Several weeks ago, I criticized Obama’s support of liquid-to-coal technology as an indication that he might not take climate change as seriously as he should. I wasn’t alone – my peers at itsgettinghotinhere.org put on the pressure, and a petition from the U.S. Climate Energy Council and the U.S. Climate Action Network was widely circulated. To the pleasant surprise of many, Obama issued a statement saying that he would only support liquid-to-coal if it adhered to strict environmental standards. Because the technology isn’t even close to being able to abide by these standards, this statement amounts to a retraction of his original position.
This move is a small victory for climate advocates, and the discussion it sparked is at least as interesting as the move itself. Has Obama gone far enough on climate issues? Has climate change become “the abortion issue” for the young left? What are the ethics of single-issue voting? Or the ethics of supporting a candidate who favors increased carbon emissions, for that matter? Are we pushing candidates to embrace environmental sustainability at the cost of economic and social sustainability?
That last question reflects an argument presented in this blog post by Jason Hayes that has been rattling around in my head all morning. Are we pushing one pillar of sustainability at the cost of the other two? I really don’t think so. I know that carbon emissions, deforestation, renewable energy and other “environmental” issues make easy headlines, and in the context of climate change, are ready go-to topics of discussion. But each of these topics, along with liquid-to-coal energy generation, have strong economic and social angles, as well as environmental. And really, I don’t think that the three can reasonably be separated, even conceptually. Sustainability is inherently multifaceted and holistic. I know that at least for me, the compelling aspect of climate change is the social one – as the “environmental” issues of dirty energy generation, changing weather patterns, and rising sea levels affect the planet, peoples’ lives are drastically changed.
Sure, the economy of Illinois might have benefited from the bill in the short-term, but in the long term, the environmental, social and economic ramifications of dirty energy generation would have been a net loss for the state’s people. I’m very pleased to see that Obama listened to environmental groups on this one. Or should I say sustainability groups?