Here's the really inconvenient truth: We have not even begun to be serious about the costs, the effort and the scale of change that will be required to shift our country, and eventually the world, to a largely emissions-free energy infrastructure over the next 50 years.
know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it." He spoke on the issue of slavery that day with a degree of honesty that other politicians were loath to practice. At Springfield he asserted that "A house divided against itself cannot stand . . . this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free." His immediate targets were the evasions and complications of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and the Supreme Court ruling handed down in the Dred Scott case, but particularly those whom he accused of conspiring to spread slavery to states where it did not already exist. In his speech Lincoln accused Senator Stephen Douglas, President Franklin Pierce, Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, and President James Buchanan of a conspiracy to spread slavery. This accusation was supported by circumstantial evidence such that
-Thomas Friedman ("The Power of Green," 2007)
n june of 1858 abraham lincoln began his address at Springfield, Illinois by saying, "If we could first it was "impossible to not believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first lick was struck." His opponent in the upcoming Senatorial election, Stephen Douglas, he described as a "caged and toothless" lion.
Lincoln had begun the process of "framing" the issue of slavery without equivocation, but in a way that would still build electoral support based on logic, evidence, and eloquence. On February 27, i860, Lincoln's address at the Cooper Institute in New York extended and deepened the argument. He began with words from Stephen Douglas: "Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now." He proceeded to analyze the historical record to infer what the "fathers" actually believed. Lincoln in a masterful and lawyerly way identified 39 of the founders who had "acted on the question" of slavery in decisions voted on in 1784, 1787, 1789, 1798, 1803, and 1820. In contrast to the position held by Douglas, Lincoln showed that 2i of the 39 had acted in ways that clearly indicated their belief that the federal government had the power to rule on the issue of slavery and that the other 16, who had not been called upon to act on the issue, had in various ways taken positions that suggested that they would have concurred with the majority.
Having destroyed Douglas's position that the federal government lacked authority to act, Lincoln proceeded to address "the Southern people . . . if they would listen." He began with the assertion that every man has a right to his opinion, but "no right to mislead others, who have less access to history and less leisure to study it," and proceeded down the list of charges and countercharges in the overheated politics of i860. His aim was to join the Republican cause with the constitutional power to restrain the extension of slavery and not to assert the power of the federal government to abolish it, while also saying bluntly that slavery was wrong. He admonished his followers to "calmly consider [the] demands" of the Southern people and "yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can." And then he closed by saying "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it" [emphasis in Lincoln's text]. Lincoln had defined the issue and clarified the powers of the federal government to deal with it.
The Cooper Institute address was instrumental in Lincoln's election to the presidency and also in framing the constitutional issues over slavery and states' rights that had smoldered for 74 years before bursting into the firestorm of the Civil War. As president, Lincoln further refined the issues of slavery, states' rights, and constitutional law. In his first inaugural address, in 1861, Lincoln attempted to reach out to the "people of the Southern states," assuring them that he neither claimed nor would assert a right as president to "interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists." The address is an extended description of the constitutional realities as Lincoln saw them, in which a national government could not be dissolved by the actions of the constituent states. The point was that the Union remained unbroken and that he'd sworn only to defend the Constitution and the union that it had created, not to abolish slavery. He regarded himself still as the president of the southern states and the conflict as a rebellion, not a war between independent countries. Lincoln admonished his "countrymen" to "think calmly and well" on the issues at hand and then closed with the words:
I am loth [sic] to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Through the next four years, Lincoln continued to frame the meaning of the Civil War relative to the Constitution, but always in measured strokes, looking to a horizon that most could not see. The Emancipation Proclamation was carefully fitted to the war situation of 1862, and the nuances of keeping the loyal slave states neutral proclaimed only a partial emancipation applicable only to the states in rebellion, drawing the ire of the impatient. At Gettysburg, Lincoln, in a masterpiece of concise eloquence based on years of arguing the principle that "if men are created equal, they cannot be property," corrected the Constitution, in Garry Wills' view, without overthrowing it (Wills, 1992, pp. 120, 147). The "unfinished work" he described was that of restoring the Union and, in effect, taking a country of states to "a new birth of freedom" as a nation with a government "of the people, by the people, for the people."
Lincoln's second inaugural address is the capstone of his efforts to frame slavery and the Constitution, and describe a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. The setting was the final months of the Civil War, with Confederate armies on the threshold of defeat. Lincoln's tone is somber, not triumphal. While both sides in the war prayed to the same God, the prayers of neither were answered in full. "The Almighty," Lincoln reminds the nation, "has His own purposes," which transcend those of either side in the war. Drawing from Matthew 7:1, Lincoln cautioned the victorious not to judge former slaveholders, "that we be not judged." He closes by saying, "With malice toward none; with charity for all . . . l et us . . . bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace."
