Matt Yglesias points to this piece from Joe Romm who writes, “Future generations are likely to view Obama’s choice of health care over energy and climate legislation as a blunder of historic proportions.”
Yglesias is sympathetic to this view, going so far as to say that he supported Obama over Clinton specifically because he thought Obama would prioritize climate and energy legislation over healthcare reform.
I come down on the other side of the fence on this one. While certainly there is work to be done on the climate change front, the potential side effects of global warming are still a ways down the road, while the side effects of being uninsured are immediate. Similarly, the costs of future global warming are hard to predict, while the costs of not reforming our healthcare system are relatively easy to predict. In other words, climate change is something we are still on some levels unsure about – we know it’s happening, we know we’re contributing to it, but we don’t know exactly what will happen in the end and for most Americans, it’s still a fairly vague, abstract fear in any case. If you get really sick and don’t have insurance – that’s immediate. If you can’t get health insurance because you have health problems or you’re too old (but not old enough for Medicare), that’s a problem for the here and now. That’s a problem you can sink your teeth into. If you have a large carbon footprint, well, you’re probably not doing too bad.
Millions of Americans go without health insurance in this country or have poor access to healthcare services, and the recent healthcare bill – while far from perfect – will help to change that. I also think it will be reformed and improved upon in coming years, made more sustainable, more efficient. The law will improve over time, and more and more Americans will benefit from its passage. Our long term budgetary problems will in no way be fixed by the ACA in its current form, but we’ve crafted the framework we need to start fixing the budget, and that’s a good start. Without that start, we were pretty much screwed. The president doesn’t get enough credit for this. The reformers in Congress don’t either.
I guess I just find predictions like Romm’s to be a little silly. Who knows what future generations will say? Probably they’ll be much kinder to Obama than this generation is – history is forgiving to American presidents (even George W. Bush will find some solace, I suspect, in the blurry musings of future generations). They will talk about how Obama was the first black president, how he passed historic healthcare reform legislation, how he took the reins during a massive recession. They may talk about how he helped end the war in Iraq, and almost certainly they’ll talk about his escalation of the war in Afghanistan – though how that story will play out, nobody knows. They may talk about how he didn’t do enough to combat the recession, too – but again, nobody knows how that story will play out. We haven’t come far enough to speculate, honestly.
What I sincerely doubt anyone will say – except perhaps the most obscure political historians – is that Obama should have tackled climate change before healthcare reform.
I think GW and HCR are closely linked. After all, who can catch a cold if it’s always very warm? One fixes the other!
This type of analysis is an exercise in futility. You cannot change the past. Only one universe so far as we know and we can go in only one direction in time.
I think failure to have children taken away from parents who drive them from garage to curb to catch the bus will be viewed almost as harshly as failure to put Cheney in the slammer, and by the same people. And they will verbalize their anger repeatedly.
@DougJ: I agree.
I think HCR was something that was more get-able because of the fight under Clinton (i.e. there was a history there). Environmental issues are becoming more mainstream and moving away from those crunchy people that can be ignored and may be accelerating as business tries to make more money. All that may be making future environmental/energy legislation that much easier.
If we could only get future generations to show up at the polls.
The clean energy bill wasn’t just about global warming. In fact, I’d argue that GW is a secondary, perhaps even tertiary benefit. Framing energy reform as climate change legislation is why liberals lost. It was a chance to reinvent our national energy grid, into one that was run on American production instead of foreign imports. We had a chance to invest in coal gasification (different from “clean coal” nonsense, worth looking up), in biofuels and biodiesel that would reinvigorate American farmland, in wind and tidal energy, and on and on. Those investments would have created jobs, jobs that couldn’t be sent overseas. They would have made us less dependent on foreign oil, strengthening our economy and our security.
Healthcare was a noble effort, and I am living the benefits of the reforms. But I see where Yglesias is coming from, and I’m afraid he may be right.
I have an incurable medical condition (psoriasis with psoriatic arthritis) that is kept in check with a very expensive ($2K/month) biologic drug. Should I lose my job and insurance, then when my savings run out I’d have to stop, and a likely consequence would be that my skin would cover with scales and my joints would lock up. I’m unhappy with the watered-down compromise we ended up with, but at least if I can keep working for several more years, the language forbidding insurance companies from declining coverage based on pre-existing conditions will kick in. So I’m glad we got something. I think I owe Pelosi for that; after the Dems lost their “filibuster-proof majority” they were ready to just give up, but it was Pelosi more than anyone else who twisted arms to get the thing through to the finish line.
