Obama presidential victory an historic occasion for the environment and human rights leadership

(Foto: Wikimedia)

Publish date: November 4, 2008

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK – In a sweeping and historic victory for African-Americans, America, and the world community alike, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States on the hope that he will sweep away eight years of unmitigated war, environmental ignorance, human rights abuses and financial crisis perpetuated by the administration of George Bush, Jr.

Environmentalists are placing huge bets on Obama to bring American out of its dismal environmental doldrums and become a necessary leader in the world battle against global climate change.

Bellona President Fredric Hauge called the Obama victory “an historic day.”

Indeed, Obama has promised to put the United States on track to cut its emissions by 80 percent by 2050 – in line with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) recommendations, and promised to invest $150 billion in renewable energy over the next 10 years.  

This is a stark contrast to the Bush administration, which repeatedly evaded international agreements for emissions cuts and repeatedly questioned the validity of glaring scientific proof that global climate change is at hand.

In the wider scheme, the international community has voiced comfort in dealing with Obama – the son of a Muslim Kenyan father, he is seen as someone with a keen sense of empathy for those people and institutions at home and abroad that were abandoned by Bush presidency.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” said Obama in his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, before tens of thousands of his supporters.

“It’s been a long time coming,” the president-elect added, “but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America.”

But Obama, 47, was quick to acknowledge that his astounding victory – a century and a half after black Americans were given the right to vote – was only the beginning of a long struggle.

“The road ahead will be long, our climb will be steep,” he said. “We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.”

Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives and the Senate also took a majority, meaning the myriad policy issues that Obama will have to address – from dealing with America’s financial crisis, shifting America’s position in the world climate change struggle, to ending the war in Iraq – will be greeted with little opposition, analysts said.

The international reaction to Obama’s election – after eight years of ruinous global environmental polices, bloodshed, extra-judiciary detention of suspected terrorist, and open administrative support of human rights abuses and official paranoia – has been one of both jubilation and relief.

“The glorious age of Barack Obama,” Jean Daniel, editor of  France’s Le Nouvel Observateur has called it. British historian Tristiam Hunt told the New York Times that the Obama victory “brings the narrative that everyone wants to return to — that America is the land of extraordinary opportunity and possibility, where miracles happen.”

In a more backhanded compliment, Giuliano Ferrara, editor of the Italian right-wing daily Il Foglio, opined that Obama’s victory will “reassure Europeans of their defects.”

“It will be incredibly exciting to see what Obama can in fact achieve, but we nonetheless have big expectations for the Untied States’ future climate politics,” Bellona President Hauge said.

“This will give a lift to the United States’ own climate work, and that will have large significance in the climate battle. I think Obama will provide a new faith and a new hope in the international climate debate,” he said.

Obama’s campaign for the White House put emphasis on supporting a binding international climate agreement, and in his energy and climate plans he has declared that he wants America to be a leader in that process.

“That Obama will be president is an inspiration,” said Hauge. “Now we will use our network in the United States and the European Union for all it is worth to contribute to a transatlantic dialog up to the Copenhague (climate) meeting next year,”

Obama has laid emphasis on the fact that carbon capture and storage is an important climate strategy, and has evidenced a sceptical view of nuclear power – which is a break with the current republican stance.

Obama is not averse to possibility that many nuclear power plants may be built in the United States, but emphasises that safe storage of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel must be addresses first.

How to deal with radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel – which reaches its peak toxicity after thousands of years – is still an unanswered question in every country of the world, and is one of Bellona’s main opposition point to the continued use of nuclear power.

The financial crisis that Obama will inherit from Bush when he takes office on January 20th 2009 will, in Bellona’s opinion, give the Obama administration a golden opportunity to focus financing on sustainable and renewable energy.

“That the economy is such a problem in the United States now can probably only make the climate effort all the more attractive as there are huge possibilities for green investment and green jobs,” said Hauge.

Anne Karin Saether contributed to this report.