When Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, he declared that future generations would remember it as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” More than three years later, the oceans are still rising and our planet has done more howling – in the form of extreme weather – than healing. In fact, the current political climate is actually headed in the wrong direction….
It’s not all Obama’s fault: His plans to rebuild America’s energy infrastructure have been hampered by the recession, and his efforts on global warming have been stymied by Tea Party wackos and weak-kneed Democrats in Congress. But the president has spent far too much time blaming others, when he could have been taking action on his own. Here are 10 things Obama could do right now – without any say-so from Congress – to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. All it takes is the will – and some political courage.
Jeff Goodell has a good piece in Rolling Stone on 10 steps Obama can take on climate without any Congressional approval.
He interviewed me, and you can probably guess what I said. My suggestion is number 10 on the list. I won’t reprint the whole piece, just the specific suggestions along with some excerpts.
What did Rolling Stone miss?
ONE: Stop the [Keystone XL Tar Sands] Pipeline
… Environmental choices don’t get much starker than this. “Obama is alone at the top of the key,” McKibben recently wrote. “Will he take the 20-foot jumper – or pass the ball?”
TWO: Prevent Oil Spills
THREE: Crack Down on Carbon
Following a 2007 ruling by the Supreme Court, the EPA has the responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant….
The agency is working on new rules that would cut carbon pollution from power plants – the country’s single biggest source of planet-warming emissions. The question is: How tough will they be? To make Big Coal really clean up its act, the standards need to be set at roughly the same pollution levels produced by natural gas – about 1,100 pounds of pollution per megawatt hour of electricity. “That would essentially end the construction of conventional coal plants in America,” says Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.
“But if the standards are significantly looser, they could have the perverse effect of actually encouraging the construction of a new generation of plants.” The ultimate outcome – no more coal plants, or far too many – is entirely in Obama’s hands.
Obama has just announced a delay in these rules, and I expect that they will ultimately disappoint.
FOUR: Strike a Deal With China
… David Doniger, policy director of the National Resources Defense Council’s climate center, believes a deal with China to phase out so-called “super greenhouse gases,” such as hydrofluorocarbons, is within reach. “It’s not going to solve the problem of climate change,” he says. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”
FIVE: Make Coal Clean Up Its [ash] Mess
SIX: Hang Tough on Fuel Standards
SEVEN: Make Conservation Patriotic
… As president, Obama should act immediately to make energy efficiency a patriotic cause….
EIGHT: Give Fish a Chance [by Creating Marine Reserves]
NINE: Pardon Tim DeChristopher
TEN: Use the Bully Pulpit
Ever notice how often the phrase “climate change” pops up in Obama’s speeches? Not much – only 20 times in the past year, and fewer than half as many as the year before. The president has failed to make a big issue-defining speech on global warming, failed to defend the climate scientists being attacked by Big Oil, and failed to blast congressional climate deniers like Sen. James Inhofe, who shamelessly and stupidly dismiss global warming as a “hoax.”
In fact, Obama’s refusal to speak out on the risks and moral obligations of climate change may well be his biggest failure as president. “He has been silent on the defining issue of our time, letting Big Oil and the deniers define the debate,” says Joe Romm, a leading climate advocate who served as assistant energy secretary under Bill Clinton. “In some sense, he has been a bigger failure than Bush – because Obama knows better. He knows exactly what is at stake.”
Insiders insist the president is running a “stealth campaign” on climate change, quietly going after coal and oil by tightening air-pollution and fuel-efficiency standards. But Obama alone has the power to elevate global warming to the forefront of the international agenda, where it belongs. He must use his remarkable rhetorical skill to explain to the world that the fossil-fuel era is coming to an end – and inspire us all to take action, no matter what the cost. “Obama needs to make a decision,” Romm says. “Does he want to be remembered as the president who had the best chance of taking action on climate – but who failed to stop the catastrophe?“
What would you add to the list?