The Slow Burn Nature of Climate Politics

During the dog days of summer, most peoples' lazier impulses take over, even more so in Washington, a muggy city built ill-advisedly on top of a swamp. President Obama, however, seems immune to the soporific effects of the heat and is  filling up the days with speech after speech of ambitious agenda-making. Last week saw the kick-off of a new five-point economic plan. A few weeks before that, in a speech mostly forgotten by the amnesiatic chattering class (but not so far away as his national security speech, which seems so long ago to be nearly nonexistent), Obama laid out his administration's plan for the environment, a distillation of his views on climate change heard before only in soundbites.

Much of that speech was devoted to initiatives that, like the Affordable Care Act, will burn on a slow fuse. EPA standards and weaning the country off coal are important, but we won't see how they affect the environment until decades from now. Because of the tortoise-like pace of climate politics, the fate of Keystone XL has become the linchpin to discussing Obama's climate legacy. If he approves it, he will be seen as a failure in the eyes of environmentalists, despite the immeasurable good fuel-efficiency standards and other programs will do. If the tar sands pipeline is banished to its home in the north, Obama will be a hero to the left. In that June 25 climate speech,  he made a brief, unexpected mention of Keystone, which David Roberts described as "utterly inscrutable" and a "Rorschach blot for the energy world." This weekend, Obama clarified his cryptic remarks in an interview with The New York Times, saying "Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator. There is no evidence that that’s true."

It seems at this point that Obama is quite skeptical about this whole pipeline affair. But, how the chips will fall, no one knows. And we might have to wait an entire year to find out. It turns out the make-or-break item of Obama's climate legacy has as slow a denouement just like everything else on his agenda. But at the very least Obama's speaking tour means that activists have a whole new set of items to parse and push for—and a finally confirmed new EPA administrator who's on their side. And, since it seems the GOP is determined to cede all ground on this issue, a full-front offensive pushing Obama on all the energy priorities he's promised—not just Keystone—might be the ticket to making sure this issue's slow fuse doesn't explode in the Earth's face.



"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Pope Francis



  • Abby Rapoport writes that North Carolina's Moral Mondays could be the start of a lasting and strong new liberal movement in the South, not just a quick flash in the pan protest.
  • Don't conflate the Weiner scandal and the Filner one, says Scott Lemieux. There's a big difference between consensual and nonconsensual actions.


  • Jay Caspian Kang lays bare the bad impulses of every nerd's favorite website. 
  • While Ariel Levy examines social media's ability to mete (or meme) out justice.
  • The familiar Republican faces on the Republican front are getting ready to tackle abortion. Everyone else is less than enthused.
  • Are we doomed to a future of frequent Hurricane Sandys? Kate Sheppardinvestigates.
  • The retirement of Senators Tom Harkin, Jay Rockefeller and Max Baucus will see a loss of Senators concerned with healthcare, but all three are using their remaining time to ensure the Affordable Care Act is implemented successfully.
  • Returning from Brazil, Pope Francis said he would not judge priests who are gay, which is a change from his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, who said those with homosexual tendencies should not enter the priesthood.
  • Interested in running a central bank? Libya has just posted an opening online to run its central bank. Maybe if Larry Summers doesn't become Fed chief, he could make his way down.
  • Alan Kreuger thinks not raising the debt ceiling is a fate worse than Sharknado.
  • Reuters has collected heartbreaking photos of the desolation left by months of warfare in Syria. 


Public opinion on abortion has remained steady at a national level for the past decade, but the geography of opinions on abortion has shifted noticeably. In New England, 75 percent of respondents think abortion is legal in all or most cases. The South, in turn, is the only region of the country where a majority of respondents think abortion is illegal in all or most cases. From 1996 to today, the gap between the two regions' opinions has grown fron 18 points to 35 points.