05 Nov 2008: Opinion

President Obama’s
Big Climate Challenge

As he assumes the presidency, Barack Obama must make climate-change legislation and investment in green energy top priorities. And he must be ready to take bold — and politically unpopular — action to address global warming.

by bill mckibben

And so our eight-year interlude from reality draws to a close, and the job of cleaning up begins. The trouble is, we’re not just cleaning up after a failed presidency. We’re cleaning up after a two-century binge.

Barack Obama has won an historic victory, and with it the right to take office under the most difficult circumstances since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Maybe more difficult, because while both FDR and Obama had financial meltdowns to deal with, Obama also faces the meltdown meltdown — the rapid disintegration of the planet's climate system that threatens to challenge the very foundations of our civilization.

Do you think that sounds melodramatic? Let me give it to you from the abstract of a scientific paper written earlier this year by one of the people who now work for Mr. Obama, NASA scientist James Hansen. "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleo-climate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 [in the atmosphere] will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm [parts per million] to at most 350 ppm." In other words, if we keep increasing carbon any longer, the earth itself will make our efforts moot.

Hansen's calculation is a scientifically grounded way of saying: Everything must change at once. To meet his target,
Getting a clean, tough cap-and-trade bill through Congress needs to be a preoccupation of President Obama.
before enough feedback loops kick in to irrevocably warm the planet, Hansen says fossil-fuel combustion, particularly coal, must cease around the planet by about 2030, and that it must happen sooner in the industrialized nations. As the climate observer, and tireless blogger, Joe Romm observed when Hansen's paper was published, it means that "we need to go straight to the government-led WWII-style effort for the whole planet that is sustained for decades." (Well, back to FDR, what do you know.).

Anyway, here are some of the pieces of what Obama must push for:

What it all boils down to is: The bills are coming due. And not just, or even mainly, the bills from a failed Bush presidency,
The bills are coming due — the bills from 200 years of burning fossil fuels.
but the bills from 200 years of burning fossil fuel. Twenty years ago when we started worrying about global warming, we thought we'd have a generation to pay those bills off. But we were wrong — the planet was more finely balanced than we'd realized. The melting Arctic is the call from the repo man.

Any hope of succeeding will require Obama to grasp, deep in his guts, the fact that climate, energy, food, and the economy are now hopelessly intertwined, and that trying to solve any one of these problems without taking on the others simply makes all of them worse. More, he needs to understand, again viscerally, the single stark fact of our time: No matter how many votes, no matter how much lobbying, no matter how much pressure you apply, you can't amend the laws of physics and chemistry. They aren't like the laws that politicians are used to dealing with. They will be obeyed, like it or not. 350 is now the most important number on the planet, the red line that defines reality reality.

It doesn't define political reality, however. The political reality goes like this: George W. Bush was so terrible on this issue that the bar has been set incredibly low — Obama will get all the political points he needs with fairly minimal effort. Doing what actually needs to be done will be politically…unpopular isn't even the word. It might well wreck his political future, because it would involve — directly or indirectly — raising the cost of continuing to live as we do right now.

My guess, from the outside, is that all Obama's instincts are centrist. Certainly in energy policy he's offered nothing all that bold or interesting, though his sophistication and engagement have grown during the campaign, which is a good sign.
If Obama sits down to understand the scale of the problem, he might decide to take the gambles the situation requires.
A better sign is simply that, by every testimony, he's one of the smartest men ever to assume high political office in this country. Not just smarter than Bush. Really smart. Smart enough, if he sits down to really understand the scale of the problem he faces, that he might decide to take the gambles that the situation requires. He said, not long ago, "under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket" — which is a sign of someone who is aware there may be a reality to come to grips with.

First signs to watch for: Does he go to Poland next month for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and in so doing electrify the international talks over carbon? Are people like green-jobs advocate Van Jones on the short list of those he's listening to on energy policy? Can he see clear to making this — after dealing with the short-term financial emergency — his first legislative priority, even before health care?

Obama, and the rest of us, have a lot more to fear than fear itself. We've got carbon, and right now that's the most frightening stuff on earth.

POSTED ON 05 Nov 2008 IN Business & Innovation Climate Climate Energy Energy Policy & Politics Policy & Politics Science & Technology Europe North America 


There are some hopeful signs Obama may rise to the challenge. In his victory speech, he called for a spirit of sacrifice and service. In one of the debates, he criticized Bush for telling America to "go shopping" right after 9/11. There's evidence here of a departure from the ethic of rampant consumerism -- the American way of life that Bush I called "non-negotiable." The voting public seems to understand this emerging ethic to be part of the "change we need."