From his earliest statements on slavery to "charity for all," Lincoln progressively framed the issues of slavery in ways that left no doubt that he thought it was a great wrong but preservation of the Constitution was the prior consideration. When war came,
Lincoln's first aim was to maintain the Union, but he then used the occasion to enlarge the concept of a "nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
We are now engaged in a global conversation about the issues of human longevity on Earth, but no national leader has yet done what Lincoln did for slavery and placed the issue of sustainability in its larger moral context. It is still commonly regarded, here and elsewhere, as one of many issues on a long and growing list, not as the linchpin that connects all of the other issues. Relative to the large issues of climate change and sustainability, we are virtually where the United States was, say, in the year 1850 on the matter of slavery. On the art of framing political and moral issues, much (perhaps too much) of late has been written (Lakoff, 2004). But Lincoln did not frame the issue so much as he established a moral position on slavery that he explained in great detail. What can be learned from Lincoln's example?
First, Lincoln did not equivocate or agonize about the essential nature of slavery. He did not overthink the subject; he regarded slavery as a great wrong and said so plainly and often. "If slavery is not wrong," he wrote, "nothing is wrong." Moreover, he saw the centrality of the issue to other issues on the national agenda, such as the tariff, sectionalism, and national growth. Second, more clearly than any other political figure of his time, he understood the priority of keeping the constitutional foundation of the nation intact and addressing slavery within the existing framework of law and philosophy. He did not set out to create something from whole cloth, but built a case from trusted sources ready at hand. Third, he used language and logic with a mastery superior to that of any president before or since. Lincoln was a relentless logician, but always spoke with vernacular eloquence in words that could be plainly understood by everyone. Fourth, while the issue of slavery was a great moral wrong, Lincoln did not abuse religion to describe it. While his language was full of
Biblical metaphors and allusions, he avoided the temptation to demonize the South and to make the war a religious crusade. Throughout the seven years from the House Divided speech to his assassination in 1865, Lincoln's presidency is one of the masterpieces of transformative leadership, combining shrewdness and sagacity with moral clarity. The result was a progressive evolution of a larger concept of the nation.
From Lincoln's example we might learn, first, to avoid unnecessary complication and contentiousness. Climate change and sus-tainability are primarily issues of fairness and intergenerational rights, not primarily ones of technology or economics, as important as these may be. Lincoln regarded slavery as wrong because no human had the right to hold property in another human being, not because it was economically inefficient. He did not say that the country should abolish slavery because doing so would help business make more money. Rather, he said it should be abolished because it was wrong, and that moral clarity was the magnetic north by which he oriented his politics. By a similar logic, ours is in the principle that no human has the right to diminish the life and well-being of another, and no generation has the right to inflict harm on generations to come. Lincoln did not equivocate on the issue of slavery, nor should we on the tyranny one generation can now impose on another by leaving it ecologically impoverished. Climate change and biotic impoverishment are prime examples of intergenerational remote tyranny and as such constitute a great and permanent wrong, and we should say so. Each generation ought to serve as a trustee for posterity, a bridge of obligation stretching from the distant past to the far future. In that role each generation is required to act cautiously, carefully, and wisely (Brown, 1994). In Wendell Berry's words, this "is a burden that falls with greatest weight on us humans of the industrial age who have been and are, by any measure, the humans most guilty of desecrating the world and of destroying creation" (2005, p. 67).
Lincoln built his case from sources familiar to his audience— the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bible. In doing so, he took Jefferson's views on equality to their logical conclusion and recast the Constitution as the foundation for a truly more perfect union that could protect the dignity of all human beings. In our time we can draw on similar sources, but now much enhanced by other constitutions and laws and proclamations of the world community. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Earth Charter, for example, describe an inclusive political universe that extends a moral covenant to all the people of Earth and all those yet to be born. It is reasonable to expand this covenant to include the wider community of life, as Aldo Leopold once proposed.
Lincoln's use of religion is instructive both for its depth and for its restraint. He used Biblical imagery and language frequently, but did not do so to castigate Southerners or to inflate Northern pretensions. His use of religion was cautionary, aimed to heal, not divide. Lincoln oriented the struggle over slavery in a larger vision of an imperfect nation striving to fulfill God's justice on earth. The message for us is to ground the issues of climate change and sustainability in higher purposes resonant with what is best in the world's great religions but is owned by no one creed.
