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!