Obama the community organizer has empowered his supporters and raised an unprecedented amount of money to get elected. He's reorganized the nation, and the operative pronoun he uses is not "I" but "you."

There's a chance that he's redefining how to take the measure of political popularity, and in the end, that's going to be up to us. He can't succeed alone.

Posted by David Sassoon, www.solveclimate.com on 05 Nov 2008

Just a question:

What's the best way for the U.S. to collaborate with China on solving the climate crisis? It seems like both countries are waiting for each other to make the first move, but all that does is create a stalemate. Who's responsible?
Posted by Erica Schlaikjer on 05 Nov 2008

"Any hope of succeeding will require Obama to grasp, deep in his guts, the fact that climate, energy, food, and the economy are now hopelessly intertwined, and that trying to solve any one of these problems without taking on the others simply makes all of them worse."

Aptly said. Our culture is, however, not used to integrating “climate, energy, food, and the economy.” The best hope of changing this (as the article hints at) is to bundle these issues, not into a “carbon” version of the Marshall Plan, which I doubt would be politically feasible, but into a “recovery” version of the Marshall Plan, which might have a better chance of broad acceptance. The job for Obama, then, is to get clear himself and then publicly explain why a recovery plan needs to be green.

One example of a jobs-based recovery thread that integrates with energy, air quality and preventive health-care (which Obama has often advocated) would be the construction of thousands of miles of trails. This would get people walking or biking instead of driving. Benefiting health. Reducing carbon emissions. Producing thousands of infrastructure jobs. Preserving open space.

There are many constituencies out there to do this kind of work, and they could be empowered to expand and coordinate their efforts. I believe there was a Commission for the Outdoors (or something similar) during the Reagan administration that recommended creating a network of trails traversing the entire nation, and accessible within 10 minutes from any residence. So a political coalition to make trails happen seems doable.

"Doing what actually needs to be done will be politically…unpopular isn't even the word. It might well wreck his political future, because it would involve — directly or indirectly — raising the cost of continuing to live as we do right now."

Here, for me, the issue is “continuing to live as we do right now." I am sure that the way we live right now is unsustainable, and given that it is the lifestyle that patterns global development, we certainly need to change it.

Since I’m a land use determinist, here is another land use-based approach to integrating “climate, energy, food, and the economy” while also ratcheting down a needlessly wasteful lifestyle: End sprawl. Sprawl is cheaper for developers than is building within existing urban boundaries served by public transportation. Sprawl does tend to produce relatively cheap residential and commercial space, but the cost to the broader society is immense. Sprawl requires new roads as well as water; electricity and other infrastructure conduits that cost the general public dearly; sprawl escalates automobile traffic and its attendant pollution and energy problems; police, fire, education and other services are stretched thin in order to serve the ever increasing suburbs; agriculture loses viability since the profits from selling ag land to developers becomes irresistible -- thus, the bond between nearby farms and urban centers is lost to energy-wasting importation of food from distant parts.

Rewarding cities and regions that impose “urban growth boundaries” is something that a recovery Marshall Plan should include. Since it would be an incentive program, I think it might get by without enormous political opposition. This plan could get streamed through several existing agencies, including the EPA.

Among a number of low key multi-issue initiatives that are calibrated to tamp down our profligate lifestyle, Mr. Obama should call a conference of planners and land use advocates toward empowering the planning community to move toward green land use planning for cities, counties and regions (including bioregions).

And just as Bill McKibben says, when this has been achieved in the US, it has to be made to occur internationally. This land use and lifestyle moderating approach is a way to lower the water so that the bridge of technological fixes over it does not have to be so high in terms of economic and political capital.

Posted by Trevor Burrowes, MFA '63 on 05 Nov 2008

As Bill McKibben hints, there will be a struggle for President Obama's soul between those who believe he must govern from the center and those who believe he must completely redefine the center. His best hope is to continue using the incredible network he has established among the voters to appeal directly to them for their support of aggressive energy, climate and economic transformation. For more on the struggle, see http://op-ed.the-environmentalist.org/2008/11/struggling-for-obamas-soul.html

Posted by Bill Becker on 06 Nov 2008

You can invite Pres. Obama to the UN Climate Talks in Poland here: http://www.350.org/invite
Posted by Jamie Henn on 06 Nov 2008

If the Obamunist were so smart, he would realize socialism in all it's forms always fails, and will utterly fail this time. Unless, getting us all to live a subsistence living in mud huts is the new definition of success.

