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Friday, Oct 9, 2009, 8:43 am

Weekly Mulch: Obama’s Nobel Prize

By Raquel Brown
President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today for his accomplishments in international diplomacy, climate change and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation. The Nobel Committee praised Obama for his "constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting," but, Richard Kim of The Nation wonders the award comes too soon, as Obama has not yet committed to attending the international climate summit at Copenhagen.

Kim notes that if we want to significantly reduce carbon emissions to advert climate change, "the U.S. will have to bring a lot more to the table than it is currently offering." And in terms of nuclear weapons, a nuclear-free-world is currently a far off goal with many obstacles before it can become a reality. With this award, we hope that Obama will not be complacent in his efforts but take this honor with a sense of accountability to follow through with his initiatives.

"Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met, so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone" said Obama in response to winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the home front, Americans are struggling to balance a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Rinku Sen and Billy Parish of In These Times report that both issues have a “disproportionate impact on communities of color.” The Labor Department reported last week that youth unemployment has reached a whopping 18.2%, with large racial gaps. People of color often live in neighborhoods with unfavorable environmental conditions and work in hazardous industries, like agriculture and food production. There are prominent racial hierarchies and unfair working conditions. “White flight” trend from inner cities to suburbia creates the need for more highways, driving and carbon emissions. To face this problem, groups like California’s Green Media Youth Center and the national organization, Green For All, are working towards an inclusive green economy:
“These policies are a good start, but if they’re to survive and lead up to the additional billions and effective implementation that we need to get control of unemployment, we have to be prepared to fight on the race front, as well as the green. All signs indicate that opponents will bait American racism with brutal inventiveness. If the right’s attack on Van Jones isn’t enough of a warning, then we should take our lessons from the health care debate. We can expect conservative pundits to call equity guidelines reverse racism, or to put up immigrants rather than corporate pollution as the true cause of environmental collapse,” Parish and Senn write.

Although emission goals have become more stringent, many argue that getting there will stimulate the economy, not stifle it. The planet is warming at an accelerating rate. In order to avert catastrophic climate change, climate scientists have adjusted their original target of 450-ppm (parts per million) carbon emissions by the year 2050 to 350-ppm. This would mean that instead of aiming for 80% carbon emission reductions by 2050, we would need to cut carbon by 97% by 2050 in order to avert catastrophy.

Seem impossible to accomplish in a budget-neutral world? In a report (PDF) for Economics for Equity and the Environment Network (E3), Eban Goodstein, Frank Ackerman and Kristen Sheeran explain for Grist how we can afford to achieve 350. They estimate that with just 1-3% of the world’s total output, we could create jobs, rebuild global forests to reduce carbon emissions and globally shift to clean energy. In fact, they believe that these investments might even save consumers money, given the high price of oil.

They also argue that it is more expensive to do nothing: “The bad news on the climate front is NOT that the costs of preventing climate change are becoming too expensive. Estimates of the costs have remained relatively stable, while estimates of the likely costs of inaction are becoming unbearable. Whether the final number is 450 or 350, we face no insoluble technical or economic challenges. This is still a problem we can afford to solve. Stopping global warming remains fundamentally a problem of political will.”

The E3 authors also note that there are no reasonable studies that claim that a 350-concentration target would destroy the economy. If we act now, we can afford the economics of 350. However, inaction will pose a dangerous threat and grave economic costs on future generations.

And while we don’t wish a global recession on anyone, Andrew Leonard writes in an article for Salon that these hard times have helped reduce carbon emissions. According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report carbon emissions have experienced the largest drop in over 40 years, including the 1981 recession following the oil crisis.

Leonard urges us to take advantage of this opportunity: “If we take aggressive action now to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation, in combination with tough new regulations, we might be able to turn a temporary decline into something more permanent.”
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