As promised, the President gave a major speech today on how to fight the climate crisis and move us forward to a much more sustainable energy economy. The three main components of the plan are to mitigate the production of greenhouse gas gases, to help the country’s cities and states, citizens and businesses adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to lead on international efforts to confront the climate crisis. The White House has provided an excellent infographic detailing the plan, with the full report here as well.
The biggest single component of the plan is the President’s memorandum “…directing the Environmental Protection Agency to work expeditiously to complete carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.” This is certainly the direction in which we’ve been headed for several years, but the President has taken an inexorable step forward, in public, and there’s no backing away. Such action on EPA’s part, not incidentally, should be wholly bulletproof. (The EPA has extensive information available on how far we’ve come in the last four years on the regulatory highway to reducing GHGs, and where we will likely be heading now.)
Some observations from listening to today’s speech: First of all and perhaps most importantly – Barack Obama is sincere, has the will and the focus, the personnel in place and the laws behind him, as well as the will of much of the American business community and, increasingly, the support of the American people. As is obvious, smart and progressive policy doesn’t often advance in a democracy without good public backing. Special interests may dig in to try to keep their pockets lined, and ideologues, fearful of the implications of change to their narrow worldviews, may well try to subvert law, science and common sense. But, to paraphrase Dr. King, the arc of history tends toward progress, and so, with efficient and practical solutions well at hand, and sound business principles virtually demanding clean tech, the public policy must follow.
On the single most salient climate issue in America today, the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, the President may have surprised a lot of the Obama skeptics out there. For one thing, he referred to the hydrocarbon development that some of our neighbors to the North have been so feverishly pursuing as the “tar sands.” Doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re a supporter of this development, you call them “oil sands” and if you’re an opponent, you call them “tar sands.” I think that was one giant linguistic step for a man. Beyond that, though, he referenced the KXL project and said that it would be judged by his administration based on its net effect on GHGs. By that test, it will fail to be approved. Send the man some roses for that, Obama Climate Skeptics. (These are people, for the love of Mike, who should know better!)
The President also noted the benefits of natural gas and said that it must be extracted, transported and used carefully, and be thought of as a “transition fuel” to a more fully decarbonized energy economy. Many jobs in modernizing the infrastructure he said. My brothers and sisters who hate the mere idea of hydraulic fracturing are going to chafe at this, but the best route to take from here on in is to push for and support local, state and federal initiatives to make this practice safe and thoroughly well regulated.
I almost fell off my chair when toward the end of the speech, the President called on people to take charge: to educate, to apply political pressure, to invest, and to divest. Huh?! He said it: Divest. Did you hear that, Bill McKibben?! Brilliant!
Here’s the speech. I’m glad that President Obama has done what he’s done today. I’m glad that we in the environmental movement have been doing what we’ve been doing for 40 years. Let’s all join hands, support all this good work that we’ve all been doing, and do more of it.