Had Obama tried to tackle global warming first, a coalition of Republicans, conservadems, and Democrats from coal states would have killed it.
You think the crazies came out for HCR? The climate debate would have made that look like a love fest. I don’t think we can wait on climate as every year increases the damage done but I don’t think it would have been wise to waste time on that effort when he needed a ‘quick win’.
Now, if you want to argue that he should have done more around the economy instead of HCR, maybe that would be a debate.
How were future generations polled on this? Do we need to jump into a hot tub time machine to look at the raw data?
Er, no. no they won’t.
If you approach it from a defeatist perspective of “we’ll only get one done,” then it’s a tough call. However, HCR is going to show positive effects on people’s lives in a much shorter time scale than climate change legislation, so I’d say attempting them in this order makes it more likely that both will get done.
Not to mention that from a demographic perspective, HCR means more Democrats will survive to vote in the future! (Man, I wish that was entirely a joke, but we live in a world in which there are conservatives who seriously believe that the purpose of welfare is to “bribe” poor people to vote for Democrats.) And for some reason I’m reminded of an old comedy routine that was a parody of a TV car show, about an exciting but highly dangerous new model: “These are the features that are causing such a stir among surviving American consumers!”
No, because we couldn’t have made enough significant changes to affect the pace of climate change anyway. We’ve already passed the point of no return.
It’s a silly argument, because we’d be having the debate the other way around just as easily.
Health Care had priority because it’s an issue that dates back to the freak’n 40s. It was a centerpiece of Obama’s campaign and it was a fundamental concern for virtually everyone. And best of all, it was a program designed to reduce costs.
Climate change is really none of those things. It’s not even an American-centric problem. If China decides to double pollution in our wake (which, to be fair, it looks like they’re stepping away from) then we’re just as screwed. At least with health care it’s a problem centered in America that America can solve. I, personally, think Obama made the right choice in priority, if not in execution.
All that said, he might have been better off still if he’d tackled immigration first. But that’s another debate.
What choice did Obama have? Al Gore could have forced the issue but when we really kneaded him he got fat.
Way to bury the fact that Yglesias was inspired by Romm’s piece which was inspired by David Brooks. That would have clued everyone in to the laugher this whole exercise should become.
Finally, Yglesias does not really say he supported Obama over Clinton because of climate/energy priorities. He says he did so because other bloggers misled him to believe this was the case. I admire a liberal who admits Obama did not mislead him. I am accumstomed to a liberal incapable of being misled on his own.
Maybe we can make up some more stuff that Obama should have done but didn’t. Is “How has Obama failed you today” a tag? If not, it should be.
It’s possible future generations will look back and excoriate everyone for not doing more to avoid an awful world-wide catastrophe. The fact is that there is no popular or political will in the US to reduce carbon emissions. Modest health-care reform was barely achievable under the current political/media system.
Obama isn’t a wonderful president, but as far as enacting bold new programs that don’t involve bombing the snot out of other countries, I don’t think Obama has the popular support or Congressional support to get such things enacted. He can’t get a new highway bill through, and roads are the only thing other than guns that wingnuts think the government should pay for….
Gonna go out on a limb here and say that Obama made the right choice here. I’m not sure he knew that he was only going to be able to do “one big thing”. I believe he misread the situation badly, or that the situation evolved from the time the plans were set. At any rate, getting to “a little bit better than before” in the context of health care was worth fighting for. In the global warming context a little bit better than before just means that the equatorial regions will be habitable for another year or another decade longer.
I contend that all things happen at exactly the same place, such that there is no “time”.
Time is only a concept that we invented because our brains are not capable of dealing with all the input.
HCR was specifically done to address deficit and entitlement spending (not to expand access or make things fairer for consumers or whatever else the left wishes it was really supposed to do – and the bill does make decent ground on that front). Without keeping those in check, there’s no political will (even with a rational GOP) to address climate change.
I don’t see how an energy bill would have near-term budgetary benefits. Job benefits, sure, but those will cost and there’s no will to do legislation that will be a net cost to taxpayers.
Your premise – that “the potential side effects of global warming are still a ways down the road” – is severely flawed. There are dozens of places and events we can point to now where climate change has already had a negative impact on human well-being, from fire intensity in the Northern Rockies and Russian to flooding in Tennessee and Peshawar.
