Tell President Obama To Back Away From The Climate Cliff

by Dan Lashof, via NRDC’s Switchboard

The long run up to the fiscal cliff is finally, and thankfully, over.

Now, it’s time for the president to address an even more serious cliff: the climate change cliff—the one we’re fast approaching as the amount of global-warming pollution in our atmosphere continues to rise.

That’s why today, NRDC and a broad coalition of environmental, civic, labor and healthcare groups urged the president to take bold and decisive action to help protect the nation against climate change’s ravages.

“Dear Mr. President,” we wrote in a letter, representing the millions of Americans who are members of the 69 signatory groups. “Thank you for repeatedly raising the threat of climate change as you have outlined your priorities for your second term…. It is the great challenge of our time and our response will leave an historic legacy.”

In particular, this broad coalition has coalesced around three things we’re asking the president to do, three things that can make the biggest difference on climate right now, three things President Obama can do on his own, without needing the divided Congress to act:

The first of those is to “elevate the issue of climate disruption and climate solutions in the public discourse.”


Because leadership matters. Because the president has to rally public support for the bold steps he must take to address climate change and to make sure those steps aren’t undone by Congress.

If you think talking about global warming isn’t important, think again. Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle and colleagues have documented how political leaders’s statements about climate have extremely significant effects. In one of Brulle’s recent studies, in fact, statements by political leaders were “found to be the largest single factor in explaining the ups and downs of public worries about the threat of climate change,” Brulle explains.

“If the President starts talking about climate change more, it will get more media coverage, and maybe more statements of support about climate change from other important players will emerge,” Brulle said in an email.

The second thing we’re asking the president to do is to use the EPA’s existing authority under the Clean Air Act to limit global-warming pollution from existing power plants. Right now, America’s fossil-fuel-fired power plants produce a full 40 percent of our global warming pollution, making them by far the largest source. A new proposal NRDC put forward last month shows that EPA can set standards that will achieve big reductions at low cost. In fact, our analysis shows, the EPA can cut power plant carbon pollution by 26 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels.

The plan’s benefits—worth between $25 and $60 billion in 2020—far outweigh its costs—about $4 billion. And not only that, implementing the plan will drive investments in energy efficiency and clean energy, creating thousands of jobs across the country.

The last thing we’re asking the president in this letter is to reject use of the dirtiest fuels. With the world’s climate increasingly fragile, and our need to reduce production of global-warming pollution increasingly clear, the last thing we need to burn is high-carbon fuel, like tar sands. In fact, trying to cut carbon pollution while increasing our use of tar sands is a bit like trying to diet while binging on hot fudge sundaes. It’s not going to work (believe me, I’ve tried it). That’s why we’re urging the President to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would transport a huge amount of tar sands across the highly sensitive aquifers that supply much of the water for the agricultural plains, and will endanger our health and safety.

As the president begins his second term, we know we’re not the only ones thinking about his legacy. What will it be?

Reflecting on that, Mr. Obama said, in a recent Time magazine interview:

…On an issue like climate change, for example, I think for this country and the world to ask some very tough questions about what are we leaving behind, that weighs on you. And not to mention the fact I think that [my daughters’] generation is much more environmentally aware than previous generations.

There is that sense of we’ve got to get this right, and at least give them a fighting chance…. [Y]ou don’t want them inheriting the consequences of bad choices that you make. We have to think about that as a society as a whole.

In our letter today, Mr. President, we ask that you keep your daughters and their generation foremost in mind.

We know where the carbon pollution is coming from. We know how to cut it. Let’s get after it!

Dan Lashof is the director of NRDC’s climate and clean air program. This piece was originally published at NRDC’s Switchboard blog and was reprinted with permission.

16 Responses to Tell President Obama To Back Away From The Climate Cliff

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Sorry, but this bar is rather low. It sounds like you took Carney’s finger wagging about “no carbon tax” to heart.

