Must-read Obama speech warns of “irreversible catastrophe” on climate, asserts “no single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy”

Obama delivered a stirring speech today on his decision to push for California waiver that mandates cut in auto CO2 emissions.

The President has no doubts about the “irreversible catastrophe” we face on our current emissions path — “violent conflict, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines” — which is no doubt why he chose John Holdren to be his science adviser see “Obama’s strongest message on climate yet“).

For those who misunderstood his inaugural call to action on energy and climate, “Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet,” his speech today should make clear that he is deadly serious about addressing the most deadly serious threat we face (full text here):

These are extraordinary times, and it calls for swift and extraordinary action.

At a time of such great challenge for America, no single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy.

America’s dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete.

These urgent dangers to our national and economic security are compounded by the long-term threat of climate change, which, if left unchecked, could result in violent conflict, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines, and irreversible catastrophe.

These are the facts, and they are well-known to the American people. After all, there is nothing new about these warnings. Presidents have been sounding the alarm about energy dependence for decades.

President Nixon promised to make our energy — our nation energy independent by the end of the 1970s. When he spoke, we imported about a third of our oil, and we now import more than half.

Year after year, decade after decade, we’ve chosen delay over decisive action. Rigid ideology has overruled sound science. Special interests have overshadowed common sense. Rhetoric has not led to the hard work needed to achieve results and our leaders raise their voices each time there’s a spike on gas prices, only to grow quiet when the price falls at the pump.

Now America has arrived at a crossroads. Embedded in American soil, in the wind and the sun, we have the resources to change. Our scientists, businesses and workers have the capacity to move us forward.

It falls on us to choose whether to risk the peril that comes with our current course or to seize the promise of energy independence. And for the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change.

It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs.

And we hold no illusion about the task that lies ahead. I cannot promise a quick fix. No single technology or set of regulations will get the job done.

But we will commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is freed from our energy dependence and empowered by a new energy economy that puts millions of our citizens to work.

Today I’m announcing the first steps on our journey toward energy independence, as we develop new energy, set new fuel efficiency standards and address greenhouse gas emissions.

Each step begins to move us in a new direction, while giving us the tools that we need to change.

First we must take bold action to create a new American energy economy that creates millions of jobs for our people. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan before Congress places a downpayment on this economy.

It will put 460,000 Americans to work with clean energy investments and double the capacity to generate alternative energy over the next three years. It will lay down 3,000 miles of transmission lines to deliver this energy to every corner of our country. It will save taxpayers $2 billion a year by making 75 percent of federal buildings more efficient. And it’ll save working families hundreds of dollars on their energy bills by weatherizing 2 million homes.

This is the boost that our economy needs and the new beginning that our future demands.

By passing the bill, Congress can act where Washington has failed to act over and over again for 30 years. We need more than the same old empty promises. We need to show that this time it will be different. This is the time that Americans must come together on behalf of our common prosperity and security.

Second, we must ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in the United States of America.

Increasing fuel efficiency in our cars and trucks is one of the most important steps that we can take to break our cycle of dependence on foreign oil. It will also help spark the innovation needed to ensure that our auto industry keeps pace with competitors around the world.

We will start by implementing new standards for model year 2011, so that we use less oil and families have access to cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks.

This rule will be a downpayment on a broader and sustained effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Congress has passed legislation to increase standards to at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020. That 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency for our cars and trucks could save over 2 million barrels of oil every day: nearly the amount of oil that we import from the Persian Gulf.

Going forward, my administration will work on a bipartisan basis in Washington and with industry partners across the country to forge a comprehensive approach that makes our economy stronger and our nation more secure.

Third, the federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

California has shown bold and bipartisan leadership through its effort to forge 21st-century standards, and over a dozen states have followed its lead.

But instead of serving as a partner, Washington stood in their way. This refusal to lead risks the creation of a confusing and patchwork set of standards that hurts the environment and the auto industry.

The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them. We cannot afford to pass the buck or push the burden onto the states.

And that’s why I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately review the denial of the California waiver request and determine the best way forward. This will help us create incentives to develop new energy that will make us less dependent on the oil that endangers our security, our economy and our planet.

As we move forward, we will fully take into account the unique challenges facing the American auto industry and the taxpayer dollars that now support it. And let me be clear: Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling industry; it is to help America’s automakers prepare for the future.

This commitment must extend beyond the short-term assistance for businesses and workers. We must help them thrive by building the cars of tomorrow and galvanizing a dynamic and viable industry for decades to come.

Finally, we will make it clear to the world that America is ready to lead. To protect our climate and our collective security, we must call together a truly global coalition. I’ve made it clear that we will act, but so too must the world. That’s how we will deny leverage to dictators and dollars to terrorists, and that’s how we will ensure that nations like China and India are doing their part, just as we are now willing to do ours.

It is time for America to lead because this moment of peril must be turned into one of progress.

If we take action, we can create new industries and revive old ones, we can open new factories and power new farms, we can lower costs and revive our economy. We can do that and we must do that.

There’s much work to be done; there is much further for us to go. But I want to be clear from the beginning of this administration that we have made our choice: America will not be held hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes and a warming planet.

We will not be put off from action because action is hard.

