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President Obama Announces Plan to Address Climate Change


On Tuesday, addressing students at Georgetown University , President Obama laid out his vision to both fight climate change and prepare our country for its impacts in a National Climate Action plan, hoping to enlist the support of younger Americans for it. 



Moving past lingering doubts about the reality of climate change, the President asserted that "the overwhelming judgement of science has put all that to rest" and ticked through a series of alarming facts:

"Our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all human kind.  The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years.  Last year temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record, faster than most models predicted it would.  These are facts."  


Warning that we are already experiencing the effects of a warming climate, Obama named extreme weather events that happened over the last year that cost American lives, as well as billions in damage to homes, businesses, in emergency services, and higher food prices:

"All weather events are affected by a warming planet ... Here at home, 2012 was the warmest year in our history.  Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust bowl, and then drenched by the wettest Spring on record.  Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland.  Just last week a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s."


Obama suggested that advances in domestic energy production, including a tremendous growth in the domestic production of natural gas (which emits less carbon than coal) have grown our economy and have helped drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in over 20 years.  (Incidentally, this did not impress Environmental Action and other climate activists watching the President's speech closely, with many pointing out the environmental damage caused by methane and by wastewater from fracking- or hydraulic fracturing- to harvest natural gas).


The President also restated his desire to see Congress come up with bipartisan legislation to address climate change, but will go forward with his own plan with or without Congress' consent.  This plan will cut carbon pollution, protect the country from the impacts of climate change, and help the US "lead the world in a coordinated assault" on a changing climate.


The first part of the President's climate change agenda is to cut carbon pollution by "changing the way we use energy"–by using cleaner energy and by wasting less energy.   As part of this plan, the EPA will begin to set and enforce strict limits for carbon pollution from power plants, which produce 40% of the carbon pollution in the US.  


Pre-preemptng claims by special interests that setting carbon limits will cost jobs, the President pointed out that similar claims had been made by past opponents to the Clean Air Act, legislation to curb acid rain, limits on leaded gas, and "suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and in American ingenuity."   In fact, said Obama, "a low carbon clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. "


Addressing the controversial issue of the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the President said it would require a finding by the State Department that doing so would be in our national interest, and only if the project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of climate change with heavy carbon emissions.


On natural gas, Obama suggested that "in the medium term it can help reduce our carbon emissions," and that he will keep working with the industry to make it "safer, cleaner, and reduce methane emissions."


On renewable energy, the president said that the US has doubled the electricity generated from wind and solar power, much of this "in Republican districts".   The President expressed support for a plan to double again electricity from these renewable sources, hoping to offset the cost of this plan in part by ending billions of dollars tax breaks for oil companies, which would require Congressional action.  The President is also setting a new goal for the federal government to produce 20% of energy for federal buildings from renewable sources within 7 years. 


The President put forward that his administration has already set higher fuel efficiency standards for cars, heavy duty trucks, buses, and vans, as well as higher standards for appliances and buildings, especially federal buildings, which will altogether will reduce carbon pollution by 3 billion tons.


Acknowledging that it will take time for carbon emissions to stabilize, the President announced that the second part of his plan will prepare the US for the impacts of climate change  "we can not avoid", including:

  • Partnering with the state of Florida to restore the Everglades, a "clean water delivery system"
  • Establishing a water development bank in Texas
  • Fortifying sand dunes and other natural storm buffers
  • Funding communities as they build stronger seawalls, hardened power grids, and stronger infrastructure.


The third part of the President's plan seeks to establish the US, the world's second-largest carbon emitter, as a leader in global carbon emission reduction.  Recognizing that developing nations have some of the fastest rising levels of carbon pollution, the President announced that the administration will partner with the private sector to help countries transition to cleaner sources of energy (namely, natural gas) and end public financing for coal plants overseas, unless no other alternatives are available.  


The President also intends to cooperate more closely with China and India to reduce carbon emissions.  And he briefly mentioned his administration's intention to forge a climate agreement between all countries, building on the climate talks in Copenhagen, but extending the agreement to include developing countries, with greater flexibility in its implementation.


While acknowledging that few Republicans today are calling for measures to curb climate change, President Obama suggested climate change hasn't always been a partisan issue, and named several Republicans who have supported climate-related issues in the past, including Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and John McCain.  And the President once again called for the Senate to confirm Gina McCarthy as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 





What You Can Do



The President asked supporters of his climate change plan 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.  Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices.  Invest.  Divest. 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." 


Environmental groups to the President's plan have been positive– even enthusiastic, about the President's plan, and are providing ways for people to voice their support.   The Nonprofit is organized a climate movement rally outside of Georgetown University as the President was speaking, and blogger Mary Boeve said the President's shout-out to the growing fossil fuel divestment movement made her "jump for joy" while the other policies laid out today were "steps in the right direction."


The League of Conservation Voters indicated it "will be talking to reporters, running ads all over the internet, creating a big buzz on social media, and staging rallies to show the huge amount of support there is for the President’s plan," including circulating a message of support that anyone can sign Francis Beinecke of the National Resources Defense Council called the President's plan a "historic turning point," and the organization is circulating a petition to urge Senators to support cutting carbon pollution from power plants.


Check out our "Take Action" gallery below for more suggestions for actions you can take to support the National Climate Action plan.


This video was released by the White House in anticipation of the President's speech:


The President's speech: