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.
In Obama’s second inauguration speech today, the newly re-elected president of the U.S. reaffirmed his commitment to taking action on climate during his second term. Noting that ignoring climate change would “betray our children and future generations,” Obama argued whole-heartedly for a transition to clean energy.
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity,” Obama said echoing a line from the Declaration of Independence. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”
This last year alone, the U.S. was struck by several record wildfires, an ongoing and punishing drought across much of the Southwest, and the monstrous Hurricane Sandy which left 131 Americans dead and may cost taxpayers upwards of $80 billion. Scientists say that climate change is likely exacerbating and increasing the frequency of such record extreme weather events. At the same time, the contiguous U.S. had its warmest year on record in 2012.
“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it,” Obama continued. “We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
This is arguably Barack Obama’s most forceful call for greater action on climate change since he first took office in 2008. While the Obama Administration has done more than any other to move the U.S. toward a greener economy—including raising auto fuel efficiency standards, increasing regulations on coal plants, and supporting renewable energy companies—it has generally been seen as too little and too late to adequately deal with climate change. Internationally the U.S. has also been viewed as climate laggard even as warnings from scientists, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the World Bank, among others have become deafening.
Since winning re-election Obama has consistently said that climate change is a priority for his next term. However, the issue still appears in danger of falling behind others, such as the economy, debt, immigration, and a rekindled fight over gun regulations.
However, Obama wasn’t the only one in the administration who was saying climate change would not fall behind. Last night, Vice President Joe Biden told attendees to the inaugural green ball—hosted by environmental groups—to “keep the faith,” according to Politico. Biden noted that his “green dream” was that “we finally face up to climate change.”
Activists say that the first big test for the Obama Administration on the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry tar sands from Canada to an international market. According to experts the pipeline would allow the expansion of the Alberta tar sands, which carry a larger carbon footprint than conventional oil. Insiders expect the Obama Administration to approve the project, however a massive grassroots movement has grown up against the project.
Warnings regarding climate change are only growing louder and more urgent. A report last year by the World Bank reads like apocalyptic fiction, warning that allowing temperature to rise 4 degrees Celsius would mean repeated coastal flooding, dissolving coral reefs, faltering agricultural, mass extinction, and tumbling economies. In addition, a recent draft report by the U.S government noted that climate change was already hurting Americans across the country, including through extreme weather, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification.
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