Yesterday in his press conference the President spoke at length about climate change. He said he would be engaging in a wide-ranging "conversation" over the coming months and years to see what we can "realistically" do to deal with the problem.
I'm not surprised but I am disappointed. Hey, there's been a lot of talk since the election that he would make a major push to address climate change, but he himself never said it, as he has about immigration reform and tax reform, so no one should be surprised he's not yet wagering any of his political capital on the issue.
The president went on to point out that climate change had become a "partisan" issue and that it lacks the bipartisan support necessary to pass major legislation.
Not his fault. It's the climate movement's fault. They made no noise during the political campaigns, when they could have created quite a stir after the drought and summer heat.
It's also the movement's responsibility moving forward. In April of 2011, during the Energy Action Coalition's PowerShift conference in D.C., a handful of youth leaders were invited to the White House to talk about the climate. They thought they would be speaking with some lower-level staffers, but were amazed when the conference room door opened and President Obama came in. He told them that he cared just as much about the climate as they did, but he wouldn't be able to get anything done about it unless they created a groundswell of popular support that politicians could not ignore. FDR did the same thing in the 1930's, when he told labor activists that he could only deliver on needed reforms if they created popular support. (They did and he did.)
It's foolish to think that by electing this president our work is done and we can go back to being passive. In Gene Sharp's The Politics of Nonviolent Action, he writes about a tendency in populations "to avoid responsibility, to seek to delegate it upward and to attribute greater authority to superiors in the hierarchy than is in fact merited". (This comes from what he calls a "lack of self confidence".)
In other words quit waiting for the "leaders" to lead. YOU are the leader, with every bit as much power to make change as any president or dirty energy CEO, so own up to it. We need to lead the leaders.
Gandhi said "The function of a civil resister is to provoke response. And we will continue to provoke until they respond. They are not in control. We are."
So it's on us. If our collective actions are in alignment with the severity of the crisis, then we will be able to create that groundswell.
Update: Arianna Huffington has a similar post today about how the president said "Only you have the power to move us forward" at his convention speech and made similar comments on election night. She even included the exact quote FDR issued to the labor leaders: "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it." Finally, she includes this link to a Guardian UK piece about how progressives need to follow Obama's example and start pushing for change.