Obama as Unreliable Narrator on Climate Action: from SOTU to NSA spying at Copenhagen

(By Juan Cole)

When President Obama looked us in the eye and said that the US is not engaged in electronic surveillance for economic reasons, but only for the sake of security and anti-terrorism, he was lying through his teeth. He should be careful. His approval ratings have tanked in some large part because he has lost those who care about the 4th amendment and personal privacy. Reagan also became unpopular with Iran-Contra, when it became clear that he was lying to us what weapons he sold to Iran and what he did with the black money.

Lying is not fatal to a political career, but for the public to come to realize that you are systematically lying to them about something they care about– that is deadly.

Laura Poitras broke the story in a Danish newspaper and The Huffington Post also reported it, late Wednesday. The United States National Security Agency spied on delegates to the 2009 Climate Summit and used the knowledge they gained to game the negotiations in favor of the US (one of the world’s two major carbon polluters).

In the end, armed with knowledge of the summit leaders’ proposals, Obama sidestepped the UN process and essentially made a separate peace with a handful of other countries calling for holding global warming to a 3.4 degrees F. increase (2 degrees C.), but declining to put it into law or specify any specific steps to achieve that goal. It now appears clear that the US and the world will miss this goal by a large margin, and we are likely going to an average surface temperature increase of 9 degrees F., which could so destabilize the earth’s climate over time as to endanger human life.

This behavior at Copenhagen and since is consistent with Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which is a disaster for the earth. The policy allows Obama to praise non-existent “clean coal,” to display joy that the US is producing more oil by environmentally damaging hydraulic fracturing, and to express, as he did in the State of the Union address, a hope for natural gas-fueled automobiles.

His praising of the advances of solar energy in the US was also disingenuous, since the US is way behind on solar installations compared to other advanced countries, and solar accounts for less than one percent of our electricity generation nationally:


To his credit, Obama is in fact trying to use the EPA to more or less force coal plants to close, since almost all of them are in violation of US environmental laws and regulations even if they didn’t produce an outsized proportion of our carbon dioxide pollution (they do). But we are to the point now in many states where they can be replaced for a reasonable investment (at or near grid parity) with wind turbines or solar panels and that’s how they should be replaced. Not with fracked natural gas, which because of methane releases from mining it may be as bad or worse than coal in emitting greenhouse gases! By the way, in 2013 US carbon emissions increase 2%.

I can’t explain Obama’s “all of the above” rhetoric except as pure politics. I presume he says these things because he wants the campaign money from the hydrocarbon industries and the votes of their workers.

But we don’t need someone who waffles on this issue right now. We need a leader.

Here is what it means for the US to go from generating 6 billion metric tons of CO2 annually to 5 billion (the world total is 32 bn metric tons annually). The US was 60 pounds overweight and told it would die in 20 years if it didn’t lose the 60 pounds. It has lost 10 pounds and the deadline is around the corner.

I don’t know if Obama is being less than upright, or whether he just does not understand that we don’t have 50 years to make the transition away from high carbon generation. We have more like 15 years. He doesn’t seem to get the urgency.

We live in a crucial two decades when the choices humankind makes will shape our world and the world of our grandchildren very powerfully. We need leaders who will openly say we have to find ways of keeping the dirty hydrocarbons in the ground, ASAP. A president in his second term without a majority in the House and who is very likely to lose the senate is the perfect such leader. He can’t get legislation through, but he can set EPA policy and can say what he pleases with no fear of reprisal from campaign contributors.

Obama’s position on NSA spying made me very suspicious. The evidence that he undermined Copenhagen by using the surveillance is absolutely damning. And his infatuation with natural gas dismays the hell out of me.

In literature, an “unreliable narrator” is a teller of the story who turns out to be, e.g. crazy, when you were reading it as straightforward. On green energy and environment, as well as on surveillance, Obama is increasingly an unreliable narrator, for reasons that are not transparent (and which are therefore potentially extremely dangerous).


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20 Responses

  1. Clearly, mechanisms to hold the powerful accountable have been gutted, with little evidence of public will to rectify this disaster. No one is to blame for anything; just change the subject. The levels of denial, repression, and avoidance become ever more amazing the more we learn. We live in the Bubble of All Bubbles and no one wants it to burst. We mostly just watch it grow…

    • I couldn’t bring myself to open this thread. Instinctively I just know that everything which weakens him diminishes our ability to push out of these alien swamps we wallow in. We can muddle through anything but these crises in foreign policy. They are profoundly dangerous. Who else is there for the next three years?

