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Climate Crisis: The Silence Is Deafening

President Barack Obama talks on the phone aboard Air Force One. (Photo: Pete Souza / White House)

Those of us who have been waiting impatiently for Obama to shed his apparent cocoon of caution, cowardice and capitulation finally got a hint last week that a real leader may yet emerge and spread his wings at the White House.

But despite the wide-reaching civil rights implications of the president’s encouraging new stance on gay rights, he remains weak on another issue, one which concerns the very survival of life (human and non-human) as we know it, where there is no margin for error and no time to waste, issues where the clock is not only ticking, but nearing the end of its prelude to catastrophe. I’m talking, of course, about “the climate crisis” – what the conniving Republican strategist Frank Luntz convinced the media to start calling “climate change” in 2003 because polling showed that it sounded less ominous than “global warming.”

With the president having shown some mettle on gay rights, we must now convince him that he must bring that courage to bear on the greatest threat that mankind has ever faced. Pragmatists, please don’t respond with: “The public doesn’t want to hear it.” “It’s not in the top ten of voters’ concerns.” “He can’t win the election talking about it.” Molding oneself for the sole purpose of electability is not leadership; it’s pandering, a field in which his opponent, Mr. Romney, whose only core political belief is that he deserves to be president, is widely regarded as breaking the world record. There has never been a more noble opportunity for a presidential candidate to contrast himself from and elevate himself above a soulless pandering opponent than President Obama has now.

Nor has there ever been a more critical time in world history for courage and leadership from an American president. Considering the most enduring impact on the greatest number of people, JFK’s Cuban missile crisis, Lincoln’s Civil War, FDR’s dragging America into World War II to save Europe, Truman’s dropping of the “bomb” and Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq will all pale in comparison to what is done or not done about the climate crisis. Calling this a looming civilization ending apocalypse isn’t idle speculation, hyperbole, or science fiction. It’s math, physics and chemistry – the same science upon which modern civilization was built.

That there is very little being done so far is an indictment of the arrogance, selfish greed and lack of empathy on the part of Republicans, some of whom may actually not know better. If so, it is a willful, if not deliberate ignorance. It is an indictment of the cowardice of Democrats, most of whom know better, but are not willing to risk their political careers to save anyone but themselves. History will indict every American president since and including Bill Clinton. With each passing year and each passing election cycle, the culpability increases. Liberals will find this a bitter pill to swallow, but if Obama gets re-elected and does not seriously take up the climate crisis banner, he will be blamed more than George W. Bush. Bush had plenty of evidence compelling him to act and did not. Obama had even more evidence and more urgency to act and so far has not.

Yes, Obama has nibbled at the edges; raising vehicle fuel efficiency standards and instructing the Environmental Protection Agency to rein in coal power plant CO2 emissions. But this is not a problem that will even begin to be solved by Neville Chamberlain-like appeasement of the fossil fuel industry’s hegemony. American presidents have waged actual war against empires, fascism, communism, terrorism and slavery. They have waged rhetorical war against poverty, drugs and cancer. Conservatives have cried foul about trumped-up wars on Christmas and religion, and liberals have equated conservatives authoritarianism with a war against women. But for the most important war of all time – a War on CO2 – troops are not being mobilized, arms are not being raised and rallying cries are nowhere to be heard. The silence is deafening.

Media coverage of the likely end of civilization has plummeted and is now 70-90 percent less than two years ago. Snooki gets more publicity. Worse still, most of the coverage is of climate-denier politicians. On the Sunday talk shows, no scientists have been interviewed in the last three years, and none of the climate stories dealt with the scientific findings. Just one story touched on climate and extreme weather. Of 839 questions asked by the media in the recent Republican presidential debates, two were about the climate crisis. All of the Republican presidential candidates were climate deniers, with the slight exception of a wishy-washy Jon Huntsman. So much for our claim to belong to a species of higher intelligence.

President Obama, the media won’t talk about it if you don’t. If you stand by and hold the coats of the fossil fuel empire while they turn this planet into Mordor, no other good deed you have ever done will compensate even in small measure for that failure. We know you believe in science and understand the magnitude of the problem. We know you comprehend that the window for preserving a livable planet is rapidly closing. We will not avert this disaster without a leader determined to do so. You have the opportunity to be either the most important leader in the history of the world, or ultimately held in greater contempt than George W. Bush. Which will it be?

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