On Tuesday Obama spoke on Climate Change; the need for action, his past actions and his plan for the future.
Obama brought us to the moon for the beginning of his speech. He recalled the first images of Earth presented by astronauts. Kudos to his speech writers. This beautiful imagery provides a place to stop and gain some perspective. The delicacy of our home, the feasibility of global climate trends and the beauty of earth were brought to life.
The next part of his speech displayed the frustration that must be felt by those pushing for environmental protection. He dropped terms like “science”, “97 %”, “Billions of dollars”, “floods”, “wildfires”, “droughts” and “Firemen”.
He then went on to tell us that action is required, outlining first what we has already done:
1. Pledged to reduce 2005 emissions by 17% by the end of this decade.
2. Doubled the electricity we generate from wind and the sun.
3. Doubled car mileage capability by the middle of next decade.
4. Building the first nuclear power plants in more than three decades.
5. We are poised more of our own oil than we buy from other nations.
6. Today we produce more natural gas than anybody else.
7. Reduced carbon emissions to that of 20 years ago.
8. Since 2006, no country on earth has reduced it’s carbon emissions as much as the U.S.
His new plan, in his own words will “lead the world in a coordinated assault on a changing climate”. His plan for a climate assault involves less dirty, more clean and less waste.
He went on to share a few interesting facts. The clean air act was signed by a Republican president and voted for essentially unanimously in the House and Senate. In 2006 the Supreme Court deemed it the task of the EPA to determine whether CO2 should be considered a harmful pollutant, and in 2009 the EPA decided that yes, it should, making CO2 subject to regulation. Obama is directing the EPA to regulate power plants emissions of CO2.
He said that the determination of whether CO2 would exacerbate our climate problems was a huge factor in determining whether the keystone pipeline should be permitted to be built.
Obama then made a case for conserving economic growth despite regulations, pointing to past regulations as evidence. He seems to believe that innovation and pioneering American spirit is what we need more of.
His new plan will
1. Again, double energy from wind and sun.
2. He will open up public lands for private renewable energy: enough to power 6 million homes by 2020.
3. Department of defense will install three gigawatts of renewable power on its bases.
4. End tax breaks for big oil companies, invest that money in the clean energy companies that will fuel our future.
5. Regulation for car mileage and truck, van and bus mileage.
6. Federal Government: run on 20% renewable energy in the next seven years.
Obama also mentioned preparing for impacts of climate change. He suggests any construction built with tax dollars will be built to withstand flood risk, forest fires and droughts and offers to share NASA data in aid to towns and cities.
He insists that the U.S. should lead the world in combatting climate change by:
1. Mobilizing private capital for clean energy around the world.
2. Aid others in switching toward natural gas.
3. Calling for an end to public financing of coal.
4. Global free trade in renewable, waste reducing technologies.
5. Teaming with China, India, and Brasil, to reduce hydrofluorocarbons and other emissions.
Obama says he is open to any ideas for combatting climate change, but can no longer deal with people who are still denying the threat of climate change. He said: “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.”
Obama insisted that those listening “stand up for the facts”, speak loudly, invest, divest and work toward protecting future generations.
He closed once again from the moon, looking down, and pointing out that we are fighting for “everything we hold dear, the laughter of children a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity, that’s what’s at stake, that’s what we’re fighting for. And if we remember that, [Obama is] absolutely sure we’ll succeed.”
While I am very happy that Obama stood up and created a plan for tackling climate change. I am left with a couple of questions…
International Leadership: We can hardly claim to be leaders yet. We have enormous emissions per capita as well as a devastating ecological footprint. Leading and opening up trade barriers for trade of technology does not necessarily lead toward the healthy development of other nations. When a nations ability to protect their environment certainly seems tied to their sovereignty and health of their local economy, this seems almost perverse. This is certainly not the easiest way to tackle climate change. Public finance and technology sharing would much more rapidly lead to mitigation but this puts more burden on the wealthy countries and less on the poor, and does not provide further open markets for corporations. Of course that line of thought belongs to the left. This still begs the question. With regulation of CO2 alone can the private market solve climate change? This also demonstrates a total reliance on technology. Technology may be where both sides meet, but alone it may not be sufficient.
Environmental issues: While Obama spoke on climate change, there was no mention of biodiversity, soil, oceanic acidifications, or any of the other environmental crisis that we face. Solving this problem unilaterally by decreasing carbon emissions seems incredibly optimistic. Given that climate regulation and environmental health are certainly related, I am surprised this was not mentioned. I would like to have seen a hint at more systemic solutions. These may naturally follow an economy with less cheap abundant fuel.
Again though, I am happy that Obama finally stepped forward on climate change. Some contributing factors to the timeliness of this speech may have been recent negotiations with China, the keystone pipeline decision, and the appointment of Gina McCarthy to the EPA. This appointment may stir some conversation in the coming weeks.