      But Juan shames me into acknowledging that the truth must out and that I’m just going to have to accept it.

  2. We don’t have 15 years. All the fancy planning you read about by business, manufacturing, local, state and national government about where they are going to be in 2030 or 2040 is bullshit. The writing is on the wall, the corner is not ahead but here, and American is watching tv. Obama is unimaginative and rudderless.

  3. His praising of the advances of solar energy in the US was also disingenuous, since the US is way behind on solar installations compared to other advanced countries

    The United States is third in the world in solar PV, and second in the world in solar thermal. This is in addition to being second in wind, first in geothermal, and third in hydropower.

    That makes the United States the only country to be on the leaderboard in every renewable energy category.

  4. What’re the differences between “management by crisis” and “crisis management” and “managing to engender crisis”?

    …and speaking of “All of the above,” anyone heard anything about the “northern extension of Keystone XL” lately? This lady thinks she knows what that means:

    “Why no news on Keystone XL pipeline may be good news” link to business.financialpost.com

    Oh, wait, we are supposed to just shut up, us “libruls,” on accounta the President is “reconciling competing interests.” Right? I mean, it’s a really hard job — everyone says. And after all, who can say what’s right or wrong in this complicated world? Especially where there’s power and money involved…

  5. ” His approval ratings have tanked in some large part because he has lost those who care about the 4th amendment and personal privacy.”

    For the early birds watching the worm, Obama’s rating was stuck at a very low point before he got the nomination to run for president. That was when he reversed a former sympathy for Palestinians and pandered to the Israel lobby at an AIPAC conference in 2008.

    Six years later there is: “The State of the Union, Obama-style: In praise of self-delusions” by Robert Fantina – link to counterpunch.org

  6. There shouldn’t be any surprise about Obama being pro-Big Energy. He gave several signals of that position in 2008.

    • He certainly isn’t pro-coal.

      I think he’s been culling Big Coal from the energy industry herd so the oil and gas industries won’t defend coal as he kills it.

        • Looks like Keystone XL, which will be sludging “diluted bitumen” or something that looks a lot like liquified and very dirty “coal”, link to thenation.com , to Newcastle and elsewhere, may be on the way to getting the Obama Seal of All of the Above Approval: link to science.time.com. Anyone remember the Tellicoe Dam and the infamous snail darter? The following is not a sound bite: link to lawlibrary.unm.edu

          In the meantime, mountaintopping continues, miners die, and mercury floats on the breeze. Two degrees, four degrees, six degrees, eight — why are future humans about to be “late?”

        • “Looks like Keystone XL, … may be on the way to getting the Obama Seal of All of the Above Approval:”

          Only naive Obama groupies will be surprised at this one.

  7. Joe from Lowell,
    I am not up to date on world or US energy production statistics.
    Your claim that the US is a leader in renewable energy seems plausible to me if you are refering to total megawatts produced. But if we are talking about the percentages of energy produced by renewables I would find your claims very suspect.

  8. Stephen Hatt

    It is an eye opener, not to mention disappointment, when the blame for the President’s credibility can be laid at his own feet and not just right wing crackpots.

  9. “Lying is not fatal to a political career, but for the public to come to realize that you are systematically lying to them about something they care about– that is deadly.”

    Lying is why I refused to vote – twice – to elect Barack Obama to the presidency. I was outraged when he promised to filibuster the FISA bill only to vote for passage without comment or protest. It continued post-election, with his lame excuses about how the Republicans wouldn’t let him do anything while showing spine only when he felt it necessary to kick those who supported him to the curb before returning to servicing Republican goals. It continues with the recent news that the House has Obama as an ally in pushing TPP through a vote.

    One can only lie so much before truth catches up. That day is very close at hand.

  10. Amir Shoja

    Oliver Stone: Obama a wolf in sheep’s: clothinghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVNMKu0TrMQ Rather interesting interview on RT

  11. American political choice has always been the “Less of two evil”. And less evil cannot get much done because of lack of seniority. To Obama’s credit he has been a competent president and the empire is in much stronger and credible position. Bush, Palin, McCain would have been, bye bye empire and hello lion pit.

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