To point out that the President of the U.S. has become critical to many public policy debates (especially Climate Change) would seem to be gratuitous in these times. But we have come upon an obscure set of anniversaries and its useful to recognize, before Copenhagen, how tenuous progress on Climate Change has been. Now we seem to be moving on one of the profound historical shifts of our times and it all turns on Barack Obama.
Only three years ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which Massachusetts and 12 other states sought to require the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases. In February of 2007, Al Gore’s documentary, an Inconvenient Truth, won an Oscar. On April 2nd 2007 in a 5-4 vote the Court agreed that Massachusetts did have standing to bring the case.
Justice Roberts argued on behalf of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito and himself that the President should be allowed to execute the laws. (Of course there is some irony here since the dispute was about whether the President should be required to act to execute the law.) The Bush Administration had argued that EPA should not be required to regulate automobile emissions because the science was unclear and it had a much broader program of voluntary compliance, incentives and research. Conservatives argue that the Executive Branch should be free to devise its own strategies and to negotiate with the less developed countries without interference from the Courts and the Legislative Branch (hence the Unitary Executive).
Of course that was then, and this is now. Last November, long before he was sworn in as the 44th President of the U.S., Barack Obama declared that there was no longer any debate, the science was clear. He declared that during his Administration the US would become a world leader on Climate Change Policy. President Obama has done many things in the ensuring year to demonstrate that he was serious. But now he goes to China and then to Scandinavia in December. The ball is in his hands.
And the science was clear, but the economics? The Climate Change aficionados have been saying that the recession has given us some breathing room. But not much. Today the International Energy Agency forecasts that the demand for electricity (by 2030) that will be generated by coal unless something happens to change things, this will require the equivalent of 5 times the amount currently consumed by the entire US.
More than half of that coal generation will come from China. Much of the balance will come from the Less Developed Countries. By 2030 the world will be looking back to this time when the direction changed, indeed pivoted on one Unitary Executive in a very short period of time.