The Rise of a Global Conscience

Born to a Muslim man from Kenya and a Christian woman from Kansas, with an international upbringing in both his native Hawaii and Indonesia, Barack Obama may be the first truly global president of the United States. But, far more than merely straddling the key religious and geographical divides of our age, Obama’s African background, and life experience in a poverty-stricken developing nation, may portend an era not only of a global president but also of a global conscience.
Obama’s personal sensitivity to the crises and problems plaguing the world run far deeper than his Iraq or Iran policies; far deeper even than his promise to renew the now-moribund long-term commitment to a nuclear-free world; far deeper than the simple national interest. Under his presidency, the great moral dilemmas of our time, from poverty to AIDS to climate change, will return to dominate the international agenda. His shall be the presidency of Make Poverty History, of Live 8 and Live Earth, the climax for the global progressive forces which have been converging for years and have here reached their apogee.
Under Obama’s watch, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, committed to cutting extreme poverty around the world in half by 2015, shall be America’s goals. Foreign aid will double to US$50 billion a year within his first term. Heavily Indebted Poor Countries – a classification of 37 countries by the International Monetary Fund – will be offered full debt cancellation.
By 2013, another US$50 billion will be invested in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, and the campaign will be stripped of the Christian fundamentalist language of abstinence that so undermined the credibility and efficacy of Bush’s efforts. Darfur will reemerge as a priority, and Africa will cease to be the forgotten continent of American foreign policy.
On climate change, Obama has vowed that under his presidency the United States would become a world leader and has committed to cutting America’s greenhouse gas emissions by an ambitious 80 per cent of current levels by the year 2050. To this end, he has called for an economy-wide cap-and-trade system, and has promised that 25 per cent of America’s electricity needs would be provided by renewable sources by 2025. He has called for massive investments of US$150 billion over the next 10 years to boost private efforts at developing clean technologies and to encourage green jobs. And an Obama presidency would engage in unprecedented efforts at energy efficiency and conservation, aiming to reduce demand by 15 per cent of projected levels by 2020.
Obama’s momentous rise to power is the answer to years of despair and agitation from activists on all fronts – on climate change, on Africa and Darfur, on Iraq, on global poverty and AIDS, on the struggle for a safe and healthy world to leave to our children.
The bittersweet irony for Canada is one of scale. In essence, the results of the American election will doubtlessly carry far greater implications for Canada’s climate change policy than our election here could have. Simply put, of Harper’s former allies in the anti-Kyoto front, John Howard of Australia has since fallen; George W. Bush is on his way out. Faced with an American administration intent on leading the world in efforts to combat climate change, Canada’s Conservative government would not dare stand alone on the world stage in attempting to block progress. Indeed, it could not. And so while progressive forces here have failed to defeat Harper or to force his hand on the environment, our friends to the south may have effectively done the job for us. For a country once lauded for its own global conscience, the tragic irony is surely great: Americans may have just saved us from ourselves.

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