Even if your premise held up, though, it doesn’t support your argument very well. The potential cost in human misery, not to mention essential ecosystem services, that is very likely to result from unmitigated climate change (or much worse and far from unlikely, climate collapse) exceeds by orders of magnitude the good done by HCR in the near term. And then there are all the people who will have to live in each of the next hundred thousand years, should we survive.
I think that climate change/energy legislation cannot be passed right now. It might not have been possible at any given point in time. Too many coal state democrats and too little republican support. It would take a lot of steps to get something done, steps that would amount to a revolutionary energy plan on their own, because you’d have to break the power of the big coal/gas/oil corporations to get something passed. You’d also have to provide alternative job opportunities for potentially laid off workers in states like West Virginia or Louisiana. Unless we have another wave election in favor of Democrats and/or an end of the republican opposition to almost everything a big energy bill is impossible. A slow, almost sneaky support of eco-friendly energy via stimulus money, earmarks and the annual budget, plus executive measures through the EPA and the restructuring of GM might be a better way.
I guess that Obama’s failure to get an energy bill passed will be a big, probably the biggest failure of his administration. HCR, FinReg, repeal of DADT and possibly DOMA (by the Supreme Court), the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Stimulus are already done or on the way. Even with a bigger Republican caucus entitlement reform and immigration reform are possible (because big business likes amnesty). Only the energy bill will remain of Obama’s biggest promises.
“[T]he potential side effects of global warming are still a ways down the road.”
Yes. Down the road. Someday there will be massive floods in Pakistan. Someday, down the road, there will be drought in Russia affecting food availability and prices and causing massive wildfires.
Someday, down the road, Long Island will have a summer where it rains once in 3 months and trees and plants start dying. Where, when we should get about 5 90 degree days, we get about 27.
The future sounds scary.
Not sure I agree. If we got health care reform instead of health insurance reform, I would agree with you. But based on current predictions, ‘climate change’ will have a very high human and economic cost, despite the fact that – as you say – the specific numbers and factors aren’t clearly understood. The continuing failure to address it will quite likely be looked at with lots anger and bewilderment. And a wish that Obama had prioritized differently.
Btw, what’s with sanitizing the idea by calling it ‘climate change’? Isn’t our concern here that anthropogenic global warming will cause catastrophic climate change? Whatev. I did find this funny in a lulzy-pedantic sorta way:
I guess I just find predictions like Romm’s to be a little silly. Who knows what future generations will say?
What I sincerely doubt anyone will say … is that Obama should have tackled climate change before healthcare reform.
Seems like we’re all looking for the counterfactual past or the hypothothetical future to support our positions.
What a bunch of crap. Future generations, if they exist, will view a lack of climate change action as a failure of SOCIETY not one man. More importantly they will pin the blame on American’s, and their Chinese facilitators, whose economy and lifestyle is dependent on cheap fuel.
This whole argument smacks of, “Can I haz page viewz plox”.
When future generations look back on Obama’s presidency they will be embarrassed and horrified at the obstacles he faced. From republican obstruction to the constant “as far as I know” garbage about his citizenship, patriotism and religion.
I think the whole discussion is kind of pointless. Yglesias is right; what Obama wanted, and even what Pelosi wanted, is basically irrelevant. The Democratic coalition was much more invested in healthcare than climate, and there was basically no way to push back against that. I mean, where are you going to get support from? Republicans?
Also, I’ve sort of stopped participating in poli-blogs so someone help me out here; is there a dumber comment section than Yglesias’s? Digby’s maybe?
We don’t even live in the “present”. Our brains can’t even process whats going on fast enough to even live in the ‘now’. We are several dozen milliseconds behind. If the input requires even the slightest amount of cognitive thought it has to filter up to different parts of the brain.
@Cat: I think the idea of “God” if She exists on some plane of understanding proves that time does not exist.
How can a being exist before time and “time” still be anything more than conceptual? Or infinity? If a being is able to exist in all places at once, both before time, during time and after time then doesn’t that kind of tell you that time isn’t real?
Personally, I think the definition of “Hell” is being separated from God’s Love, and denied Her presence.
Maybe Heaven is the state of understanding all things at once.
