Just 17 days after the inauguration of the 114th Congress, President Barack Obama delivered a State of the Union address before a joint session. In this address, he warned, “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” These words ought to have been heeded. These words ought to have provoked immediate and radical action. These words ought to have been the beginning of a solution. These words were ignored.
In the 595 days since those words were delivered, there have been nearly 300 pieces of environmental legislation introduced in Congress. Only four of those bills became law, however, and not one of those laws dealt with climate change in any significant way. In that time, this Congress has also rejected an international treaty on climate change and thwarted the president’s efforts in this policy arena.
Only one of the few reforms combating this grave issue has come from the White House through executive action. These reforms include moving to upgrade our energy infrastructure, tightening existing regulations, shifting towards renewable resources, making power plants cleaner and reducing greenhouse gas production among others. These efforts have been hampered, however, by the limitations of presidential power and an openly hostile Congress.
Given that there has been a strong consensus within the scientific community regarding the nature and seriousness of climate change for more than a decade, and that more than 2/3 of Americans view climate change as a serious threat, how is this inaction tolerated?
The answer is quite simple. It is the same reason that social security is bankrupt and the national debt is sitting somewhere north of three trillion dollars … our elected leadership is too shortsighted to solve such a long-term problem.
In the United States, the job of a politician is not running the country as one may assume, but rather running for re-election. There are a number of things that go into this job, including navigating moneyed political interests, keeping your base pacified, compromising your morals and occasionally governing effectively.
An unfortunate byproduct of this reality is that legislators cannot see past the next election. As a result, there is nothing incentivizing legislators to make the tough or costly decisions necessary for the long-term good, as it might cost them their job. Simply put, our elected representatives are too spineless and focused on re-election to deal with the issues that threaten us.
In these times I am reminded of the words of Voltaire: “Men argue. Nature acts.” I fear that by the time our leaders find the courage to do what is necessary it will be too late. I fear we are at the precipice of the downfall of mankind. I fear for the future and world we are creating.
I fear that my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will suffer unimaginable horrors because of our mistakes. Most of all, I fear I am powerless to stop it.
Michael O'Malley is a senior studying Political Science at Ohio University. How do you feel about the climate change and climate change legislation? Email your thoughts to Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.