Open Letter to Bill McKibben: Blaming Obama for Copenhagen Is Wrong
December 19th, 2009
Yesterday, in response to the end of the Copenhagen negotiations, you issued a press release with 350.org titled "The President has wrecked the UN (and the planet)," in which you wrote: "The president has wrecked the U.N. and he's wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming. It may get Obama a reputation as a tough American leader, but it's at the expense of everything progressives have held dear."
Afterward, you published an article on the Grist homepage titled "With climate agreement, Obama guts progressive values," in which you wrote: "He blew up the United Nations. The idea that there's a world community that means something has disappeared tonight. The clear point is... when you sink beneath the waves we don't want to hear much about it." This followed a recent post by your organization accusing Obama of "corruption" and "conspiracy" for his climate negotiations with Ethiopia.
I'm writing you today because, as a young clean energy and climate advocate, I believe these words are wrong and irresponsible, and I would like to respectfully request that you issue a public apology to President Obama and young climate leaders across the country.
Bill, as one of the most prominent leaders of the global environmental movement, your words matter. Several of my friends, family, and colleagues - especially young climate leaders - have looked to you for guidance in this movement, placing faith in your judgment and passionately supporting your 350 campaign. As one young commenter remarked to me yesterday, "Bill McKibben is certainly one of the most respected voices on this issue around, and if he says that Obama failed to deliver, I believe it."
That is why I was shocked and disappointed when you so harshly blamed President Obama for the outcome of Copenhagen and accused him of undermining efforts to achieve a meaningful international climate treaty. Your accusations are false. I understand the disappointment of you and many around the world, but the Obama administration has done more to promote climate change solutions than any U.S. administration in history, and it has demonstrated a clear commitment to advancing international negotiations.
We need to understand the heart of the problem in order to overcome it. So let us be clear: the failure at Copenhagen is not the Obama administration's fault, nor that of any single leader or country. Rather it is primarily the result of a flawed UNFCCC framework, which relies on outdated distinctions between "developed" and "developing" countries and fails to focus on negotiations between major polluters. Most problematic, it depends on the establishment of abstract and "legally-binding" emissions reduction targets, instead of the immediate government investments we need to develop and deploy low-carbon energy and efficiency technologies.
Today, in the wake of this historic summit, the writing is on the wall: the Kyoto Protocol failed, even with a "legally-binding" agreement among its signatories. Copenhagen has failed, even with the support of the Obama administration and overwhelming effort by the global climate movement. And as one of the world's most active and vocal supporters of this established framework, it is all the more disappointing that you would lash out and blame others for its failure.
I don't claim to have all the answers, but I know this: the time has come for a radical departure from the mitigation framework of the past to a renewed focus on international investments in low-carbon technology and efficiency - on the scale of $10.5 trillion the International Energy Agency has called for over the next twenty years - without which we will fail to achieve a treaty capable of avoiding the worst consequences of global warming, including the devastation of many poor and island nations you have so passionately represented.
Bill, I still believe you are capable of offering the leadership we need, and I welcome your response to this letter. I still believe in our president and our country's ability to lead the world on this challenge. And I believe that with a new way forward, we can achieve the clean energy revolution we need.
Director, Americans for Energy Leadership
Founder, Breakthrough Generation