Just because there is a weak correlation between CO2 and some constructs of "world-wide average temperature", doesn't mean there is causation. There are too many factors that influence temperature. There are too many lying "peer-reviewed" scientists who have to fudge the data to get the desired result, as with Mann's "hockey stick" artwork.

It's been obvious to those of us without a political agenda, just the average guy on the street, that this global warming farce is being pushed to achieve some level of Marxist control over our lives, as the Marxists are the ones pushing it so fervently. This irrational fealty to Gaia leads them to attempt to bring all of mankind down in some misanthropic fits of lunacy.

The voters will get to see what idiocy this new adminstration has planned for us.
Posted by ScottM on 06 Nov 2008

I take issue with Bill's claim that being greener costs more ("it would involve — directly or indirectly — raising the cost of continuing to live as we do right now.")

Some counter examples:
(1) I installed a solar hot water system using interest-free credit. Now I pay 58 cents per quarter for all the hot water my family can use.
(2) Our car is going to need replacing in the next three years. But we're not going to. Instead we'll use public transport and bikes, as we mostly do already. Saving: $20,000, excluding finance costs (fuel costs foregone are diverted to transit tickets). Oh and it makes us healthy: medical bills down too.
(3) Where I live, 60% of local government energy costs come from street lighting. Programs are now rolling out to make this lighting energy efficient, with massive savings to re-invest in further energy-saving measures.

There are plenty more examples, but the point is this: if you only do the things that save you money, you'll make a huge impact on climate change. Since when did the low-hanging fruit become unattractive?

The idea that reducing carbon emissions will cost ordinary families money is mistaken and Bill should not repeat it.

My family saves money by reducing emissions. Only change-averse fossil fuel corporations might lose out, and they're big enough to look after themselves.
Posted by ROG on 06 Nov 2008

President Obama’s
Big Climate Challenge....

Posted by Ray on 06 Nov 2008

You know people can keep talking and talking about global warming but if there really is a problem why isn't anyone doing anything about it? I myself do not believe in it but I think that talk is cheap and if people believe it then do something about it!

Posted by Bill on 06 Nov 2008

Scott: "Unless, getting us all to live a subsistence living in mud huts is the new definition of success."

Seems like a fine idea to me.

Posted by TRB on 06 Nov 2008

Dear Scott,
it's the mammoth corporations control not only your life, but as well the water you drink and the food you eat, not the "Marxists"...and what's so bad with Marxism anyway? And where is the evidence that "socialism" always fails? Russia was not a socialist country, but Sweden still is...
Posted by DamirB on 07 Nov 2008

Nice to learn that James hansen is working with Obama. He must convince him to take the bold decisions against global warming.
Like Hansen, we favor the carbon tax instead of cap and trade. tax is an ugly word for every citizen voter, but with the reimbursment of it on an equal basis, it is the simlpliest way to help peiple to cut its carbon use. and there is a huge cut to achieve. The whole humanity has to divide by 2 the carbon consumption before 2050, that mean to divide it by much than 4 fold for french people and more than 5 fold for US citizen.

Posted by Jean Sireyjol on 07 Nov 2008

HERE HERE for a carbon tax instead of a cap and trade system! In my own experience looking into the details of cap and trade systems for other pollutants, the systems are often overly complex, inadequately overseen, and "juked" by those who know the system. Just another man-made system that is so complex that we leave it to the experts without, as citizens, asking enough questions and developing enough understanding. Sound familiar? Oh, OK, on the risk that you are not thinking the way I am...I'm alluding to the financial markets! In my mind, a cap and trade system for carbon emission reduction is just another way of postponing real change.
Posted by Emily Barrett on 07 Nov 2008

It seems to me that if there were
a kick back to US citizens on a
cap and share that Obama has
proposed, this would be an
incentive for the "average"
householder to maintain high
carbon output. No?

