A night to remember

The last 24 hours has passed by in a blur, punctuated by less than 3 hours’ sleep. It was 6am today before we could drag ourselves away from TV screens and assorted laptops, to drift off, still smiling, into a brief, dreamless sleep.

The night of November 4/5, 2008 will I suspect be remembered and recalled vividly in twenty, thirty and more years’ time as one of the great ‘where were you when Obama hit 270’ moments. There were so many unforgettable moments that I’m straining for superlatives.

First, since everyong has long since jumped on the B.O. bandwagon, I’ll indulge myself with a small pat on the back for my Irish Times piece published when the Illinois senator was still duking it out with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. The headline read: ‘Obama is only credible candidate on climate change’. I argued in the piece that alone among the presidential wannabies had Obama, at potential political cost to himself, stood firm against a daft notion floated by John McCain and promptly backed by Hillary to introduce a cut in federal petrol tax for what they call the ‘summer travel season’.

It was doubly heartening therefore to hear, in his brilliant acceptance speech from Chicago early this morning, president-elect Obama immediately address global warming as a defining challenge of his presidency. After the unrelenting tragedy of eight ruinous lost years in this war we cannot risk losing, to hear the next US president identify a real mortal enemy instead of the straw men so beloved of George Bush is an immense relief.

The US may be coming to this fight late, perhaps even too late, but now at least there’s a sliver of hope where this time yesterday there was none. And who wouldn’t grasp a fighting chance if it’s offered? Having campaigned so effectively on a platform of ‘change’ and having delivered a bounty of new Senate seats to buttress his presidency, Obama now has the clearest possible mandate to actually deliver on this campaign mantra.

November 4th has breathed new life into the Kyoto process, and preparations and hard negotiations can now begin in earnest ahead of the crucial climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 which must take us far beyond the modest (yet largely unfulfilled) aims of the Kyoto accord which Dubya did so much to dismember.

It certainly has been the most extraordinary political campaign in a generation. The gruelling Democratic primaries would have wilted the will and dented the mettle of all but the toughest campaigners, yet Obama bounced through that with barely a dent, and then took everything the GOP could sling at him in the last few months for good measure. Now that’s what I call tough. He’ll need to be, since it’s about the toughest time in 50 years for any president. As the satirical magazine, The Onion inimitably put it: “Black man given nation’s worst job”.

As Oisin Coughlan of Friends of the Earth put it today: “Last week the British Parliament passed a climate change law to cut UK emissions by 80% by 2050. Yesterday, Americans elected a President who is committed to a law to cut US emissions by 80% by 2050.

Can we achieve a similar law in Ireland, Coughlan wonders. “The answer, of course, is yes we can. But, we need to generate a groundswell of public pressure on our elected representatives to turn their aspirational political promises into concrete legal commitments”. FOE is now calling on the Government to honour its promise to debate a Climate Change Bill introduced in Seanad last year by independent Senator, Ivana Bacik.

This would be another small but highly symbolic step towards getting Ireland into step with the more progressive EU states in demanding that there is no let-up in international efforts to head off climate catastrophe. These efforts will, from January 20 next, should have a powerful ally in Washington. Working in tandem, the EU and the US can move mountains – and not just for open cast coal mining either!

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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One Response to A night to remember

  1. Well said. What a great long night it was. Mission accomplished!

    It was great to read your Irish Times piece on Obama, way back when, and to read he meant business on climate change. Now let’s hope he can do it.

    Now if only Biffo would follow England’s lead with a tough climate change law. What is it with our government? They have no courage, no vision, no stomach for hard decisions. It will take an honest politician, like Obama, who is not afraid to speak the truth, however hard that may be, to deliver on climate change.

    “The public must internalise the gravity of the nation’s finances,” I think I heard Brian Lenihan say recently. Well, I think we internalised it at least twelve months ago, judging by the huge drop in Hallowe’en fireworks last year, and even fewer this year, if I can use that as an indicator (a fall in consumer spending).

    In the same way, I am sure the public has well and truly “internalised” the gravity of the global warming crisis and families are already well prepared to make changes if it helps to save Ireland and the planet from utter ruin. Changes in transport, home heating and what have you.

    The government must introduce tough measures immediately to reduce the country’s carbon footprint. It must phase out the use of fossil fuels in power generation completely, and invest whatever it takes in wind, solar, wave, biomass and nuclear. (This should have started years ago.) Carbon must be taxed heavily in every sector until there is not an atom of carbon left to tax. Public sector pay and pensions must be cut, they are too great a burden on the nation’s finances (since Bertie rifled them).

    Why do we have to wait, year after year, while nothing gets done and the situation grows worse?

    Your Irish Times column is doing a fantastic job in highlighting the seriousness of the issue in its many manifestations. Our politicians must be reading it, and they must know what has to be done, if they didn’t already. So why don’t they do it?

    Biffo is proving to be weak and ineffectual, and not the tough leader he was portrayed to be upon taking office. He failed to grasp the Lisbon Treaty nettle after the referendum was lost, and is still dithering. He was petrified by the reaction to the budget, even though it fell far short of what was required and did nothing to help reverse global warming. He is doing almost nothing on climate change, even though we are fast approaching a tipping point that will see devastating changes within decades.

    I believe An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD, needs to make a state of the nation address monthly, to tell us all what he is doing to tackle global warming and to deliver the 3% annual reduction in carbon emissions promised by the government. Hell, we need far bigger cuts than that now, and far more quickly. And of course, not just in Ireland, but in every corner of the globe, even the forgotten ones, wherever they are.

    Honesty, courage and vision will be essential. No more sneaking off to Connemara to golf when the Dáil needs to sit. No more sneaking off to China when the grey vote hits the street or students rally. Step up to the podium, Biffo, your time has come (and we don’t have any to spare).

    Just put a lectern on the Leinster House lawn (at last it is going to be reinstated) and address the nation, live on television, like they do from the Rose Garden at the White House. (Not you, John, I mean Biffo.) We need monthly live broadcasts from the Taoiseach, at prime time, telling us what he is doing and urging us to support him in his campaign against climate change (he’s going to have to come up with one). This is necessary, because the country is saturated with British newspapers, which are getting into people’s heads and in many cases doing us no favours. Biffo has to counteract this by appearing live on tv regularly. He must be inspiring, honest, forthright, visionary, coherent. Waffling is not an option. He’ll never be an Obama, but at least he can take inspiration from him. I wish him the best.

    John, keep up the good work, it is invaluable and timely and I have no doubt it is changing how people and the government think. For the better.

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