Because he understood the power of language to clarify, motivate, and ennoble, Lincoln used words and verbal imagery more powerfully and to better effect than any other president. This wasn't what we now call "spin" or manipulation of the gullible, but the art of persuasion at its best. Lincoln had neither pollsters to tell him what to say nor speechwriters to create his message and calibrate it to the latest polls. He wrote his own addresses and letters, and is reported to have agonized sometimes for hours and days to find the right words to say clearly what he intended. He spoke directly, often bluntly, but softened his speeches with humor and the adroit use of metaphor and homespun stories. The result was to place the horrors of combat and the bitterness of sectional strife into a larger context that motivated many to make heroic sacrifices and a legacy of thought and words that "remade America," as Garry Wills puts it. Now perhaps more than ever we turn to Lincoln for perspective and inspiration.
The tragedy of the Civil War originated in the evasions of the generations prior to 1861. The founders chose not to abolish slavery in 1787, and it subsequently grew into a great national tragedy, the effects of which are still evident. Similarly, without our foresight and action, future generations will attribute the tragedies of climate change and biotic impoverishment to our lies, evasions, and derelictions. But slavery and sustainability also differ in important respects. Slavery was practiced only in a few places, and it could be ended by one means or another. The issues comprising the challenge of sustainability, on the other hand, affect everyone on the Earth for as far into the future as one cares to imagine, and they are for all time. Never again can we take for granted that the planet will recover from human abuse and insult. For all of its complications, slavery was a relatively simple issue compared to the complexities of sustainability. Progress toward sustainabil-ity, however defined, will require more complicated judgments involving intergenerational ethics, science, economics, politics, and much else as applied to problems of energy, agriculture, forestry, shelter, urban planning, health, livelihood, security, and the distribution of wealth within and between generations.
Differences aside, Lincoln's example is instructive. He understood that the war had decided only the constitutional issues about the right of states to secede, not the deeper problems of race. It had done nothing to resolve the more volatile problems that created the conflict in the first place. Lincoln had faith that they might someday be solved, but only in a nation in which the better angels of our nature could set aside strife and bitterness. His aim was to create the framework—including the 13 th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited slavery—in which healing and charity might take root and eventually transform the country.
Lincoln continues to inspire in our time because he framed the legalities of Constitution and war within a larger context of history, obligation, human dignity, and fundamental rights.
The multiple problems of climate change and sustainability will not be solved by this generation, or even the next. Our challenge is to get the name of the thing right and do so in such a way as to create the possibility that they might someday be resolved. Lincoln's example is instructive to us because he understood the importance of preserving the larger framework in which the lesser art of defining particular issues might proceed with adequate deliberation and due process, which is to say that he understood that the art of defining issues is a means to reach larger ends. In our time many things that ought to be and must be sustained are in jeopardy, the most important of which are those qualities Lincoln used in defining the specific matter of slavery: clarity, courage, generosity, kindness, wisdom, and humor.
A second example of leadership instructive to our time is the history of the first one hundred days of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency. In 1933 Roosevelt faced unprecedented challenges of economic collapse and a deteriorating global order. His immediate task was to restore confidence in government, head off total economic ruin, and possibly avert a revolution that many thought to be imminent. The period of his first hundred days is a model for restoring public confidence, even though he did not solve the underlying problems of the economy.
The phrase "the hundred days" was first prominently used to mark the time between Napoleon's escape from Elba and his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. President Franklin Roosevelt used the phrase to commemorate the period between the opening of the 73rd Congress on March 9,1933, and its closing on June 17 (Alter, 2006, p. 273; Cohen, 2009). Roosevelt assumed the presidency at the height of the Depression, when the unemployment rate was 25 percent—16 million people were unemployed, and an equal number had only part-time work. The gross national product was half of what it had been four years before, the banking system was on the verge of collapse, the future of democracy in America looked bleak, and fascism was on the march in Europe and the Far East. In those first one hundred days, in historian Arthur Schle-singer's words, Roosevelt:
sent fifteen messages to Congress, guided fifteen major laws to enactment, delivered ten speeches, held press conferences and cabinet meetings twice a week, conducted talks with foreign heads of state, sponsored an international conference, made all the major decisions in domestic and foreign policy, and never displayed fright or panic and rarely even bad temper. (Schlesinger, 1958, p. 21)
Never before or since has a president displayed a similar energy, such a sure grasp of the realities facing the country, or a deeper understanding of the American people.