There have been a number of climate change initiatives under Obama, including, in a large and significant way, the stimulus package. The strategy that Obama chose was the correct one, because the GOP and coal/oil state Dems were never going to support the types of climate change bills under consideration.
J.A.F. Rusty Shackleford
Yeah, Republicans broke out teh crazy (DEATH PANELS!) for the HCR debate but it will pale in comparison to teh crazy they will bring to fight legislation related global warming/climate change.
Oh, and Al Gore is fat!
And I work in the energy efficiency world (and have for 25 years), so I’m an energy geek and think climate change deniers are idiots. But people need healthcare now.
Sort of OT but sort of not, for anyone who’s interested in the intersection of science, research, ethics, healthcare (or lack of it), with a giant dose of irony, read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. A great non-fiction book, but don’t let the “science” scare you.
Yahoo’s. Hands down.
The time to pass a strong climate bill is in the lame-duck session. Vote the damn thing out of the Senate on 51 votes, and let the teatards whine to the courts that the Democrats violated the “extended debate clause” or whatever teatards are now calling the extraconstitutional filibuster “power”.
That’s kind of a given. People going hungry because of crop failures won’t really give a shit what their health insurance looks like.
As with a lot of things, future generations won’t really care what we found possible or impossible, they’ll just be pissed we didn’t do anything about it. Hell, I know some twenty-somethings right now who are steamed that they get to hold the climate bag.
Shorter E.D. Kain:
No one knows what future historians will say about Obama!
Except for me!
In the long run Matt et al are probably right (assuming of course that Climate legislation could have been passed which um seems insane- sorry but unlike Healthcare good climate change legislation would cost jobs, something that in a recession would have been nuts- and this is even before considering the ideological and tactical objections of the GOP) however lets be honest this would be seen as the worse sort of liberalism- the “do what’s right and who cares about the little people in America” viewpoint- and frankly it’d be hard to argue with that assessment- as far as primary effects go most Climate change experts put the impacts on the third world- particularily Bengaladesh and the South pacific, which while not something to be dismissed out of hand has all the weight in most Americans eyes as the provable links between free trade and increased wealth in third world countries (something that does occur- in many but by no means all cases sweat shops are better than the alternative) – wealth that generally comes at the expense of well-paying manufacturing jobs in the US. [Note: though such an arrangment does lead to increased purchasing power in the US- jobs lost will almost always outweigh gains in material goods in the eyes of the public– not that they actually make such a link, otherwise “buy American” efforts would work].
@Tonal Crow: I don’t think either Yglesias or Digby has a _dumb_ comment section. It doesn’t even seem that bad at first. It’s only on repeated expose that they just steadily drain all life out of you. But the worst BY FAR is Atrios.
Just like future generations view FDR’s choice of social security over something else as a [email protected]Tonal Crow:
No question. Yahoo.
I don’t know about which big bill should have gone first, but let’s not forget that we got extremely close to getting _neither_.
My sense is that doing energy/climate first would have probably been a loss, and that loss would have fed into the conventional wisdom and made even more of the conservative Democrats nervous about signaling their opposition to The Liberal Agenda, which would have spilled over and killed HCR. And the polls after that would have been _total_ bloodbaths.
Do I smell a blog circle jerk? Yglesias and Romm are both part of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Some of the Blue Dog objections aren’t political calculations though- I mean how do you tell WV’s lone Senator to vote to slash his state’s economic lifeblood? That’s what I think people need to realize- this isn’t HCR where crap like the mandate is a necessary precondition for the good stuff- this is a policy decision where jobs will be lost in exchange for a benefit that noone is going to be able measure (as such a sacrifice is a preventative measure– its like defense spending- we can’t truly quantify the non-economic benefit of it but we assume that spending a ton keeps us safe). The usual answer to the jobs argument is to point to greenjobs- but lets be real what are the chances that the states highly dependent on extractive industries will be the hotbed of green technology development and manufacturing- sorry but MS, LA and WV aren’t going to become the new silicon valley (though MS and LA are possible manufacturing hotbeds due to their absurdly lassiez faire labor and enviromental regulations- see: Chemical production and the Cancer Belt), the Dakota’s have a ton of promise as wind production sights due to their topography and low pop density but are so isolated that actual transmission is an issue, etc.
