaken by a maelstrom. McKibben thinks that carbon levels above 350 parts per million are problematic (and we’re already at 390 parts per million):

A new analysis released Thursday by a consortium of European think-tanks shows that the various offers on the table add up to a world in which the atmosphere contains 650 parts per million and the temperature rises an ungodly five degrees Fahrenheit. What I’m saying is: even the best politicians are treating the problem of climate change as a normal political one, where you halve the distance between various competing interests and do your best to reach some kind of consensus that doesn’t demand too much of anyone, yet reduces the political pressure for a few years — at which time, of course, you (or possibly someone entirely different) will have to deal with it again. Obama is doing the same thing with climate change that he did with healthcare. He’s acting with complete political realism . . . Here, unfortunately, the foe is implacable. Implacable foes emerge rarely. The best human analog to the role physics is playing here may be fascism in the middle of the last century. There was no appeasing it, no making a normal political issue out of it. You had to decide to go all in, to transform the industrial base of the country to fight it, to put other things on hold, to demand sacrifice. Yet it’s all too obvious that we’re not dealing with it that way.

No, we’re not. And we will not. Which means that we better hope that greenhouse gas buildup will not have the consequences most feared by some climate scientists. To avert disaster, we might also cross our fingers for a technological fix. A political solution is obviously going to be an inadequate muddle (as most political solutions are). Contemporary global leaders—like Barack Obama—make for good compromise-oriented Neville Chamberlains, but not-so-good Winston Churchills.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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