In his reaction to Obama's speech in Copenhagen announcing the postponement of any legally binding treaties, climate campaigner Bill McKibben said that Obama "chose the Senate over the UN tonight."
Obama told the world tonight that the US had come to the table "with an ambitious plan to reduce our emissions" but that the US also couldn't "turn on a dime" and so refused to make any commitments that it might not be able to keep. Yet as Naomi Klein said tonight, he could easily have used the stimulus money to jumpstart a clean economy in a way that would have given the US "inspiring emissions cuts" to show the world and chose not to.
Though Obama made comments about wanting to act based on the science and leave a better world for our children and grandchildren, his refusal to commit to a firm target kept the rest of the world from doing so. Now, the agreement will include only voluntary goals from each country that will be added in an appendix to the document.
Klein said that while the Obama administration was trying to make much of his having brought China, India, Brazil and South Africa along on an agreement, it had been their position from the beginning that they didn't want to be spoilers and would agree to binding cuts if the US was willing to do so.
Klein pointed out that in spite of Obama's claim not to want to move things backwards, the world went from having a legally binding agreement signed by most countries to a non-binding agreement signed by four countries. Obama may not have wanted to create "frustration and cynicism", but McKibben added that there wasn't even a numerical target in the new document and that he doubted George Bush could have gotten away with so forcefully brushing aside the UN.
While complaining about logjams and looking backwards, Obama said that the world needed more time to build trust and that the "US was coming to this with ... a clean slate." And at that point, there was a shocking sense for me of campaign deja vu, where women and the LGBT community and social justice advocates were told to look forward and forget old divisions. Then once he got into office, all that talk of hope was replaced with using fine words to smooth over the continuing sell out of the poor to the powerful. wash, rinse, repeat. At least he's consistent.
Phil Bloomer of Oxfam commented earlier today that rich countries' governments were captured entirely by "massive, vested interests" and that wealthy countries "care more about their banks than ... our shared destiny." Rarely has this been more on display than in this president, tonight, who acted, as Avaaz' Ben Wikler said today that the US often did, to lower our national ambitions based on the power of the coal and oil industries.
Obama said tonight that, "climate change threatens us all." Yet he seemed frankly more afraid of letting anyone in the US think he'd signed up to an international treaty, closing by very awkwardly noting that there was a question of whether there even could be a signature on a document that wasn't legally binding.