OT: But let’s be real here perhaps the simplest and most cost effective long term economic, health care, and environmental action Congress could take is the removal of the Corn Subsidy- it hits virtually every major problem area in American society and on the topic of the post is continually touted by the pandering and/or uninformed as a potential solution to the Oil Crisis- but no one will ever attack the subsidy because to do so would kill Presidential ambitions (ironically, if we instead backed say switchgrass in Florida- a far more efficent ethanol precursor- its possible a canidate could trade Iowa for Florida, though they’d still lose a swath of the midwest in the trade).
@arguingwithsignposts: A blog circle jerk would never happen here. The next thread will take us to a fresh and innovative topic to stimulate thought.
Digby’s is insane, seriously outside of the Movie posts, they just run all over Hullabaloo and go Firebagger “Black Bush” shit even on topics where such commentary is more nonsensical than usual.
I should have mentioned that I was referring to the MattY link to Romm (a la The Atlantic move)
I have to agree with Joe on this one, with one caveat. If civilization survives then future generations will consider this to have been a mistake. Look at Pakistan. Now think about one fifth of this country being under water. Scientists are freaking out right now because effects that they predicted for 20 or more years down the road are happening now. Getting off carbon as soon as possible is a matter of human survival and we have to start immediately.
Someday, it will be 67 degrees in Los Angeles in frickin’ August.
@Socraticsilence: Yeah, Digby’s comments are nearly always the most angry and despondent… but I wouldn’t call them “dumb.” I make a distinction between wrong and dumb. Which is not to say that plenty of people aren’t both. :P
This could have worked- sell it as a massive green jobs/ Manhattan Project thing- Climate Change while a noble (or Nobel– huh, huh) goal was never a good framing point, heck unless I remember this incorrectly both Clinton and Obama framed it in “Green Economy” terms early on- now the actual payoff of this is questionable (sorry but while it would yield tons of tech and jobs on the transformation side- without a vacuum tube-to-transistor level breakthrough it still would have been cost ineffective when compared to polluting industry and power- which would have made such a transformation non-transferable outside of the US, the EU, Japan and Korea (for large groups). This is not to say such investment is dumb (look at Brazil’s return on its late-70s investment in sugarcane based ethanol- energy independence and the ability to turn any petroleum discoveries into huge export bonanzas) but rather a simple restatement of the basic problem with attempting to solve a global problem through the nation state infrastructure- namely that developing nations would prefer to act as free riders (and indeed would argue that they have the moral right to do so- an argument with some merit considering the impact of stifiling development- India’s a unique case given the possible human impact of AGW) but cannot be allowed to do so due to sheer numbers (China and India’s emissions individually dwarf the EU’s- China’s is the largest in the world) .
Sure they will kind of like future generations bemoan the founding fathers for not outlawing slavery (though doing so would have prevented the US from ever being founded) or future generations bemoan the past treatment of Native Americans, etc. The problem of course being that there was no real way to prevent much of the suffering in human history but its nice to assume everyone in the past saw the world as we do but was simply a moral coward.
China already matches and/or surpasses the US in consumption by some estimates and in emissions by nearly all metrics- and its in a state of rapid development- while obviously you can’t “do nothing” its one of those classic game theory problems a variation on the prisoners dilemma- in this case doing something is necessary, however doing something before the other guy does in effect helps the other guy both directly (by helping to slow AGW) and indirectly (by hobbling an economic competitor- more specifically making oneself a less attractive base for various industries due to costs).
@Mnemosyne: And what the fuck is this water doing falling from the sky. That’s not supposed to happen until November at the earliest.
My desert tortoise is threatening to hibernate already – 2 months early. I’m sorry, but if my little guy (who evolved before the fucking dinosaurs) is confused about when to hibernate with his 200 million year old species instincts, then we’re talking about something more significant than a bad weather weekend.
HCR should only have gotten any priority if it was actual HCR. What the ACA is, I don’t know, but whatever it is arguably deserved no prioritization ahead of anything else.
Sadly, Romm is right on this. I say sadly because he pushes for Cap and Trade, which I think is misguided. (Vs. James Hansen’s suggestion, Fee and Dividend, which is simpler and doesn’t allow for Wall Street gaming.)
@Glen Tomkins: You’re making the same mistake the others are. HCR was principally a budgetary reform. You can’t expand health care or entitlement programs when they’re sucking up increasing percentages of GDP. The whole point of this HCR effort was to push Medicare solvency out another decade+ and to cut the deficit, and to throw in whatever personal goodies the Democrats could get away with.
