by Ben Cohen
There is no doubt for anyone who has followed Barack Obama's presidency that, in years to come, he should be looked upon with great, great regard. He was the first African American president, a phenomenal speaker and one of the most cerebral politicians America has ever produced.
Sadly, much of Obama's real legacy will not be understood for many, many years to come -- largely because much of the enormous good he has done has been behind the scenes, and without a great deal of publicity. Legislatively of course, he will be mostly remembered for passing Obamacare into law -- a vital piece of legislation that has saved thousands of lives and prevented financial disaster for millions of Americans.
But this is not Obama's true legacy.
In decades to come, President Obama will be remembered for being the first truly proactive environmental president, and for his decisive action on climate change. While the media and public have paid little attention to global warming and the rampant destruction of the earth's bio-systems, president Obama has. And he has taken significant steps to ensure future generations have some sort of a chance at reversing the decades of damage we have done.
Obama has quietly sidestepped massive Republican opposition to his environmental agenda by carefully crafting policy to make it Republican-proof. The Paris Climate deal for example, was made because Obama understood it had to be done in a way that Republicans couldn't touch it. It required a huge amount of political capital, and thanks to the mainstream media's lack of interest in environmental issues, his massive political victory was barely publicized.
This is the untold story of Obama's presidency.
As Think Progress notes, Obama hasn't just made the environment a priority, he has made it "the cornerstone" of his presidential legacy:
President Obama has made protecting the environment and combating climate change a significant cornerstone of his presidential legacy.
Among other things, he played a major role in helping to secure a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions. He initiated the Clean Power Plan that — if it survives a court challenge — will substantially lessen carbon emissions from power plants. He rejected construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. He has set aside millions of acres of public land and waters for conservation protection. And he has promoted energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind.
Obama's move last week to create the world's largest protected marine area should erase any doubt about his commitment to the environment, and cement his legacy as the nation's greatest environmental advocate. Reported the Guardian:
The president’s proclamation will quadruple the size of a protected area originally designated by his predecessor, George Bush, in 2006. The expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument will cover around 582,578 sq miles (1.5m sq km), more than twice the size of Texas.
Obama will travel to Hawaii next week to mark the designation and cite the need to protect public lands and waters from climate change.
The designation bans commercial fishing and any new mining, as is the case within the existing area. Recreational fishing will be allowed with a permit, as will scientific research and the removal of fish and other resources for native Hawaiian cultural practices.
Republicans are of course up in arms about this. I recently spoke with the chief of staff for a prominent Republican congressman (who I won't name due to privacy issues) who lamented Obama's move to wall the area off from developers because it could threaten America's economy. "If someone we're not mining and extracting resources from the ocean, someone else will" was his rationale.
In other words, protecting the environment is nice and all that, but not if it means China overtakes America as the world's largest economic superpower.
And this is why Obama's Hawaii policy is so important, because it prevents future politicians, businessmen and developers from continuing to turn the planet's resources into shiny consumer goods regardless of the economic pressure. Obama understands the dirty secret about our economic system -- that endless economic growth is not sustainable in the long run, and natural resources must be put off limits if we want to create some sort of sustainable future. Of course he can't come out and say that explicitly, but he can use the power he has to protect as much of the planet as possible from human interference.
It should go without saying that the environment is the most important issue facing humanity. The global ecological crisis is now so severe that geologist have declared a new geological epoch. According to an expert panel who presented evidence to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town today, the earth has transitioned from the Holocene epoch to the Anthropocene -- an epoch defined by nuclear tests, plastic pollution, the mass extinction of species, catastrophic deforestation and rampant development.
While there is certainly a strong argument for the rapid transition to renewable sources of energy and a 'green tech' economy, humans are going to have to come to terms with a very difficult truth that flies in the face of everything we have been raised to believe. The earth will survive with or without us, and we have to understand that we do not know how to manage our environment better than the environment knows how to manage itself. In other words, this means we have to learn to leave mother nature alone as much as possible and get the hell out of the way.
While he may not say it in public, Obama clearly understands this and has taken measures to help save us from ourselves. In the current political climate, he will receive little praise for his boldness. But in time, we will recognize him for who he truly is -- the greatest environmental president in US history.