Response from Pacing the Planet to President Obama's Climate Policy Speech

Click here for the full text of Obama's Climate Manifesto

On Tuesday, President Obama delivered a speech that presented a historic shift in U.S. climate policy. First (and perhaps most importantly), the President of the United States declared that continued skepticism or denial of basic global warming and climate change theory is tantamount to participation in the "Flat Earth Society," and is an unacceptable position for policymakers to take.

Secondly, Obama announced the truth publicly that all weather systems are influenced by climate change, and therefore the extreme weather events that we are experiencing are certainly exacerbated by climate change. This is an important shift from the long-lasting quagmire of reiteration that "no one particular weather event can be tied to climate change."

Thirdly, Obama declared that the U.S. will fill a leadership role, not just in developing alternative energy technology, but in reducing actual carbon emissions (not just the fairly-meaningless "carbon-intensity" measurement. Reaffirming the EPA's inherent authority to regulate carbon pollution, Obama announced his intention to extend regulation to existing fossil fuel power plants, reducing emission in the energy sector that accounts for roughly 40% of U.S. carbon pollution.

Regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline, Obama explicitly said that he will not approve construction of the pipeline if it is determined that facilitating the burning of Tar Sands oil will further impair the climate situation. (Since this has already been determined, it appears that Obama is now laying out the groundwork argument for a rejection of the pipeline later this year. This would surprise many analysts, who, up until this speech, were anticipating approval of the Keystone project).

Obama also gave voice to the necessity of helping countries with developing economies receive technological help from the U.S. so that they can bypass the carbon-intensive phase of their energy-supply evolution. While he called for market-based opportunities to do so, we hope that Obama recognizes that the U.S. can and should provide such techonologies at-cost, or free, if doing so shortens the odds of stabilizing the climate.

We applaud Obama for his bold statements reflecting the truth, imminence, and severity of the climate crisis. Words such as: "As a president, as a father, I’m here to say we need to act. ...I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing," come very close to the ideal speech imagined by our friend David Goldstein in his article for Huffington Post, here 

We believe that the President is sincere when he says he is ready to work with anyone on this issue, and is open to new ideas; we hope that he will keep the climate conversation brainstorm grounded in real science. We stand ready to help implement a bold action plan, and we are pleased to be currently engaged in the work that Obama now calls all Americans to do.  Dana's favorite part of his speech:

"Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future. (Applause.)
Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. (Applause.) Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue. (Applause.)"
We invite others to join us as we walk with this it for an hour, or to the end, or for any span in between.


And, it is important to note that many of the achievements and plans touted by President Obama in his speech will be meaningless if they are not referenced to the carbon quotas, budgets and emissions pathways identified and quantified scientifically. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that such a landmark speech did not mention cumulative carbon budgets, nor the kinds of annual emissions reductions required to stay within them. They represent the only current solid basis for formulating a science-driven climate policy. Likewise, it was a disappointing wave-of-the-jedi-hand that Obama heralded the apparent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions without noting that the 40% of manufacture which China engages in exclusively for export markets represent 30% of their carbon emissions -- enough so that if the U.S. portion of that export-driven carbon pollution were added to the domestic tally, the U.S. could not claim to have reduced it's emissions in the last six years.

Nonetheless, considering the political and financial might opposing him, we are deeply encouraged and heartened in our pacing action by the frankness and common-sense with which President Obama is now speaking about the climate crisis.

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