Incredibly, in Sunday’s weekly video address, President Obama said, “Today, there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change.” I say “incredibly” because that just isn’t true – and if President Obama really believes it is, then it is time to panic. Given the state of the world and the urgent problems facing us that directly affect our prospects for peace and prosperity, global warming shouldn’t even be in the top five on the list of problems our president should be worrying about. In case this administration hasn’t noticed, a lot of the world is burning and global economic growth is so stagnant that it feeds the prospects of instability at home and abroad.
No less than Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, and Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest, wrote a piece published this week that asks “Could a U.S. response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine provoke a confrontation that leads to a U.S.-Russian war?” And not just any war, but one with “catastrophic consequences.” Russia is a nuclear power “capable of literally erasing the United States from the map.” Anything Graham Allison says has to be taken seriously.
If that’s not enough to worry you, after world economic leaders gathered in Washington last week for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings, even the New York Times wrote that, “concern is rising in many quarters that the United States is retreating from global leadership just when it is needed most.” The chief economic adviser to the government of India called that concern “the single most important issue of these spring meetings.”
That New York Times piece echoed what Larry Summers, former economic adviser to President Obama, wrote earlier this month. In an op-ed in The Post (in which he didn’t mention President Obama), Summers asked if it was time for “A global wake-up call for the U.S.?” Summers implies that our allies are not only ignoring us, but wholesale abandoning the American point of view by siding with China and joining the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). He wrote that America’s “failure of strategy and tactics” in persuading allied countries to eschew the AIIB “should lead to a comprehensive review of the U.S. approach to global economics.”
Here at home, economic growth is anemic and job creation has stalled. In the Obama era, more people are on the dole, business start-ups are at an all-time low as entrepreneurs throw in the towel and the world is in more turmoil and danger than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Doug Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum wrote a paper, “The Growth Imperative: How Slow Growth Threatens Our Future and the American Dream,” which was published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In it, Holtz-Eakin states that, “since 2007, trend growth in per capita income in the United States has been 0.7 percent – only one-third of the postwar average of 2.1 percent prior to 2007.”
We have a lot of problems. So why would our president say global warming is our biggest threat? Probably because it suits his ideology and his management style. The truth is, if you accept at face value everything he says about climate change, there is nothing he can do in the 20 months he has left in office that will appreciably affect the climate. This is especially true given what the president defines as “success.” He champions his agreement with China on cutting carbon pollution, but all it really means is the United States begins to raise energy costs immediately and China agrees to have a meeting in 2030 to discuss what actions they may or may not take.
President Obama is living in a world of denial. He uses global warming as a distraction to dodge the real problems we face and avoid critiques of his performance. If he did face reality, there is a lot he could do to try and juice economic growth. There is also a lot he could do to take the reins and provide American leadership around the world. He could deploy artful diplomacy to help us through some of the critical problems that the likes of Graham Allison, Larry Summers and Doug Holtz-Eakin have articulated. It may take a crisis to get the president’s attention, but let’s hope somewhere there are advisers telling him that urgent matters need his focus and global warming is simply not the priority that he wants it to be. America urgently needs the president to be the leader that the world needs today.