    The EPA pollution standards that you suggest won’t accomplish what we really need to do, which is to close existing coal fired power plants and make natural gas ones expensive.
    A combination of a carbon tax and additional levies for externalities such as air pollution would make coal plants uneconomical. We should also charge the gas companies for poisoning watersheds, something that has been well documented.

    Big Green environmental organizations won’t take those steps. They have too many industry people on their Boards and among their contributors, who want to “manage” the opposition.

    In light of recent events such as Sandy and Arctic ice melting, A 34% cut in power plant emissions by 2025 falls far short.

    Obama will try to negotiate your group’s proposals further, maybe suggesting 20% less carbon pollution from power plants by 2025. Obama will also talk more about climate change, but we know now that he can’t be trusted. If were open to a pivot from things like Tar Sands and Arctic drilling, we would have seen evidence of it by now.

    This is why had to fill in the breach. An unimaginably dangerous situation calls for radical steps. We must await people who are willing to take them.

  2. Obama will never take the steps necessary because he will never do anything to affect economic growth. Just think how much $$ gets injected into the building trades after each of these disasters. It is all part of growing the economy to those inside the beltway.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    Re energy transistion

    Climate change and poverty have not gone away
    An economic and political system that does not deliver for most citizens is one that is not sustainable in the long run

    Moreover, making the transition requires investments in human capital that individuals often cannot afford.

    If we have a CT which revenue goes to those who least create carbon footprints, we could pave a way to fast pace when giving people the power to act on the local individual level. These ppl could then buy clean technology and help boost the new economy, and that way the big companies participate, the companies which provide clean technologies (solar, wind, recycling, battery, ev’s etc).

  4. Good, Mike.

    I’m glad the NRDC is keeping the pressure on, but I really don’t think it will do much good. For some unfathomable reasons — I hope it’s not just selling out to the corporacrats — Ploufe, Axelrod and Obama don’t see climate change for the huge, non-negotiable threat that it is. (See Bill McKibben’s excellent article, republished today by CP – below.)

    So I’ll follow your post with the comment I made, or, Bucky Fuller made, on the McKibben article because it’s equally apropos here:

    “Humanity is now going through its final examination as to whether it can qualify for its universe function and thereby qualify for continuance on board the planet. … Whether humanity will pass its final exams for such a future is dependent on you and me, not on somebody we elect or who elects themselves to represent us.”
    — Buckminster Fuller, CoEvolution Quarterly, Spring, 1975

  5. AnnMarie Torre says:

    lets fight hard to fix climate change.

  6. catman306 says:

    So in a hundred years some hobbit is going to wonder what we were thinking when we kept on burning fossil fuels?

    Mass extinction forecast with 6C temperature rise

    Hobbit-sized humans, able to exist on less nourishing food, will have the best chance of survival in a warmer world, scientists say.

  7. Merrelyn Emery says:

    i hope there’s still some trolls and leprechauns (little people) out there because I doubt our evolution could be fast enough, although as I think about it, our physical growth over the last few generations has been pretty remarkable, ME

  8. prokaryotes says:

    Making People Care About Climate Change

    Remember climate change? For the first time since 1984, the issue didn’t even come up in a presidential debate. But bringing climate change back into our national conversation is as much a communications challenge as it is a scientific one. Scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, joins Bill to describe his efforts to do what even Hurricane Sandy couldn’t — galvanize communities over what’s arguably the greatest single threat facing humanity.

  9. Roger Shamel says:

    But Mike, They DO get one thing sort of right, e.g., “…statements by political leaders were “found to be the largest single factor in explaining the ups and downs of public worries about the threat of climate change,” Brulle explains.

    “If the President starts talking about climate change more, it will get more media coverage, and maybe more statements of support about climate change from other important players will emerge,” Brulle said in an email.

    And, better than just talking about CC, what if Obama actually showed real leadership by explaining to Americans that not only is CC real, it’s also extremely serious, and in need of our urgent collective attention if we wish to preserve a livable climate!

