HOW will history remember US President Barack Obama in 2030? Will it be limited to appearances, in the ascendency of a black man to the White House? Will his efforts in transforming healthcare be brilliant or bankrupt? For this is the year in which the US is set to achieve energy self-sufficiency, having overtaken Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer some years prior.
Unimaginable five years ago, the prospect of this new reality has significant implications for a man seeking a Lincoln-esque legacy. But legacy has conditions.
Modern presidents are nothing if not paradoxical, rife with inconsistencies and contradictions. During his second-term inauguration speech this month, Obama declared: "We will respond to the threat of climate change."
The green lobby was ecstatic. Demonstrating a suspiciously selective grasp of recent events, they took to partisan media to express their delight, but in their euphoria few among them recalled that environmental issues — particularly climate change — featured prominently in Obama’s campaign in the prelude to his first term, yet translated into zero substance in the latter period.
To date, the global response to the threat of climate change is thus: rarely in history has there ever been a collective exercise undertaken with such clod-hopping folly, characterised by the breathtaking ineptitude of governments kowtowing to a sometimes hysterical fringe intent on cutting off the nose to spite the face.
The consequences have been so ghastly they barely warrant repetition; the violation of agriculture in the pursuit of biofuel, particularly in impoverished countries, is so patently contemptible a solution, it alone illustrates the degeneration of this issue to a point where reasonable argument is now virtually impossible.
Into this stalemate storms arguably the most successful yet controversial practice of gas extraction ever designed. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been destined as the cornerstone of US energy ambitions — and has already transformed the local economies of states such as Pennsylvania and North Dakota. The excitement has also rippled across the Atlantic and found a staunch ally in London mayor Boris Johnson, the man widely tipped to become Britain’s next prime minister.
Calculations of shale-gas deposits in both developed and developing economies offer not only a means of achieving elusive stability or growth, but also go some way in undermining the endless harm inflicted by the "response" thus far.
It is a myth, beloved by Hollywood, that fracking was invented yesterday and hence its impact cannot be scrutinised comprehensively yet. France — under increasingly unpopular, mediocrity-worshipping, anti-prosperity President Francois Hollande — banned fracking in 2012, in possibly the greatest effort in shortsightedness in modern European history.
While Obama differs from his French counterpart — he at least respects the fundamental basics of successful economics — he must acknowledge an inalienable truth in the context of legacy: in the US today, you cannot be for the benefits of energy growth and against fracking.
Ultimately, Obama would be making a critical error if he halted such advances purely on the basis of environmental concerns. For one, the anti-fracking lobby’s dossier features not one single certified complaint, but rather a huge number of mysterious theories and unfounded allegations regarding water contamination.
Furthermore, history, in particular US history, does not take kindly to dithering presidents — Jimmy Carter’s hopeless efforts during the Iranian hostage crisis soiled what had been a relatively successful term. Obama’s successes in steadying the economy and the elimination of Osama bin Laden are threatened when the president addresses the subject of climate change — unless he believes that sentiment alone is enough to satisfy this lobby to whom the notion of good news is simply repulsive.
He has the opportunity to surpass the racial and social components of his terms as president by assuming the thrust of the US’s energy ambitions. In doing so, he will design the architecture on which the future of that country’s successes will be built. Surely no president could cast a greater legacy.
• Reader is the co-founder and chief investment officer of RE:RE Capital.