They’re looking at the $1.2T over 10 year deficit savings in the 2nd decade and pushing back Medicare solvency about 12 years. As the CBO absorbs those numbers in future projections, the Dems will be able to do this again in 1-2 years (assuming they don’t get shellacked this Nov).
You guys are too desperate to lose the war in favor of winning the battle.
I don’t know Emissions trading is one of those area where monetizing change seems to work at times- see the EUs trading market, or the SO2 trading in the US.
Well, at the risk of turning this into that blog circle jerk, Ezra Klein wrote a bit about this as well. The short takeaway is that the guy he talked to believes that the president at the bully pulpit is quite a bit less effective than people imagine.
I’d like to be able to enjoy the cooler weather because I really do hate our 100+ degree summers, but the drastic change is just freaking me out way too much. If a shoe this big has already dropped 20 years ahead of schedule, what is the next shoe going to be?
It is very possible that future generations will blame Obama for not passing climate change legislation right away, but hindsight is always 20/20, unfortunately, and humans (especially Americans) are very bad at spotting slow-moving disasters that are unfolding in front of them. It’s not like the guy who shot the 99th last buffalo went, “Hey, maybe we should stop slaughtering these buffalo before we wipe them out completely.”
@Sentient Puddle: Scholarly publications indicating the power of the “bully pulpit” in affecting public opinion seems to be weak or undetectable.
If you’re looking for just any place on the Internet, Yahoo.
If you’re looking for stupid political blogs, then RedState is easily the dumbest on the right, and Atrios is probably the dumbest on the left. (There is actually a large community of evolutionists on FreeRepublic who show up on nearly every YEC thread and make excellent arguments, so I can’t completely reap scorn on their contributors. By contrast, I have learned nothing of value on Red State, with the exception of how to improve my spoofing techniques.)
No. Health care reform is one of the few polarizing subjects you can get almost all of the Democrats to agree on, and it tackles the budget as well; furthermore, only the insurance industry had major incentives to block it. On an energy bill, the legislators from coal and oil states have their careers on the line if the bill passes, and while Republicans would theoretically be more likely to support an energy bill than a health care bill, the Republican plan in practice is to oppose the Democrats on every issue.
George Bush will not be commended for what he did in the future. LBJ already enjoys a negative reputation for Vietnam, despite the domestic progress his administration made; who’s going to praise an administration which started a war with even worse justifications than Vietnam, while also creating a pathetic 1 million jobs over the course of his presidency (not even taking into account that the freefall of jobs which occured at the end of his presidency was a direct result of his policies)?
I’ve been saying that all year!
ETA: To the topic at hand, is there a particular reason this whole HCR vs. AGW topic is coming up now? Is there another Kyoto coming up?
But one thing that should have happened is investigations into Bush era abuses. Republicans should have been put on the defensive about that constantly. That swamp needed to be drained. That will never happen now, but you can bet that one of the first things the GOP will do if they gain control of Congress is a non-stop barrage of subpoenas and investigations to “Clintonize” Obama. If they take over, get used to the phrase “scandal-plagued Obama administration.”
Would have been nice to get something more substantive on health care though. Hell, if you were going to end up passing it without GOP votes, may as well have swung for the fences and gone for single-payer.
Romm’s statement seems pretty silly. Obama should have hit jobs first, then health care, then other things such as energy and climate change, although all of those could have been tackled somewhat concurrently. As mentioned upthread, many of those jobs could have been green. But fighting climate change also requires a global effort on top of domestic changes, whereas America’s crappy health care system was ours and ours alone.
As for blame, the vast majority of it belongs with the obstructionist, nihilistic conservatives and with corporatist shills in both parties. Romm’s musings would be moot if the GOP gave a shit about good policy and competent governance.
You guys are missing the main point.
Obama is always wrong.
Even if he is agreeing with you, he is always wrong. He is so wrong that if he said “I am wrong”, he would be wrong.
E.D. Kain’s precisely right here. Both Health Care and Climate Change matter principally to the extent that they effect the quality of and the quantity of life we’ll enjoy in the future. While global warming might lead to increases in U.S. mortality rates down the road, undeniably it’s the case that right now many more Americans die from lack of insurance and from being denied coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions.