Roosevelt aimed first to overcome rampant fear and give people hope, restore confidence in government, and avoid economic collapse. His bearing and personality, honed by the struggle to overcome the effects of crippling polio, were well suited to the challenge. His energy, charm, and political skills were adapted to conditions of a crisis without precedent in U.S. history. He was the first president to travel extensively by airplane and the first to use radio as a tool of mass communication. His approach was more experimental than that of any previous president, and, arguably, more so than any since. In a rare preelection glimpse of his presidency, Roosevelt told a Georgia audience that "The country needs and . . . demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." Few took his words seriously. Roosevelt was a complex and paradoxical man, but his politics were pragmatic, not ideological. Yet the measures taken in those first hundred days, however energetic, were not particularly successful. Nor did Roosevelt's New Deal, for all that it accomplished, end the Depression. The Second World War did that. What Roosevelt did do, however, was to restore confidence in the presidency, the government, and particularly the capacity of democracy to confront serious problems.
Barack Obama, the 44th U.S. president, faces challenges that dwarf even those that confronted Lincoln and Roosevelt. At this writing (December 2008) the economy is in free fall, major corporate pillars of the economy are toppling, financial markets have imploded, we are losing two wars, U.S. infrastructure is decrepit, our politics are still bitterly divided, and looming ahead are the multiple challenges of the long emergency. Beyond restoring a semblance of financial order, President Obama must confront for some time to come what Robert Kuttner call "the habits of mind that produced the crisis" (2008, p. 74). He faces as well the large task of recalibrating the office of the presidency to the limits of the Constitution and restoring what political scientist Richard Neustadt once defined as the only real power the president has—the power to persuade. The coercive and manipulative powers of the presidency were enlarged by George W Bush and Richard Cheney in ways that diminished respect, trust, and effectiveness here and abroad. But unless those enlargements are repudiated by law, all future presidents can—if they choose—wage war preemptively without much interference from Congress, seize and hold American citizens, spy on the citizenry without much if any legal restraint, use practically any federal agency for political purposes, manipulate the press in ways inconceivable prior to 2000, fire federal attorneys for political gain, destroy evidence in criminal cases, use the Justice Department to prosecute members of the opposing party, offer lucrative no-bid government contracts to friends, abet the creation of private security armies, torture, create secret prisons, assassinate inconvenient foreign leaders, circumvent laws by the use of signing statements, and a great deal more. Such things are now possible because the system of checks and balances carefully written into the Constitution and explained in great detail in the Federalist Papers was systematically undone, partly as a result of historical circumstances of the 20th century, but with a vengeance by the Bush administration. Said to be necessary in order to protect the country from terrorism, this expansion of presidential authority was in truth carried out by ruthless right-wing ideologues who smelled opportunity in the smoke and ashes of 9/11. While things appeared to be going well, they were abetted by corporate opportunists wanting less regulation and higher profits, the well-to-do wanting lower taxes, a compliant media eager to please, megachurch zealots intending to replace democracy with theocracy, a ragtag army of the congeni-tally angry, an opposition party that forgot how to oppose, and a drowsy citizenry too distracted to notice the erosion of their liberties. Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, George Bush, and their allies, for a time, conjured up James Madison's worst nightmare—the unification of once carefully separated powers of government—executive, judicial, legislative—in the hands of a single faction, along with substantial control over newspapers, radio, and television and an extensive police and surveillance apparatus he would have loathed. In the words of attorney Scott Horton, "subverting an entire legal apparatus requires great effort. Laws must be circumvented, civil servants thwarted, and opposing politicians intimidated into silence" (2008, p. 38). And they were . . . for a time.
President Obama must decide the degree to which he will openly dissociate himself from the expanded powers of the Bush administration. But the historical record gives little encouragement about the contraction of presidential power. Typically, the expanded powers of one president are carefully guarded by successors. The president has distanced himself from the more controversial actions of the Bush administration, but as a matter of political expediency, not for reasons embedded in the Constitution or law. In Horton's words:
we must be prepared to accept a changed system in which the will of the people is subsumed by good manners and fearful politics. As long as this new democracy prevails, little will matter beyond the will of the president." (2008, p. 46)
I do not believe, however, that this is the right, or even a necessary, course. President Obama has other choices, including a thorough investigation of the many irregularities and illegalities involved in the recent dramatic expansion of presidential power. A clear, accurate, and unobstructed record of the Bush years is important, not for purposes of political revenge but to set the record straight—our own version of "truth and reconciliation"— and to restore the office of president to constitutional standards. Many will disagree, saying that learning the truth would be unnecessarily divisive or a waste of time in the face of more pressing business. To the contrary, I believe that we the people, Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike, will need to know the truth in order to reestablish law and order in the highest levels of government and rebuild respect for the office of the president now tarnished by the systematic abuse of power. That restored presidency is, I think, a prerequisite to the transformation necessary to meet the challenges looming ahead. We, the people, will need to know that we are being told the truth and that we are being led by competent, law-abiding, scientifically literate, far-sighted, and intellectually engaged public servants who are not beholden to what Theodore Roosevelt once called "malefactors of great wealth" or to any cause beyond the public good broadly conceived. To enter into the long emergency without an accounting for recent presidential abuses is to invite worse in even more difficult times to come.