Also, it seems that too often land
use management still contains the
notion of unlimited growth. Yes,
sprawl is a problem, but so is
density. The question is, what
are the limits for both? What is
the carrying capacity for the
planet, each region, and the
human psyche? Density as a land
use solution is no solution and
ultimately not sustainable if limits
to density are not seriously
Posted by Pennie Stasik O'Grady on 07 Nov 2008

Pennie Stasik O'Grady: “Also, it seems that too often land uase management still contains the
notion of unlimited growth. Yes, sprawl is a problem, but so is density.”

True. But short of reversing overpopulation, something I imagine to be a very slow (though necessary) process, I think the low hanging fruit here is to design our habitats better than we do. If by density you mean larger buildings that alter traditional character, I’m with you. But relative densification can be achieved without altering landscape character. For instance, invisible building densification could be achieved if basements could be added wherever feasible. Many people in financial crisis could better afford their mortgages if they could rent out their basement…just as one example. I think the priority is to provide elegant, responsible ways to squeeze in the greater population density we are sure to experience before a reduction can be realized. It is more than likely that this very process of accommodation (and that includes growing food and recycling waste in cities) is part of a process that will lead to eventual reduction of population.

Posted by Trevor Burrowes on 07 Nov 2008

If you don't believe global warming is all man made but only partially man made, consider this:
If you want to reduce global warming 50% and it is 100% man made, you have to reduce man-made warming 50%, but if global warming is only 50% man made, you have to reduce man-made warming by 100%!
In other words: The less human activities contribute to global warming, the more urgent it is that we limit those activities!
Posted by Andy Andersson on 07 Nov 2008

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Posted by ariana gossfeld on 08 Nov 2008

What about congress? If they are not on board, Obama cannot override them, can he?

Posted by chele on 08 Nov 2008

A historical victory in the USA. A new hope for peace, environment and human rights.
Posted by Uday Chakraborty on 09 Nov 2008

read about the increase of the average temperature on Earth and about the ice....
Posted by surya narayan singh on 09 Nov 2008

Obama could help slow the U.S. output of carbon and ease the growing problem of unemployment by imposing an immediate moratorium on discretionary legal immigration and further tightening the borders against illegal immigration.

More than 90 percent of our current immigrants -- about 1.2 million people a year -- are from low per capita carbon emission societies who, once here, increase their consumption and their resulting carbon output to the already excessive U.S. level.

Despite the chamber of commerce's claims, their labor is not indispensible for growth, even if we accept that growth is something we need right now. Slower population growth, something the majority of Americans are voting for in their reproductive behavior, will combat sprawl, deforestation, water use and a variety of other abuses that expand carbon emissions.

Posted by dave simcox on 09 Nov 2008

By that logic, your best bet for reducing your own carbon footprint is to move to a village in Africa. You ready to go? It is absurd to believe that we are going to limit carbon emissions by preventing other nations from seeking to achieve the economic prosperity Americans enjoy--either by coming here as individuals or by developing at home, as China and India are seeking to do. That is why McKibben's call for the US to invest in China's own CO2 emission reduction efforts is so important; this is a global problem, and cannot be solved within one nation's borders.
Posted by Charlotte Kaiser on 11 Nov 2008

In calling on Obama to create a world-wide
strategy for reducing carbon emissions, we take
into consideration the present requirements to
reduce industrial emissions, stop urban sprawl,
increase or decrease density, population, etc. -
and retain or sacrifice public support. I think
Pres. Obama can handle the public support part
of it. It's up to us to suggest ways to deal with
the rest. And quickly.

One aspect that we should consider is that the
process will unfold in stages. We are starting
from widespread public ignorance of the
problems along with city-suburban
configurations based on 100 years of cheap
petroleum. We may anticipate several stages of
weaning off fossil fuels and meat-centered diets.

Beginning with urban growth boundaries and a
cap-and-trade or -share program may be a
good first step. Developing renewable energy is
too. In a later stages, the dense cities we
achieve now may not be helpful. More attention
may have to be paid to redistributing farm lands
to create small local producers and small urban
villages. Zoning and building codes will have to
be addressed. As society changes in these first
stages, decentralizing tendencies may emerge
naturally, and whole new sets of problems and
possibilities will emerge that we cannot
anticipate right now.

For me the lesson to be learned from this is that
we should enter the process with the changes in
the first stage that are both possible and
attractive and assume that they are only the
beginning, that reshaping civilization is as
complex and unpredictable as the shaping of it
has been over the last 600 odd years since the
Renaissance. We may shave our carbon
emissions rapidly, but we won't adjust our ways
of living nearly as fast.