On balance, when dealing with risk of massive death and suffering in the near or long-term, you deal with the near-term first. Even with anemic economic growth, late 21st century Americans will be richer and longer-lived than us, with moreover a vastly greater technological inheritance, and hence better able to deal with the consequences of climate change. In the meantime, if we trade health care (or say innovative research in stem cells, regenerative medicine, gene therapy, etc.) for a cap-and-trade bill which would have a miniscule effect on average temperature increases a century from now, we’d most likely end up exchanging more lives today than we’d get back in the distant future.
I would add that the latest death toll numbers out of Pakistan from the floods are less than 1800 people. And this in a flood that covered one-fifth of a country of 170 million people. A country, moreover, that’s quite poor by international standards, with a GDP per capita of less than $1000 compared to the U.S. with $47,000.
So, nevermind how the affluent U.S. could cope with floods of this magnitude fifty years or a hundred years hence when the climate is much warmer. But, how would a future Pakistan itself handle such environmental calamities? I think it’s safe to say that a Pakistan with a GDP per capita of $5000 would deal with it rather more effectively than it would today. And so, fewer lives would be lost.
On the one hand, we have 1800 dead in a very poor country from a once-in-a-lifetime flood covering over 20% of the nation’s territory. On the other hand, we have the steady toll of 18,000 to 40,000 dead Americans every year from lack of health coverage. And of course, we can’t even attribute the Pakistani flood to anthropogenic global warming at all. All we can say is that such events might increase in certain parts of the world in the future. But, with certainty we can state that hundreds of thousands of Americans would die without health insurance coverage over the coming decades.
This argument works if global warming remains something lots of people care about, but only a few think is the most important problem. In other words, if the climate doesn’t actually change much, environmental policy in 2008-2010 might seem no more important than health care policy.
If scientists are right and future generations have to deal with rising sea levels, massive agricultural failures, frequent hurricanes, environmental refugees, and other drastic problems, that’s different. People will ask why Democrats didn’t do something to avert catastrophe when they had the chance and had known about the problem since the 1970s. (Meanwhile, they won’t spend any more time remembering the political battles over health care than we do the ones about child labor.)
I fought for the ACA and am glad it passed – and my family stands to benefit from it – but unless you’re a “climate skeptic,” global warming is on a whole different scale.
On the “down the road” idea about climate change, I fear I have bad news. The first chapter of Whole Earth Discipline lays out the current state of understanding of climate change, and it suggests that we are already in deep trouble, people are dying in large numbers, and the window of opportunity to institute any major fix is already past. If we commence major changes immediately, we move towards the less-bad scenarios, but that isn’t happening, so we’re left hoping for a Hail-Mary surprise outcome against the odds.
Annotations to the first chapter are here, for an incomplete overview and links to various sources.
A bit startling to see how many heads are in the sand over the magnitude and immediacy of the dangers of climate change. There’s simply no comparison in importance between the two issues. When America’s breadbasket fails, lack of access to the latest designer drugs will not be most people’s serious life or death concern.
Nor is there a hint of a contest as to the time horizon affected by a delay in passing either of the bills. The half life of CO2 in the atmosphere being on the order of a thousand years, every delay adds its thousand years of drought, fire, storm, flood, famine, to the docket. To say nothing of the never recoverable losses of species and ecosystems ensured by each delay. In contrast, if no weak-kneed health care reform had passed this year, the health delivery system would have continued to crumble, and next decade’s effort would have had even more political wind behind it, both because of increasing disaffection from the status quo and because of the demographic factors favoring the Democrats.
Still I don’t fault Obama for prioritizing health care. It was the more likely of the two to get through Congress, and it barely squeaked by.
In hindsight it’s clear any climate change vehicle with a single tooth in it would have gone down in flames. For all I know the President, a smarter guy than I am, may have seen that in foresight.
(Incidentally, “climate change” isn’t considered a pale euphemism among those most engaged with global warming. It may be a less vivid term, but it’s more accurate: it encompasses not just the change in temperature, but all the other weather effects which in aggregate promise to be so devastating.)
Focusing on climate change legislation before HCR would have been a waste of time. Americans don’t want to do anything about climate change (obviously, some Americans do, but the nation as a whole doesn’t). Americans aren’t bad at “sacrifice,” they think it’s un-American; it’s something for Europeans or the Third World, but not for Americans.
No American politician wants to be the one who is blamed for any economic consequences of dealing with climate change. If we all agree to do nothing, then no one is going to get blamed for hurting the economy — until the economy tanks because of climate change itself.
