Obama connects climate science and policy in State of the Union

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
February 13, 2013



U.S. carbon emissions are second only to those of China. Historically, the U.S. is the world's largest carbon emitter. To date, the U.S. has no federal legislation to reduce its carbon emissions. Click image to enlarge.
U.S. carbon emissions are second only to those of China. Historically, the U.S. is the world's largest carbon emitter. To date, the U.S. has no federal legislation to reduce its carbon emissions. Click image to enlarge.

After several years of silence on climate change, U.S. President Barack Obama has begun speaking out following his re-election last November. The President surprised many by giving climate change a central role in his inauguration speech last month, and he followed-up in his State of the Union speech last night when he called on congress to "pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change," but added that the administration would take action itself if congress failed.

"For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change," Obama said.

While a "market-based solution"to climate change—meaning cap-and-trade legislation or a carbon tax—is unlikely to come from Congress in the next two years, the administration has already moved forward on its own by proposing carbon rules for new power plants through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Next, officials say that the administration could do the same for existing power plants, essentially forcing coal plants to clean up or retire. Such an action, depending on its structure, could drastically reduce the U.S.'s carbon emissions.

"I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy," Obama noted.

In his speech, the president defended climate science while succinctly outlining how the warming planet is already hurting Americans.

"Yes, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods—all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it’s too late."

Scientists say that the climate change is already destabilizing historic patterns, and very likely contributing to more extreme weather events, such as droughts, heatwaves, and floods. Last year was the warmest on record for the U.S., shattering records set during the Dust Bowl. Worldwide temperatures have risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) since the early Twentieth Century. The rise has led to glaciers melting, sea level rising, Arctic sea ice vanishing, shifts in animal migrations, and ocean acidification. Further temperature rises could result in the destabilization of global agricultural, economic collapse, flooded islands, and mass extinction among other impacts according to experts.

But Obama pointed to a rise in renewable energy across the U.S. as a sign that the problem wasn't insurmountable.

"Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more," he noted. "Solar energy gets cheaper by the year—let's drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we."

The U.S. has long legged behind China and Europe on clean energy investments, but, recently, investments have begun to ramp up. Last year the U.S. added 3.2 gigawatts of solar power according to new data from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), just over 10 percent of the total added worldwide. Wind has become a major player in the U.S. with 60 gigawatts installed as of last year.

Obama laid out two new goals last night as well.

"I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. [...] I'm also issuing a new goal for America: let's cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years," he said.

Not everything Obama said was pleasing to environmentalists, however. He touted the natural gas boom, largely due to fracking, as providing "cleaner power and greater energy independence." But while natural gas emits significantly less carbon than burning coal, new research shows a rising concern for the amount of methane leaking from natural gas operations. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon, though it survives in the atmosphere for a shorter time. Fracking has also been openly criticized for polluting waterways and opening up public lands.

Not surprisingly, the president made no mention of the hugely-controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. If built, the pipeline will carry tar sands oil from Canada through the U.S. to a global market. Environmental activists, and many scientists, oppose the pipeline since it would likely result in a massive expansion of Canada's tar sands, which come with a larger carbon footprint than conventional oil. Activists plan to hold a major rally on Sunday to let the administration know in no uncertain terms that Keystone cannot be disconnected from climate change.













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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (February 13, 2013).

Obama connects climate science and policy in State of the Union.

http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0213-hance-climate-state-union.html