Looking ahead, it is reasonable to assume that U.S. relations in the Middle East will continue to vex the best minds and subvert our best intentions. Many experts believe that terrorist attacks in the United States aimed at the grid, the Internet, cities, ports, or nuclear power plants are virtually certain. Debt, decaying infrastructure, a national health care emergency, and a badly fractured political system, among other things, will further constrain the choices the president can make, while consuming political attention, energy, and money. But the effects of climate destabilization will soon overshadow every other concern.
The task for the president is to restore trust, rebuild public confidence in government, and provide the leadership necessary to bring order out of our present divisions. In such circumstances, crafting good climate policy by which we might minimize the worst while adapting to what we cannot avoid will be politically difficult but absolutely essential. In journalist and author Tom Friedman's words quoted above, however: "We have not even begun to be serious about the costs, the effort and scale of change that will be required to shift our country, and eventually the world, to a largely emissions-free energy infrastructure over the next 50 years" (2007, p. 42). The long emergency ahead is different precisely because it will span virtually every other issue and virtually all aspects of society for a period of time we can scarcely imagine. Climate stabilization and restoration of the biosphere must be made permanent commitments of the nation and must be sustained as a matter of national survival indefinitely.
To that end, in June of 2006, Ray Anderson, Bill Becker, Gary Hart, Adam Lewis, Michael Northrup, and I launched a two-year effort to craft a detailed climate policy for the first hundred days of the administration that would assume office in January of 2009.1 After dozens of meetings, conference calls, papers, and presentations, the deliberations of several hundred scientists, policy experts, and communications strategists, and presentations to presidential candidates both Republican and Democrat, the final document was handed over to president-elect Obama's transition team in November of 2008. The plan described over 300 possible actions the president could take, as well as a legal analysis of the executive authority at his disposal. Beneath the details, the assumptions that guided the effort were straightforward. The issue of climate destabilization is of such overriding importance that he would have no time for delay and procrastination. The situation called for quick, decisive, effective, and sustained federal action to drastically curtail carbon emissions and deploy renewable energy. On the positive side, an effective energy and climate policy would lessen other problems pertaining to the economy, security, environment, and equity.
It is clear, however, that every president from now on will face many of the same choices, beginning with the question of where to position climate and energy policy in their larger agenda. If this or future presidents regard climate policy as just another problem on a long list of problems, which must therefore compete for resources, funding, and attention with many other issues and the crisis du jour, the chances of failure on all counts will be greater. If a climate and energy policy, however, are permanently regarded as the linchpin connecting other issues, including policies for security, economy, environment, and justice, the road ahead will be a great deal easier, and the chances of coming through the long emergency with the nation intact will be much higher.
The immediate situation that President Obama faced was rendered more difficult because capacity and morale in many government departments and agencies had been badly eroded in prior years. The remedy requires both engaging and retaining talented and committed people in public service and the adroit remodeling of the machinery of government. In addition to selecting members of the cabinet, President Obama made another 7,000 or so appointments to positions in the federal government, including 400-500 members of the White House staff and 1,200-1,300 in the executive office of the president. As always, the ability to implement policy of any kind depends in large part on the intellect, experience, energy, creativity, character, and personal skills of presidential appointees and White House staff. Beyond administrative and executive skills, from now on those in such positions must also understand ecology, Earth systems science, and the multiple ways in which public policy and natural systems interact— what is emerging as "the new science of sustainability" (Goerner, Dyck, and Lagerroos, 2008).
In the years ahead, the situation will likely get a great deal worse before it improves. This president and those to follow, accordingly, must communicate in ways that sustain public morale and keep the vision of a sustainable society in clear focus. In his inaugural address, Roosevelt, the master psychologist, aimed to calm public fears: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." But that was a public on the edge of desperation. The public presently may or may not be less fearful, but it is certainly more confused about climate change and what can be done about it at a time of economic distress. It is perhaps beyond the "tipping point" of awareness about the issue, but has not yet grasped the seriousness of climate change or the kind of choices that must be made. As the effects of climate destabilization become more apparent, however, public apathy and confusion may shift to desperation, panic, and possibly the search for scapegoats. In those circumstances, presidents can choose communications strategies that range from Churchill's "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" approach to sunny optimism at the other extreme. In either case, as the situation becomes darker, presidents must appeal to the better angels of our nature, framing the issues as those of intergenerational fairness and morality. Whatever the specific content, the president's communication strategy, like Lincoln's, ought to rise above the divisions of right and left, liberal and conservative, to identify common interests and present a vision of higher ground beyond.