This is a very risky statement. Since climate change is imperfectly understood it is entirely possible, perhaps more likely than not that we will reach a point sooner rather than later when it will be too late to stop those “side effects” no matter what we do. When the shit hits the fan, the American people will be the first to start screaming about how they were victimized by cowardly politicians.
I think it is highly likely that the die is already cast. We lack the intelligence and discipline to confront climate change head on. If we reach the point where countries like Bangladesh start disappearing under water, we’re going to be far too busy worrying about Florida and Manhattan to have any interest in helping those countries who got the “side effects” without ever enjoying the benefits of the gluttonous and wasteful lifestyles practiced by Americans.
The health care problems in the US are real and there was at least some will to do something about them (much too little, but something). Given that, it would have been a mistake for Obama to go after climate change legislation first. It’s just too bad Obama didn’t do a better job on HCR.
If Obama had tried to deal with climate change first and failed, which I consider a virtual certainty, then he would have been in a weaker position taking up health care.
I suppose if there had been equal willingness to pass legislation on both issues, it might have made sense to do climate change first (I don’t think so, but an argument could be made…). Since there is no real desire to seriously deal with climate change, putting it first wouldn’t have made any sense.
Nicteis dismissive comment about “designer drugs” being less important than a meager cap-and-trade bill makes me depressed. Frankly, I feel like the left’s position on climate is analogous to the right’s on deficits and the national debt: they’re both based more upon moralism than on what’s effective and good for the majority of people. Guess what? AIDS anti-retrovirals are saving hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa today, and the scourge of HIV is finally beginning to be beaten back. At one time, this would have been considered a triumph for science and technology and for progressive internationalism and philanthropy.
Today, the left would rather bemoan the negative impact of technology, than celebrate the extraordinary benefits it’s brought for the vast majority of humanity. There’s simply no comparison. We’re living longer than ever before, and moreover, have extended our healthy life-spans. Whenever people cry about putting burdens our children and grandchildren – bear in mind they’ll be living longer and have those frivolous “designer drugs” that’ll keep them spry and healthy well beyond our golden years. And if we put more federal dollars towards funding basic and applied medical research, they’ll be doing even better still. An excellent case can be made this would have a greater impact on human life than trying to lower overall climate increases by 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit or whatever.
Personally, I think the White House should have focused on health care reform before the pharmaceutical industry, the monopolistic insurance industry, and other big campaign contributors.
Then we would have had a chance at playing catch-up with the rest of civilization over the next few years by acknowledging the basic human right of people not to die for being poor.
I think it’s also a little chuckle-worthy that a back-slapping crew of bloggers is arguing over which is even more awesomer, the health care bill that people don’t like or the climate change bill that doesn’t exist.
I just wanted to say that I agree with this. Availability of cheap drugs for all, through generics and importation, is a life-saver that is easy to explain to anyone who is not a pharmaceutical company executive. Everyone should have access to a long list of life-saving medications, and this is a pressing and immediate problem that should be addressed immediately by the White House and Congress, as per their campaign promises.
Increases in atmospheric CO2 and accompanying temperature increases, sea level rise, etc will be irreversible on the timescale of centuries if we don’t act within the next decade or so. Health care can be arbitrarily improved at any time in the future.
Once the consequences of global warming are severe enough to convince Americans that they should support drastic cuts in CO2 emissions, doing so will either be impossible, extraordinarily expensive (fighting thermodynamics to scrub the sky of CO2 carries an incredible energetic cost), or carry severe side effects (increasing atmospheric NOx/SOx reduces greenhouse effect at the cost of acid rain, etc).
I agree that it hasn’t been politically possible for a meaningful cap and trade bill to pass the Senate at any point in Obama’s presidency, but the moral case for doing so is stronger in my eyes than that for health reform. I think Obama’s taken the best line he can on this by increasing efficiency standards and edging the EPA towards regulating stationary sources of CO2. As with his efforts to close GTMO and give terrorism suspects actual trials, he’s flying just about as close to the sun as he could without having his efforts set way back by Congress.
@dan: That’s true, we could attribute every natural disaster to global warming despite the fact there were natural disasters previously as well. I’m honestly not sure if the science supports the flood in Pakistan being caused by global warming. But there were floods before now, too.
@Tonal Crow: Good idea actually.