Let's just ask Obama to begin the journey with a
few single steps, for which he can gain public
support, and see what is required after that,
realizing that this is urgent but that the politics
are important - and not simple - and we can't
know what will emerge or be required in the
long run.
Posted by Jim Newcomer on 11 Nov 2008

We need a loud and clear wake up call. We now need to see the issues as self imperitives requireing our individual and collective actions. We may ask that our political leaders lead. But they will always act as we show them we wish them to. Action from President-elect Obama may only come with collective vision, collective will. and collective action from the people, for our collective future. We have 20/20 hindsight of which it is said we can be wise. We have 20/20 foresight on our collective futures. Will we be wise?

Posted by Bob Williamson on 12 Nov 2008

I am so deeply sorry to have to say this. You are not a scientist nor do you know what you are talking about. You just jumped on the band wagon like all the other environ mentalists to invoke your unsubstantiated deeds upon America, its resources and humanity. Why don't you just make America into one big huge park that no one can touch, just lock it up forever. Get rid of man, how dare they use the resources that was given to them by GOD in order to survive.

Here is the deal. God givith and God taketh away. You, your organizations, the government, the elites the private sectors are really stepping over the line causing more damage to Americas failing economy and in the end humanity will suffer greatly. The animals and the environment are not hurt by mans presence nor are they hurt by mans involvement drilling for oil in the Ocean or the ground. Gasoline is not hurting the environment either. Mining is not hurting the environment. These are all natural resources that are abound for humans to discover and use for goods to contribute back to society keeping it going.

It concerns me that organizations such as yourself or if you are alone spreading the news of no knowledge can actually feel good about trying to bring America and it's infrastructure down. Stop playing God. Get off the power trip and stop trying to Control the World. If the lord God didn't want us to have access to the resources he put on this earth for all to enjoy and use for the survival and stability of our country than you might as well ship us off to MARS.

I am just as educated as you are and I would never put my self in a position such as this that would eventually jeopardize the economy, America and civilization with out being a scientist first and without actual scientific data to prove the theory of Global Warming.

You should be ashamed of yourself first of all. You are making a mockery of the scientists, the climate and mother nature plus I am aware too that it is written that our very own G may have a hand in this global warming business by orchestrated this in order to get Americans all fired up, scared and instill fear so they can come in and change the way Americans work, eat, sleep, play. Just CHANGE it right isn't that the slogan CHANGE. Just like R ham Immanuel said this crisis is the perfect opportunity for them to CHANGE America and all it stands for. This crisis is exactly what the radicals need in order to invoke more government control more government regulation and take over the world away from the people. I find it interesting that all you green peace so called puppeteers seem to think OBAMA is on your side so you can start rallying Global Warming waiting for Obama to pass all kinds of legislation to lock up the world.

I think the Saudi Government would better serve the people of America and respect the infrastructure, the constitution and the foundations of America better than any of the politicians in the White house, the courts and these non profit organizations. I think it is best that we turn over our government to people who aren't ignorant and stupid and who have no idea how to run a country. We wouldn't be in this mess if the people running the white house and in the private elite sector didn't care about humans and their survival.

Such gibberish I can't even stand to hear it any more and I will be sure to advocate that this is a big lie. It is such a contradiction.

If it was so DUBAI would not be in existence and the Saudis, Holly Woods rich and famous, the CFR members, the powerful and rich politicians, kings and queens would not be over there celebrating the newly built Atlantis if there was such a crisis as Global Warming. They would not be allowed to drive around in Mercedes, Ferrari, Limousines, sports cars that all run on GASOLINE.

Isn't this a GLOBAL thing. Isn't Dubai part of the Global climate? Are they exempt from this made up lie because you all know that you wouldn't be able to get away with this over there.

Please take your efforts and direct them on something of real importance. Stop the WARS. Isn't that why we are at war for oil and other resources. Why don't you fight to save humans. Do you car about innocent lives being killed over OIL in Iraq or are you just concerned about your blanket equation.

The earth has been around for billions of years and if it's been around that long and has survived that long there is nothing you can do to stop it. The earth will go on forever. Humans don't.

Life is precious and we all have an inherit right to use our talents to discover ways in which we can make the world a better place and live in peace while prospering. Trying to adjunct policies, restrict and make stuff up in order to restrict mans involvement in this world is a Sin and a crime. To sacrifice humans and enslave them is a crime. To take control of the constitution and Americans rights and freedoms is a crime. What you are advocating is a crime.