The substance and style of political communication must be matched, in other words, to the time and to the public need for reassurance, clear direction, and honest information artfully delivered. In recent decades, however, the standards for presidential communication have fallen considerably, victim of the demands of television, which emphasize appearance over content, and polling that exaggerates short-term political gains over long-term public realities, as well as the tawdry politics of a abnormally corrupt era. But we have better models. Teddy Roosevelt used the presidency as a "bully pulpit." His cousin Franklin in dark times used radio, creatively adapted for "fireside chats," with extraordinary results. John F. Kennedy was a master of the art of press conferences. In the presidential campaign of 2008, Barack Obama used the Internet adroitly to reach the young and new voters. In the Internet era, the tools of communication have multiplied many times over. But whatever the medium—television, radio, press conferences, personal appearances, Internet, or public addresses—presidents must craft communication strategies that lift the public out of apathy or despair while educating, informing, and inspiring by showing a plausible way forward consonant with our obligations, our national heritage, and global realities. Presidents must lay the groundwork for a durable and broad coalition around the national interest in climate stability that protects our long-term security and distributes the costs and benefits fairly within and between generations.
All such efforts could come to naught, however, if access to the public airwaves is not restored to public control. Public confusion and ignorance about energy issues and climate science plays to the advantage of the fossil fuel industry, and if allowed to continue will sharply diminish our prospects in the years ahead. Cooptation of the public airwaves by corporate interests can drown out the voice of the public as well as that of even the most eloquent president. To ensure that the public is adequately informed, not misled and deliberately confused, the president, again, should direct the Federal Communications Commission, among other things, to reinstate the "fair and balanced" standard as a requirement for the use of the public airwaves. The integrity of broadcasting is essential to educate the public about the choices ahead and their consequences.
The fact is that we are now making the most fateful policy decisions that humans will ever make. The choice of tools by which those decisions will be implemented range from freemarket approaches to use of the police power of the state to mandate changes. Some propose raising taxes on energy, while others advocate placing a cap on carbon emissions and allowing emitters to buy and sell permits. How we decide and what we decide will greatly affect our prospects in the long emergency. And whatever the specific policy tools selected they must be flexible enough to be made more stringent as evidence warrants.
Broadly, we must choose between energy policies that emphasize efficiency, renewable energy, and better design that eliminates much of the need for energy in the first place (Kutscher, 2007; Makhijani, 2007) and "hard," expensive, and large-scale options such as continued use of coal with carbon sequestration and nuclear power. The choices and their relative consequences must be made crystal clear to the public despite the well-funded efforts by the coal industry to promote the fiction of "clean coal" and equally well-funded efforts by ardent revivalists to resuscitate nuclear power. We will have neither the time nor the money to undo expensive mistakes later. Accordingly, the president must set the framework for a rational public dialogue about energy policy in which all options are compared on a level playing field that includes criteria such as:
1. Carbon eliminated per dollar spent;
2. Energy return on investment;
3. The speed with which technology can be deployed;
4. Near-term technical feasibility; and
5. Resilience in the face of malfeasance, acts of God, and human error.
And good policy will not simply switch problems but will solve them while protecting public safety and health.
The president has the power to define the larger political topography on which climate policy is debated. It is possible to craft policies that join conservatives and liberals in ways that are transparent, pragmatic, and fair. The outlines of consensus have emerged around an energy policy that would:
Minimize our vulnerability to political conflicts in unstable parts of the world Reduce our balance of payments deficit Raise the costs of fossil fuels relative to those of improved efficiency and renewables Lower costs that are now externalized Generate better technology and a stronger economy Create millions of jobs in green energy Improve air and water quality Protect public health Lower health costs
Reduce the influence of entrenched energy industries on U.S. politics.
The right energy policy, in other words, should solve or lessen many problems, including those of climate change and national security, while providing many collateral benefits. The president will need to sell such a vision in order to build a majority coalition that crosses old lines of left and right by joining people of faith, laborers, farmers, minorities, business leaders, intellectuals, and members of the financial community.
