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Rahm Emanuel, Climate Change's Public Enemy Number 1

Edward Morris argues that the White House Chief of Staff is to blame for not prioritizing climate change policy in the United States. Here's why.

You may have noticed reports percolating here and there that Rahm Emanuel might leave the White House. To anyone who still holds out hope in the Obama administration and, more importantly, to anyone who still holds out hope that we will come to our senses and address the biggest threat to global security we have ever faced, this is great news. Bye, bye, Rahm, it’s nice to see you go. And the sooner the better.

The greatest threat to our global security is climate change. Floods in Pakistan, fires in Russia, drought in Niger—all events we can expect more of with a climate increasingly in chaos. Not only do these catastrophic events diminish food supplies, kill thousands, raise world food prices, and force people to become refugees, they threaten to destabilize governments. And each government I cited is either a nuclear power or in possession of uranium that makes nuclear weapons.

If you don’t believe me on this point, ask the Pentagon, which found in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review that “Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment. Although they produce distinct types of challenges, climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.”

So what does this have to do with Rahm Emanuel? The Climate War, a recently published insider’s account of the fight to pass meaningful climate and energy legislation, reveals that Emmanuel looked at polls, looked back at the agenda of the new administration, and decided climate was not a political winner and should therefore be buried as an issue. In other words, Emanuel decided that with a tornado bearing down on us, the best thing to do was sweep the house. The fruits of his labor: eroded faith in the President, the loss of a super majority in the Senate, and the possible loss of a majority in the house.

Emanuel made a fateful choice. He was wrong politically and he was also wrong morally. It is Applied Ethics 101 that in deciding to do something we decide not to do something else. The resulting inaction has moral implications equivalent to direct action. In buying a pair of Dolce & Gabbana shoes we decide not to spend that money on helping a starving child in Pakistan or Haiti. Emanuel’s moral failing is closer to home: In deciding to bury energy and climate as an issue (in contradiction to campaign trail rhetoric), Emanuel decided to bury my future, your future, and the future of America as an economic power. And of equal or greater importance, he also decided to bury America’s credibility as a moral leader.

The disappearance of climate change from White House talking points is surprising, disappointing, and cowardly. Most notably, Obama got up in front of the nation during the Gulf Oil spill and did not mention climate change or global warming once, missing a crucial opportunity to forcefully make the case for the urgency of a climate and energy bill when the nation was most ready to receive that message. That speech should have been a fist-pounding moment. Instead, Obama took a dispassionate middle ground.

I have to believe that the same forces that picked health care over climate and have since cleansed climate from the White House’s key points, were responsible for that calculated and unconvincing fireside chat.

Because of Rahm Emanuel, Obama is leading by polls and not by courage. In this regard, Obama has become as average as his predecessors and that is a major disappointment. The marketing mind accurately reads group psychology when it comes to selling products, but not when it comes to political decisions. People want strong leaders more they want any particular opinion validated. A strong leader is what we thought we were electing in Obama. Something is holding him back. But there is still hope: It begins with axing Rahm and proceeds with Barack growing bold.

Image via Times Online

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