It will be painfully easy to tell if President Obama is going to take a serious stab at doing something about climate change in his second term: The purest, starkest test he faces will be the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
Last fall, his stance on the Keystone project exemplified his waffling and contradictory climate policy. Faced with a solid front of the nation’s foremost Earth scientists explaining that tapping Canada’s tar sands for oil was a climate disaster, and confronting the biggest in-the-streets environmental movement in decades, the president delayed for a year a decision on whether to grant the required border-crossing permit. That put the northern portion of the pipeline on hold until after the election, but it allowed construction of the southern half to go forward — accompanied by civil-disobedience protests in East Texas.
And what’s happened in the intervening 12 months? America has gone through the hottest year in its history, with an epic drought that raised world grain prices 40 percent; the Arctic continued to melt at such a shocking rate that NASA scientist James Hansen declared it a “planetary emergency”; and Hurricane Sandy washed ashore with one of the lowest barometric pressures ever recorded north of Cape Hatteras. As the cover of that radical rag Bloomberg Businessweek put it in large letters: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”