    Imploring Americans to collectively rise to the cause of preserving a livable climate for our kids is actually what is called for–and would go a hell of a lot further than unspecified random talking about CC!

    What’s needed is a damn “State of the Climate” address for God’s sake! Why is everyone pussyfooting around the issue, handling it with kid gloves? Here we are, with the end of life as we know it at stake, saying the POTUS should “talk about” it!

    CP readers, please urge Obama to go beyond just talking about CC; Call the White House Comment Line 9-5, M-F at 202-456-1111; Like, Sign; Go to WDC climate rally on February 17th.

    We can no longer afford to mince words. It’s “do or die” time for humanity, and the fact that it’ll be slow does not excuse anyone from holding back at this point.

  10. fj says:

    As property values tank I think it is part of the conversation.

  11. fj says:

    NYC is a trillion dollar real estate market and it will not take many more near term climate events to send it into a tailspin.

    These are the people with the most material wealth to lose who should be driving extreme action to mitigate and adapt to climate change at wartime speed yet remain poster children of the prevailing image of the clueless rich.

  12. Superman1 says:

    I suspect the odds of our being around in a hundred years at anywhere near the present rate of fossil fuel usage are close to zero. Draconian changes, accompanied by much sacrifice and pain, are required if we are to avoid the impending catastrophe. Any implications that a seamless painless transition to a fossil free economy will be possible are disingenuous. I see no way this can be accomplished on a voluntary basis. The last thirty years of zero progress should convince us of that.

    I think it may be possibly technically to avoid some, not all, of the damage from climate change, but only if three severe conditions are met: very hard drawdown on fossil fuel use; rapid GHG extraction from the atmosphere; some geoengineering to quench the positive feedback mechanisms, especially in the Arctic. One fossil fuel-free energy source that could be used in part for the latter is the nuclear fleet, mainly USA and Russian. We have aircraft carriers, subs, and cruisers that are nuclear powered, and the Russians have a number of nuclear powered ships as well. As far as I know, none of these nuclear powered ships are doing anything useful to help ameliorate climate change. Their power production is limited, and I don’t know how it would compare to the power requirements of some proposed geoengineering schemes, such as marine cloud-brightening from spraying sea water into the atmosphere to increase Albedo. But, if we start doing some out-of-the-box thinking, and everybody pitches in and really tightens the fossil fuel belt, there may be some possibilities.

    That said, I do have a concern about Albedo Restoration, or more accurately inflated Albedo Restoration, that have been proposed by some as a temporary temperature-lowing procedure. The foundational problem is not the sunlight coming in; it is the blockage of thermal radiation from Earth back into space. In medical terms, the Earth is suffering from thermal constipation. The Albedo Restoration ‘treatment’ seems analogous to going to a Doctor with a complaint of constipation, and the Doctor prescribes a starvation diet! The sun is necessary for many life processes, and reducing it by e.g. solar shields or artificially inflated Albedo or other types of blockage should be a last resort, not a first resort. Removing the blockage by CO2 removal or perhaps some radiation frequency conversion approach that bypasses CO2 absorption, would seem more logical as a first resort. But, some type of Albedo Restoration will probably be used first, because of its relative simplicity as geoengineering schemes go.

  13. fj says:

    Reinventing manmade environments that do not rely on the fossil fuel industry is the only way.

  14. fj says:

    This city’s vast network of subterrean jam packed cattle cars still require more than one-half ton of energy-intensive material to move a single person around.

    And even worse on some of the most expensive real estate on this planet vast arrays of heavy machine multi-ton vehicles sit idle or at best hardly used just to move people around in most inconvenient ways.

  15. fj says:

    And where virtually the entire building stock are at the mercy of expensive machinery and fossil fuels despite the long existence of well-known ways using insulation and the environment that make them unnecessary.