Now is the time to make the tough choices. Now is the time to meet the challenge at this crossroad of history by choosing a future that is safer for our country, prosperous for our planet, and sustainable.

Those are my priorities, and they’re reflected in the executive orders that I’m about to sign.

Hear, hear!

Note: Wonk Room has a good post on “Auto Industry Screams Global Warming Regulations Will Bring ‘Confusion And Chaos’, and the various lawsuits the industry has brought to block state action.”

20 Responses to Must-read Obama speech warns of “irreversible catastrophe” on climate, asserts “no single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy”

  1. Antonio Telo says:

    Tears come to into my eyes when I read the speech.
    Lisbon – Portugal

  2. lgcarey says:

    Whoo hoo! I looks like Obama actually understands the risks posed to us (right now) by both climate disruption and peak oil! (I kept telling people that when I was canvassing for Obama, but I sometimes wondered if it was wishful thinking, since politicians usually turn out to be, well, politicians.)

  3. simp says:

    unbelievable. it almost seems to good to be true.
    Good news is pouring in!!

  4. Bravo, President Obama! I hope that a carbon-tax can now be at least part of the discussion…

  5. Baerbel W. says:

    I just wish that our politicians in Germany would follow President Obama’s lead! At the moment they are still way too much at our (large) automanufacturers’ beck and call, many of which still haven’t heard the wake-up-call to build more efficient cars. When I asked one of them recently via email if they had any plans for plug-in-hybrids the answer I received was “we don’t currently have any definite information about hybrids”….go figure.

  6. Brendan says:

    I realize there is little context for the number he gives, but 3000 miles of transmission lines seems like a drop in the bucket, doesn’t it?

  7. Ronald says:

    elections have consequences. Is it possible that future generations have the chance of being saved?

    Then the question is ‘what sort of support will Obama need to get this stuff done.’ I recall 1993, when the Clinton administration was going to try to get a modest, very modest, carbon tax put in and got very badly criticized for it and eventually dropped it. We can’t let the same thing to happen this time. Obama has 68 percent approval ratings, maybe he can get thru this, but he needs support.

  8. Brian D says:

    Is the speech available online at all in audio or video format? I’m cheering, but I figure his oratory might help get others in on the cheering as well.

  9. DavidONE says:

    Absolutely [self-moderated expletive] wonderful.

  10. Video from CNBC is linked here.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    I want an “excess carbon dioxide removal fee”.


  12. Aaron Thorne says:

    I’d love to see a big push for Heavy, Passenger, and High Speed rail expansion and construction in America.

    I will help home grown industries, limit trucks to the last 3-500 miles of transport instead of 2-3000, and help communities all across the country.

    It’s an easy and fast step towards a better environment and economy.

  13. Greg Y says:

    … and the various lawsuits the industry has brought to block state action.”

    What ever happened to good old consumer boycotts?

    Manufacturer blocks genuine societal progress with spurious or harmful self interested litigious behaviour, consumer ceases to support manufacturer, manufacturer disappears. Next! ;-)

  14. Craig says:

    Obama is showing real leadership. He understands that hard choices must be made and that an enormous amount of work is required in the future. But it’s also clear from this speech that he understands how energy renewal can be the wedge issue that splits so many thorny problems. I truly believe he is the right person to lead America at this juncture of history.

  15. Bill says:

    I am lovin’ what this guy is saying right here. America did right electing this man. I just hope he is as good at supporting and encouraging American to do the small things that can make so much difference: Biking, gardening, buying local, etc. I would hope he can start using the word “sustainability” as a value and a goal we make a personal effort and a national effort towards.

  16. JeandeBegles says:

    Obama is talking about tough decisions to come.
    Indeed car regulation is not a tough decision. Regulation for fuel efficiency is needed, but is not enough to cut our CO2 emissions.
    Individuals must be involved, and for such involvement a clear price signal must be set; this is the purpose of a carbon tax, with redistribution for not impacting the poor or middle income people who are not the ones causing important CO2 emissions (because the CO2 emissions are mainly linked to the wealth of every individual).
    The carbon tax is the single tough decision (as quoted by Al gore): hope that Obama will be bold enough to enact it.

  17. Roger says:

    I agree that a carbon tax would be best. It’s simple, so people can understand it. Due to the price elasticity of demand, we can figure out, over time, how high the tax needs to be to get the CO2 reduction we need.

    May Obama have the courage to speak out in favor of a tax on carbon, which ought to be called ~ a climate preservation fee, or CPF. The money collected can be redistributed to people, as well as invested in a new grid.

  18. Richard says:

    I agree with the carbon tax, it should be split four ways,
    Fund the
    1. Energy Efficiency improvements,
    2. Conversion to Renewable energy
    3. Basic health care for all American citizens
    4. Raise the minimum limit for taxable income and earned income tax credit, to help the less well off.

    The tax is much simpler, more stable and easier for businesses to plan for. It is also less susceptible to manipulation in the market by speculators.

  19. club penguin says:

    I looks like Obama actually understands the risks posed to us (right now) by both climate disruption and peak oil! I kept telling people that when I was canvassing for Obama, but I sometimes wondered if it was wishful thinking, since politicians usually turn out to be, well, politicians.

  20. Glad Obama’s taking action! Though sad to think how I won’t likely see the results in my lifetime.