Readings: Obama Takes on Climate Change

This is an old piece from Jeff Goodell’s 10/8/15 piece in Rolling Stone, but worth reading for the following excerpt alone. The following is President Obama’s response to Goodell’s question about the pope’s statement that “greed and materialism are destroying the planet.” Look at how balanced Obama remains in his response!

If you look at human history, it is indisputable that market-based systems have produced more wealth than any other system in human history by a factor of–you choose the number. And that has been, net, a force for good.

Wait for it, wait for it.

What I do think is true is that mindless free-market ideologies that ignore the externalities that any capitalist system produces can cause massive problems. And it’s the job of government and societies to round the edges and to address big system failures. That, by the way, is not controversial among market economists.

The bold is my emphasis, but I love how he starts with the classic tactic of agreeing with the opposition before pointing out a negative extreme and working in his overall point and policy, before backing it up tactfully (and casually) with the reference to common sense among actual experts in the field. He continues, then, into the specifics:

Pollution has always been the classic market failure, where externalities are not captured and the system doesn’t deal with them, even though it’s having an effect on everybody.

Well, when you put it like that! He closes with a nice healthy dose of optimism (tied to actual historical precedent), one reason why so many idealistic people (like myself) voted for him in the first place.

I think the big way that we solve any big market failure is to have a broad-based conversation and to come to a collective agreement that this is something we’re going to take into account in our day-to-day doing business. And when we do that businesses will find ways to profit from it, jobs will be created. We’re already seeing that when it comes to the solar industry…. So I am optimistic about us being able to solve this problem. But it is going to require that our politics catches up with the facts. And right now, in this country, our politics is going through a particularly broken period. 

This, by the way, is why I can’t vote for most of the people running for office. If you can’t be this coherent in your arguments, this consistent, then you shouldn’t be President. We get nowhere by being self-serving and short-sighted.

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