Why is the Climate Movement Celebrating Obama’s Re-election?

Today Barack Obama was elected to a second term as President of the United States. Also today, as a consequence of global warming, our climate system gained an amount of energy equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. In the giddy celebrations following Obama’s success, climate activists jostled over a cursory mention given in his victory speech: “We want our children to live in a world without the destructive power of a warming planet.” I can’t help but feel there’s something terribly wrong with this.


This picture was jubilantly shared online by 350.org, TckTckTck, and many others.

Let’s be clear on something: the threat posed by climate change demands a WWII scale mobilisation and Obama is not going to deliver. Of course it’s good that Romney lost. But this result is not a victory for the climate movement, and to portray it otherwise is both deceptive and strategically senseless.

To portray this result as a victory is deceptive because Obama’s re-election does not for a second mean we are closer to solving climate change. While Obama did many worthwhile things in his first term, such as improving vehicle mileage, and kicking ass on Keystone XL, he totally fluffed it on carbon pricing, and he also expanded offshore drilling. Moreover, policy aside, he was a terrible communicator on climate change, probably actually setting the movement back. His lackadaisical approach towards acting on climate change implied that the problem is insignificant.

Further, Obama’s conscientious neglect of climate change while on the 2012 campaign trail is evidence that he plans to do S.F.A. when back in the West Wing; it also means he lacks any sort of mandate to act. And, even without a strong understanding of US politics, I suspect the GOP majority in the House of Representatives may make it a teensy bit hard for worthwhile climate legislation to get through. As does The Guardian:
[quote]But a strategic decision by the White House in 2009 to downplay climate change, and Obama’s avoidance of the issue during the campaign, makes it tricky for the president to now claim that he was elected to act on the issue.

The Republicans’ continued control of the House of Representatives will also continue to limit Obama’s scope for action.[/quote]
In all, it’s hardly time to bring out the party hats.


It’s probably not all sunshine and rainbows.

Further, celebrating Barack Obama’s re-election isn’t just deceptive, it’s strategically senseless. It frames climate action as a spectrum whereby something inadequate is better than nothing. While this approach is sensible in terms of how we achieve change in practice, ie, incrementally, I feel that communication should always throw down the gauntlet and make it clear that more is expected. Why? Because more is needed. Rather than chewing on rhetorical tidbits that fall from the master’s table, climate campaigners should be howling in outrage that Obama deliberately ignored an issue which has huge implications for the American people. Trumpeting Obama’s re-election as a victory diminishes the scale of the climate emergency, diminishes ambition to solve the climate emergency, and diminishes understanding of how far we have to go.

Further, the political system is not going to drive action to solve climate change. If Obama acts, it will only be due to massive public pressure – the sort that is generated by deep, committed, grassroots organising. We’ve learnt during Obama’s four years of dilly-dallying that we can do a lot more for the climate by pursuing change outside the political process, say, by systematically stopping coal stations from being built. What this means is that it is in fact empowering for climate organisations to be talking about how useless Obama will be – it then creates the space for grassroots activism outside the beltway, and the impetus to tackle the most obvious signs of the USA’s pollution-dependent economy. Being honest about how disappointing Obama has been, and likely will be, is the strategic precursor to energising supporters to achieve real success on climate change.


We’ve got a long way to go. The good news is that we can get going.

Chris Rose, in How to Win Campaigns, talks about “evidences” – signs that a particular proposition is true. For convincing people that we are facing a climate emergency, our actions can be our “evidences”. And the actions of some climate campaigners seem like evidence that we haven’t got much to worry about. In actuality, at the rate Obama is going, we’re fucked.

Related reading:

Am I wrong? Perhaps you understand US politics better than I, or have a different theory about how change happens. I’d like to be convinced I’m wrong. So please let me know below!


  1. Forward Linkboard: Barack Obama Is Re-Elected As President « Basketball Writing - November 8, 2012

    […] Why is the Climate Movement Celebrating Barack Obama’s Re-election? (scitnecessitas.com) […]

  2. Obama hints at new drive on climate change | BizNax - November 9, 2012

    […] Why is the Climate Movement Celebrating Barack Obama’s Re-election? […]

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