Why don't you go to the city of DUBAI and write about the Global Warming issue over there. Try to take them to Federal court and block all of their efforts to drill for oil and other natural resources.

You and your other organizations should be screaming about how disruptive it is for a man made city to live in/on the ocean. If you wrote something like this up in the Saudi paper about the city of DUBAI how they are hurting the environment what do you think would happen? What do you think would happen if you tried to block their land and lock it up? I don't think you would have a head to write about.

Oil is the gold standard for the economy so don't fool your self and try to fool others into your Global Warming cause. It is hypocritical and with out merit.

I think America should have a Government and organizations that are not dangerously ignorant trying to shut America and humanity down.

We are on the brink of destruction and all you can talk about is Obama carrying out your agendas that are devastating for America.

You are wrong and some day when you see the damage that was done you will come to find out that there was no truth to your story or mans involvement in Global warming like it is hyped about.

So my question is why do you feel you are right talking about global warming when you really haven't cited hard cold facts. I know of scientists that study this on a daily basis have a much different conclusion than you and the Gov.

Save the human race and say no to the green peace organizations and all the Al Gores who don't care about us.

Life lives stop trying to lock it up.

Posted by Lisa on 22 Nov 2008

Mark didn't drop the name Nikola Tesla I did. Tesla discovered a way to probe the earth for free electricity. He also came up with many other discoveries hidden from the American people by our very own G. Tesla was a genius and his work and discoveries proved it.

Posted by Lisa on 01 Dec 2008

Lisa, while it is true that you brought up Tesla here, Mark Goldes frequently drops Tesla's name when promoting MPI's woo-woo free energy nonsense.

He's been promoting this junk for over 20 years. The laws of thermodynamics still being with us, he has never had any evidence to show supporting his claims. In particular Mark likes to invoke the myth that Tesla found a free energy source.

Various tin-foil hat types on the internet like the myth of free energy and free energy suppression conspiracy theories. They routinely like to claim that CO Springs burned down because Tesla's experiments back-fed atmospheric energy into the plant. No such thing happened. All available evidence points to Tesla burning down the power plant at CO Springs by simply overloading it. He did that by efficiently coupling its output into the now well understood Schumann Resonance. In effect he put a giant bus bar across the power station output, the equipment overheated and burned the station down.

A hundred years ago power plant safety features were not what they are today. It was pretty easy to burn them down. Even today it is possible to do a lot of damage to power plants and transmission systems by shorting them out. A good example occurred ten years ago when utility workers near San Francisco, CA energized a safety shunt at a substation and managed to put two million customers into darkness for eight hours.

Posted by Penny Gruber on 02 Dec 2008

Everyone has some kind of answer and tends to use same as their joiusting lance as he/she rides off to become the next "follow me" champion.
What Barack Obama should do or needs to do is coloured by the concept that he is first and foremost an excellent politician. And like the overwhelmingy majority of his colleagues , the first and in most instances the tool used is : throw money at the problem,provided the clamor is loud and extensive enough, or it is now the "in problem". An exdellent opiate, ie a means of social control very similar to the masking traditions in use throughout West Africa. Talk about Drugs and Junkies. The label stretches far and wide.
Answers depend on permanent and extensive mind set change if you want to stop robbing the future of our children. Should you decide that it is God's will or whatever then perhaps it is time to contact R. Branson about a bit of interplanetary travel.

Posted by Sam Cabot on 13 Dec 2008

I am fascinated particularly by the "anti-sprawl"
argument. I am not proposing to present a
complete economic breakdown of the suburbs
as a concept, but given the cost of even decent
housing in most major urban areas (particularly
those with sufficient economies to support jobs
that can pay for the ridiculously expensive
housing) living outside city boundaries is, at
current population, impossible. There isn't a
whole lot that can be done about the population
issue unless you're proposing a China-style "one
child per family" policy, although I suppose the
avowed pro-Marxists would be in favor of that
(obviously not everyone here, but the ones who
openly stated a preference for Communism).

Unfortunately, or fortunately, however you
choose to look at it, in America it is unlikely at
best that even a fully Democratic (large D)
government would choose to impose policies
placing such major restrictions on where
Americans can choose to live. And the possibility
of making 98% of the country's land mass into
Federal land reserves in order to keep people in
infrastructurally-overtaxed and hideously
expensive urban environments is so remote as
to enter the realm of the impossible.

