Fast start, short honeymoon

I think Mark is cutting Obama far too much slack on global warming. Habitability of the planet is not a lagniappe that might spiff up an economic stimulus. It’s a very big deal, at least if you care about your grandchildren, not to mention the hundreds of millions of Bangla Deshis who will be on the road looking for a place to live in a crowded neighborhood, and sooner than we thought last year or the year before. Think this is bad?: imagine it in Dacca, and not for a day, but permanently.

Surely we can wait on something so big and so slow while we fix the economy, right? Nope; we already did that (wait), since the early eighties. Now it’s an emergency. Expensive, though, right? Yup, we spent it for nothing in Iraq and frittered it away in stupid finance tricks, but Obama has to play the hand he was dealt, not the hand he deserves.

I have occasionally worried that for all his many merits, our new president is a senator from a corn state and a senator from a coal state. Not for long, and he didn’t grow up there, but unfortunately simply ending the unspeakable irresponsibility of the Bush administration about climate is not enough. In particular, talking about roads and bridges in an infrastructure speech without a mention of transit or land use policy isn’t in the ball park: it isn’t “could be better”; it’s flat-out wrong. We have a lot of bad infrastructure that makes us drive a lot of bad cars too much. We don’t need to spend a penny on roads or anything to do with squeezing another few years out of the gasoline commuter lifestyle; we need to spend billions on undoing the damage it’s already done, and now. Those unemployed hardhats can lay track and pave bike paths just as well as they can pour lane-miles.

I’m sorry to say, Obama has, on the whole, dropped the ball on climate change; he’s not anti-science or anti-environment, but he’s failing a big test here. I’ve wallowed in the pleasure of anticipating leadership from a basically serious person with his heart in the right place up to now, like the rest of us, but I am declaring the honeymoon over. From now on he needs to start saying what we need to hear on the biggest issue of the next couple of decades. “Better than Bush” encompasses a range from A down to D-, and on the environment, we need A- leadership, not a Band-Aid or a headpat. And we especially don’t need enabling of a catastrophic carbon addiction, whether implicit or explicit.

All together now, and you too, Barack:




Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.