Whatever the content of the policy and however it is communicated, effective implementation will require changes at the interface between policy and science at all levels. The first objective is to rebuild and enhance the integrity and capacity of federal environment and science-based agencies (such as the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that are essential to climate research and our capacity to foresee and forestall. Second, in order to consistently implement climate policy across all branches of government, this and all future presidents will need the capacity to coordinate actions of federal departments and agencies that now often conflict. The president and Congress will need an expanded federal capacity to assess technologies similar to that once provided by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which was terminated in Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" in 1994. In addition, we will need to expand the foresight capacity of government in novel and creative ways that more fully engage the National Academy of Sciences; the broader scientific community represented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science; federal laboratories, such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and the president's science advisor. We need new ideas as well. British journalist George Monbiot, for example, proposes a "100-year committee" whose purpose would be "to assess the likely impacts of current policy in 10, 20, 50, and 100 years' time." Governments, by whatever means, must learn to reconcile short-term imperatives with long-term trends in imaginative and effective ways. But that requires that those presuming to govern have the capacity and willingness to see connections across political lines, geography, species, and time.
In the decades ahead, presidents will also need a greater capacity to respond quickly and effectively to climate-driven disasters. The failure of the federal response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, again, is a textbook example of what not to do. We must anticipate and prepare for a future in which hurricanes, large storms, flood, fire, drought, and acts of terrorism may become the norm. For that reason the capacity of federal government to respond to emergencies must be much more robust and effective, not just for occasional events but for multiple and perhaps frequent events.
But no such changes are likely until the great encampment of K Street lobbyists is disbanded and sent packing. They have corrupted democracy and undermined our prospects for too long. Despite recent and voluminous evidence of influence peddling and scandal, their power is scarcely diminished and poses a significant threat to any effective climate and energy policy. President Obama and those to follow must permanently curtail the power of money in U.S. politics. While there is no shortage of ideas on how to do so, the best solution would be to remove money from the electoral process once and for all by publicly financing elections to national offices.
Early on, federal policy must encourage climate mitigation and adaptation at state and local levels. Presidential leadership will be necessary to cement partnerships with governors, mayors, and business leadership to build locally and regionally resilient economies, food systems, and distributed energy networks that would enhance the capacity to withstand the disruptions of climate change. Distributed energy in the form of widely dispersed solar and wind technology would buffer communities from supply interruptions, failure of the electrical grid, and the shock of sudden price increases. Similarly, the resuscitation of local agriculture would reduce dependence on long-distance transport from distant suppliers.
In the 1930s, President Roosevelt experimented with a variety of ways to put Americans to work doing useful things. The Civilian Conservation Corps, for example, put the unemployed and youth to work building roads, schools, and public buildings and restoring the public lands. Updated to the 21st century, that model is a good one for the establishment of green economies such as that proposed by attorney Van Jones to engage the disadvantaged and unemployed in a new green economy built from the bottom up (Jones, 2008). The energy and creativity of young people, trained in renewable energy technologies, could be deployed to build wind farms, install solar technologies, and improve energy efficiency in low-income communities while creating millions of new jobs.
Not least, the 44th president and all his successors must bring America back into the international community on climate, security, and economic issues. There is no prospect of stabilizing climate without a coordinated global effort that systematically addresses carbon emissions, poverty, and security (Hart, 2006; Speth, 2004 and 2008). The world is waiting for U.S. leadership to help create a global partnership on climate policy. Given the disparity of historic and present carbon emissions, the United States is obliged to set the right example and take the lead. But no one should assume that the present hostility toward the United States will disappear without a significant effort sustained over many years.
Presidential leadership has many intangibles. The president has the power to issue executive orders that affect government purchasing and management of federal facilities, among other things. Presidents have the power to initiate change in both statutory and regulatory law. But in the final analysis, this and future presidents must use all of their persuasive powers to encourage the American people to move resolutely, boldly, and quickly toward a much better future than that in prospect. If this opportunity is lost, there will likely be no other.
This president and his successors will have a great deal of persuading to do. Others could assume a continually growing economy and thereby avoid thorny issues about fair income distribution by hiding behind old myths that rising tides that would lift all boats or wealth would trickle down from the tables of the rich. The prospects for continual economic growth, however, are not good. Even Nobel Prize—winning economist Robert Solow now admits to being agnostic on the possibilities of continued growth. On a finite planet governed by the laws of thermodynamics and ecology, the reasons are not difficult to find. Economists of the neoclassical persuasion assumed that economic growth would be possible by substituting more abundant for scarce resources and by increasingly heroic technology. The results, however, are rapidly diminishing resources along with rising inequity, ecosystems verging on collapse, and rapid climate change.