Obviously, there are some rational, possible,
and feasible steps that can and must be taken
on energy consumption, most of which center
around providing real usable alternatives to
carbon-generated energy at a price someone
making under $250,000 a year can comfortably
use. Despite the tone of this particular piece,
which I have no reason to doubt in terms of
factual accuracy, any sort of battle-axe
approach to cutting energy usage is doomed to
fail, even in New Haven and Berkeley.
Posted by Reality Shower on 13 Jan 2009

Comments have been closed on this feature.
bill mckibbenABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. His The End of Nature, published in 1989, is regarded as the first book for a general audience on global warming. He is a founder of 350.org, a campaign to spread the goal of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million worldwide. His most recent book is American Earth, an anthology of American environmental writing. In his last article for Yale Environment 360, he wrote about the "tipping point" for climate change.



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Its Jobs Are Not Coming Back

by james van nostrand
President-elect Donald J. Trump has vowed to revive U.S. coal production and bring back thousands of jobs. But it’s basic economics and international concern about climate change that have crushed the American coal industry, not environmental regulations.

How the Attack on Science Is
Becoming a Global Contagion

by christian schwägerl
Assaults on the science behind climate change research and conservation policies are spreading from the U.S. to Europe and beyond. If this wave of “post-fact” thinking triumphs, the world will face a future dominated by pure ideology.

Why We Need a Carbon Tax,
And Why It Won’t Be Enough

by bill mckibben
Putting a price on carbon is an idea whose time has come, with even Big Oil signaling it may drop its long-standing opposition to a carbon tax. But the question is, has it come too late?

Floating Solar: A Win-Win for
Drought-Stricken Lakes in U.S.

by philip warburg
Floating solar panel arrays are increasingly being deployed in places as diverse as Brazil and Japan. One prime spot for these “floatovoltaic” projects could be the sunbaked U.S. Southwest, where they could produce clean energy and prevent evaporation in major man-made reservoirs.

Point/Counterpoint: Should
Green Critics Reassess Ethanol?

by timothy e. wirth and c. boyden gray
Former U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth and former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray argue that environmental criticisms of corn ethanol are unwarranted and that the amount in gasoline should be increased. In rebuttal, economist C. Ford Runge counters that any revisionist view of ethanol ignores its negative impacts on the environment and the food supply.

The Case Against More Ethanol:
It's Simply Bad for Environment

by c. ford runge
The revisionist effort to increase the percentage of ethanol blended with U.S. gasoline continues to ignore the major environmental impacts of growing corn for fuel and how it inevitably leads to higher prices for this staple food crop. It remains a bad idea whose time has passed.

How Satellites and Big Data
Can Help to Save the Oceans

by douglas mccauley
With new marine protected areas and an emerging U.N. treaty, global ocean conservation efforts are on the verge of a major advance. But to enforce these ambitious initiatives, new satellite-based technologies and newly available online data must be harnessed.

Why Supreme Court’s Action
Creates Opportunity on Climate

by david victor
The U.S. Supreme Court order blocking the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan may have a silver lining: It provides an opportunity for the U.S. to show other nations it has a flexible, multi-faceted approach to cutting emissions.

With Court Action, Obama’s
Climate Policies in Jeopardy

by michael b. gerrard
The U.S. Supreme Court order blocking President Obama’s plan to cut emissions from coal-burning power plants is an unprecedented step and one of the most environmentally harmful decisions ever made by the nation’s highest court.

Beyond the Oregon Protests:
The Search for Common Ground

by nancy langston
Thrust into the spotlight by a group of anti-government militants as a place of confrontation, the Malheur wildlife refuge is actually a highly successful example of a new collaboration in the West between local residents and the federal government.

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A look at how acidifying oceans could threaten the Dungeness crab, one of the most valuable fisheries on the U.S. West Coast.
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An aerial view of why Europe’s per capita carbon emissions are less than 50 percent of those in the U.S.
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An indigenous tribe’s deadly fight to save its ancestral land in the Amazon rainforest from logging.
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Food waste
An e360 video series looks at the staggering amount of food wasted in the U.S. – a problem with major human and environmental costs.
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Choco rainforest Cacao
Residents of the Chocó Rainforest in Ecuador are choosing to plant cacao over logging in an effort to slow deforestation.
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Tribal people and ranchers join together to stop a project that would haul coal across their Montana land.
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