Does President Obama Have a Mandate For His Pledge to Cut U.S. Carbon Emissions?

Barack Obama doesn’t have a mandate for his global warming policies. He doesn’t even have a mandate from his most fervent supporters. President Obama has repeatedly reiterated his support for an aggressive effort to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. He has promised to reduce U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 – a cut of about 16 percent – and then to cut them an additional 80 percent by 2050.1

That’s an overall cut of 68 percent from today and would mean trimming U.S. carbon emissions to roughly where they were in 1905.2

Consider for a moment what life was like in 1905.  There were just 77,988 registered vehicles in the United States,3 compared to over 250 million today,4 or just one vehicle for more than 3,200 now.  Less than 10 percent of the country had electricity, fewer than five percent of American households had electric clothes washers, only a handful of Americans had dishwashers and no one had air conditioning. 

Life expectancy was a mere 47 years, about 30 years shorter than today.5 (It may have seemed a whole lot longer than that, though.)

Reducing America’s greenhouse gases to 1905 levels, even including the substantial energy efficiency gains already made and those projected for the future, would be very costly and require a wrenching transformation of economy and our way of life.

But don’t take my word for it.

Barrack Obama suggested as much himself, saying, “under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket… whatever the industry was, they would have to retro-fit their operations. That will cost money… [and] they will pass that… on to the consumers.”

Obama’s America wouldn’t just welcome your tired, your poor, your huddled masses: It would create them.

Americans aren’t willing to make this sacrifice. For instance, a poll that will soon be released by The National Center for Public Policy Research found that most African-Americans reject it.

800 African-Americans were polled on a series of environmental and energy issues, including global warming. Eighty percent of those surveyed were Democrats while only 4 percent were Republicans.

A majority of respondents indicated that they are unwilling to pay anything more for either their gasoline or their electricity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Significantly, the poll was taken in late-October to mid-November, after energy prices had already dropped dramatically.

A majority of those surveyed also indicated that maintaining public services without increases in taxes is more important than fighting global warming. Over three-quarters indicated that economic recovery should be America’s top priority even if doing so requires us to shelve plans to address global warming for a while.

Fifty-one percent of the African-Americans surveyed said that they would oppose emissions caps if the price increases fell disproportionately on the poor.

That’s precisely what President Obama’s global warming plan would do.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, a cap to reduce carbon emissions by 15 percent below 1998 levels, a cut of 19 percent below what they are right now, would hurt the poor the most.

“…[P]rice increases would be regressive in that poorer households would bear a larger burden relative to their income than wealthier households would,”6 the CBO concluded.

In fact, as a percentage of income, the poorest fifth of Americans would pay nearly double what the wealthiest fifth would in electricity price increases.7

To fulfill his global warming pledge, Obama would have to go against the wishes of a majority of African-Americans.  With blacks accounting for nearly 25% of his vote total, he could do so only at his political peril.

How Obama addresses global warming may tell us whether his historic election finally gives African-Americans a seat at the political table, or just another seat at the back of the bus.

David A. Ridenour is vice president of  the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Public Policy Research.


1 “Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Fuel Type, 1949-2006,” Energy Information Agency.  Link available on November 27, 2008 from link at

2 Greg Marland et. al., “Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, August 27, 2008.  Available November 27, 2008 at

Donald A. Henderson, “Urbanization of Rural America,” Nova Science Publishers, 1997.

4  “Number of U.S. Aircraft, Vehicles, Vessels, and Other Conveyances,” Bureau of Transportation Statististics, available on December 1, 2008 at

5 “Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future,” National academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2007.  Available December 1, 2008 at

6 “Trade-Offs in Allocating Allowances for CO2 Emissions,” Congressional Budget Office, April 25, 2007.  Available on December 1, 2008 at

7 Ibid.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.