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Climate Change Leadership

By Bill Henderson

06 November, 2007

"Either they will ask about us - 'What were they doing? What were they thinking about and how could they let that catastrophe happen?' " (Al Gore) said at a climate change conference in Berlin. " 'Didn't they listen to the scientists? Didn't they see the glaciers and polar caps melting? Didn't they see the fires?

"Or will they ask another question. I want them to look back at 2007 and ask: 'How did they find the moral courage to rise up and solve the problem everyone said was impossible to solve?' "
How serious are we about global warming?

There was a great Hillary Clinton cartoon in the Guardian:

Off in the distance is the White House. There is a fence stretching like a tightrope to the White House. Ms. Clinton is balanced on the fence walking very carefully.

The Washington Diary column under the cartoon described Ms. Clinton as the front runner far ahead of her Democratic rivals and now jousting Republicans as well more than a year before election day. But she must be constantly careful in her positioning because one mis-step could cost her the presidency.

I'm neither for nor against Ms. Clinton. Like her husband - and Karl Rove - she is a consummate politician playing the American political game. What is important to me is the horrendous democratic failure implicit in this most important election on the planet as humanity stumbles towards and maybe even over a climate change threshold with an ever increasing probability of catastrophe, even extinction.

Climate change danger and needed mitigation is a life and death issue dwarfing every other campaign issue combined and US leadership is an absolute necessity if there is to be an effective multilateral mitigation strategy. America has been the leader in crafting the present fossil fuel based global economy; America is the most powerful country economically and militarily and American based companies dominate the global economy. But America's leaders are in an electoral straightjacket on this most important issue.

Ms. Clinton and each of her Democratic and Republican rivals must be very careful to say nothing about climate change that might offend and alienate either core constituency members or hoped for swing voters. In fact, climate change is much too volatile a subject and carefully crafted responses will be used to neutralize what should be most important election issue ever. The economy, health care, Iraq, energy, etc will instead be the debated issues of the campaign. Plus, as always, it's the economy stupid, and leadership blah-blah, and probably this election whether Republicans play footsy in airport washrooms or whether Hillary knew about Monica - but didn't really care cause she's a lesbian.

Climate change and effective strategies for emission reduction will not be the central issue of the 08 election. No candidate can afford to speak openly about climate change; no candidate can show leadership in either informing Americans about the dangers and critical importance of climate change or in building a platform based upon an effective mitigation strategy. No candidate will show leadership in questioning whether an effective mitigation strategy is even possible without governance innovation like the New Deal or a wartime-style coalition government.

Nobody will show leadership in using the election to educate Americans the way Al Gore used the movie medium. Americans now know climate change is real and man made, but who is going to educate Americans that climate change is seriously civilization threatening, even humanity threatening; that dangerous climate change, perhaps even runaway climate change, could lead to extinction not only for man but for almost all of the flora and fauna with which we share creation on this small blue planet?

The unfortunate truth is that Ms. Clinton and her fellow candidates are not leaders and if there is to be a strong public mandate for emission reduction for the winners of the 08 election a much more robust American public consensus on the dangers of climate change and the need for deep GHG emission reductions now, this decade, will have to be built and forced into the campaign by scientists and activists already aware of our precarious predicament.

Politicians in America don't lead - they are pushed. There is less than a year left to build such a robust consensus on climate change to free up the electoral process, to push aside the vested interests that do not want change, to create an opportunity for a climate change mandate so that needed emission reduction is possible. Those that recognize the danger must get much more innovative in making state of the art risk and mitigation science impossible to ignore.

bill (at)



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