There are many reasons why an economic doctrine over two centuries old and on speed for the last 60 years could not work for long in a biosphere with rules evolved over 3.5 billion years. They are well described by economists such as Herman Daly, Robert Costanza, Peter Victor, and Richard Douthwaite. The point is that this president and those to follow must begin the difficult but necessary task of educating the public to understand why the growth economy measured as quantity will end one way or another and must be replaced by an economy based on durability, quality, and fairness. It will be necessary to state the obvious but often overlooked facts that the benefits of the growth economy were distributed unfairly, and often in ways that were ugly and inconvenient to boot. Urban sprawl, for example, fueled a great deal of economic growth, but also squandered energy, time, land, people, and quality of life. For those left behind in the cities, the experience of growth has often been a nightmare of crime, diminished services, bad schools, and joblessness. In either case, beyond some fairly minimal point, the growth economy did not contribute nearly as much to our well-being and happiness as promised and is not sustainable anyway. The challenge for this and future presidents is to use their authority and powers to free us from the grasp of outworn economic doctrines and align our expectations and behavior with biophysical realities.
True leadership, such as that shown by Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, is the rarest of human traits. It is often confused with management, which keeps the trains running on time and paper moving efficiently through the bureaucracy.2 Management is about efficiency, what German sociologist Karl Mannheim (1940) once called "functional rationality," while leadership has to do with "substantive rationality," or the big choices that we make. Leadership is about direction, relating our highest ideals to our actions. It is first and foremost about direction, and only secondarily about the "framing" of issues. True leaders do not rely on what has lately been called "spin" or manipulation as much as on truth telling and the arts of rational argument expressed with eloquence and passion. Real leaders help others see the topography of history through the fog of events and crises. Real leaders energize people to act better than they otherwise would. Some are charismatic visionaries, but more often they are rather ordinary persons, blessed with a capacity to ask good questions, see patterns, notice when the emperor is naked, and act while others sit quietly. As Robert Coles and Garry Wills, among others, note, leadership comes in a variety of forms and scales, in many areas of life. And, of course, history, including our own, is full of examples of people in positions of potential leadership who led in the wrong direction, for which we are paying a high price.
Many people dismiss leadership as mostly pathological and increasingly irrelevant. The real driver of progressive social change supposedly comes from the bottom of society and works upward. They envision a networked world in which electronic spontaneity and the basic wisdom of the human heart displace the need for leaders at all. Something is astir in the world, abetted by the ease of e-mail, the Internet, and cell phones. Whether this will amount to much I cannot say. Social movements fail as often as not because their goals are inchoate, they work at cross-purposes, or they fall victim to one human fault or another, or because circumstances and the tide of history work against them. The Populist movement in the late 19th century, for example, had a great deal going for it, but it failed in large part because of the power of capital and because rural populists and the urban labor movement could not come together around a common agenda. Similarly, what is presumed to be a rising tide of contemporary social movements has yet to show that it has enough common purpose, unity, and vitality to cause change of the right sort in the time available.
But the dichotomy of leaders versus mobilized publics is a false one; both are necessary, either alone is not enough. We will need both because the relation between them is reciprocal. No would-be leader anywhere can get too far out in front of the public. "An activated citizenry," in Robert Kuttner's words, "is not just a passive army of political supporters who will cheer and vote on cue" (2008, p. 109). Movements, however, can be formless and ineffective without the focusing effect of visionary leadership. It would be difficult to imagine the movement to liberate India without Gandhi, or Gandhi without the force of the people behind him. We do not yet know whether the Internet will amplify and accelerate progressive social movements more than those pushing in the other direction. Neither do we know whether advancing communications technology will be immune to various corruptions characteristic of other forms of communication.
We do know, however, that addressing climate destabilization will require presidential leadership of a high order and a massive amount of what Paul Hawken calls "blessed unrest," and lots of other things as well. But presidential leadership on any issue of human survival has been rare. One exception was John F. Kennedy's speech at American University in June of 1963, which led to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Another was Ronald Reagan's attempt with Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik Summit in October 1986 to abolish nuclear weapons. By some accounts, they came close. But on issues of sustainability in general and climate change in particular, no president until Obama has yet offered vision and leadership, or used the White House as a "bully pulpit" in the manner of Theodore Roosevelt. Instead, presidents have mostly ignored, evaded, and, most recently, actively denied the reality of the issue. If we are to avoid the worst that could happen, however, the United States must rejoin the world community in the effort to stabilize and reduce greenhouse gases, and that will require, in turn, active, creative, and transformational leadership by this president and all thereafter.
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