Don’t Let Congress Off The Hook On Climate Change

By Bill Becker

Email and Twitter are flooded with joyful electrons in anticipation of President Obama’s big speech on global climate change, scheduled for today at Georgetown University.

The legions who have worked so hard to push global warming to the top of the national agenda will have reason to celebrate if the President announces, in his words, a “national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it.”

Before the dancing begins, however, a few words of perspective are in order.

This won’t be the first time the President and his Administration have used their executive powers to fight global warming. In addition to a few big actions during Obama’s first term – for example, increasing vehicle efficiency standards, the recovery bill’s unprecedented investments in clean energy, and EPA’s first steps at regulating greenhouse gases — the Administration has put scores of carbon-cutting measures in motion. It hasn’t bragged about them much, perhaps reflecting a decision that stealth has been the best leadership strategy so far.

Second, whatever President Obama announces should not be the totality of his climate agenda for the rest of his presidency. It should be the beginning of a more aggressive push for climate action and clean energy that lasts until the day he leaves office.

Third, the President should not let Congress off the hook. Obama is following through on the promise in his Inaugural Address that if Congress didn’t act on global warming, he would. The fact remains, however, that the most impactful and lasting changes in America’s energy and climate policies require action by Congress, including a price on carbon.

It has proven futile to bludgeon the current Congress into acknowledging the reality of climate change, let alone doing something about it. President Obama should turn the nation’s attention to next year’s mid-term election. If the American people want to curb climate change – and opinion polls show a large majority of the people do — it will take a regime change on Capitol Hill. As the mid-term election approaches, President Obama and his Cabinet should continue driving home that we already are going to suffer a lot more of what we’re getting today – floods, drought, strong hurricanes, wildfires – but that without action, it will get unimaginably worse.

President Obama should not let opponents get away with the tired argument that climate action costs jobs, or weakens the economy, or diverts Washington from the issues that are highest on the public’s priority list. As repeated research has shown, America’s transition to a clean energy economy will be a huge job and business creator, engaging the United States in the largest emerging global market in history.

Insofar as there are dislocations – and they are inevitable with major evolutions of technology – the Administration should champion a compassionate transition, in which the federal government takes steps to help those regions and workers who are most affected.
Finally, climate hawks also have a job to do on Tuesday. It’s to demonstrate that there is political reward for leaders who confront the realities of global warming. If the President matches his actions with his recent words, our praise should be effusive.

So, congratulations to President Obama for his blunt acknowledgments this year about the imperative of climate action, and kudos in advance for the steps he announces Tuesday.
Let’s hope his speech launches a bold new phase in his climate leadership – a phase that remains intense and innovative until January 2017. Like the rest of the world community, we have a long way to go before our response to global warming is what the threat deserves.

–- Bill Becker is Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), an initiative of Natural Capitalism Solutions to help the President of the United States take decisive action on global warming and energy security.

11 Responses to Don’t Let Congress Off The Hook On Climate Change

  1. M Tucker says:

    “If the American people want to curb climate change – and opinion polls show a large majority of the people do — it will take a regime change on Capitol Hill.”

    What you need to look at are opinion polls in those highly gerrymandered districts that are sending the large majority of wacko Republicans to the House of Representatives. You need to pay attention to the question of will they vote against a candidate who will do nothing to regulate CO2. These Republican voters may not represent a large majority of Americans but there are enough to send a majority of Republicans to the House. You need to pay closer attention to those voters.

    The only poll that counts takes place on Election Day and we have an important one coming up next year. We’ll see how those Republican voters feel then.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    And Let’s Not Let Ourselves Off The Hook — to vet would-be Democratic nominees for president, and to nominate and elect someone who will genuinely lead and do what’s needed in 2017 and beyond!

    Bill, I appreciate your article (and your efforts), even as I find it too positive in your assessment of the President, all things considered.

    But in any case, I’ve recently been making the point — or trying to make it — that it would behoove us to make sure that we nominate and elect someone in 2016 who will genuinely and courageously lead us to face and address climate change, this time to the degree that the task demands.

    To that end, we should begin to vet would-be Democratic nominees for president, starting now with those who are already running, in effect. Let’s make sure that we understand someone’s genuine position, commitment, and willingness and ability to Lead (with respect to climate change) WELL BEFORE that person — for example, Hillary Clinton — is considered to be the nominee by momentum or default.

    In recent days, I’ve been appealing here to CP and CAP, to the Sierra Club folks, to Bill McKibben and, and others to lead the effort to find out and test Hillary Clinton’s position with respect to climate change and related matters in concrete and timely terms — that is, in terms that we might attach at least some credibility/believability to because of the clarity of the questions we ask and the circumstances and timing of the answers she provides (or doesn’t provide).

    For example, we should be posing this question (and others like it) to her, starting ASAP: “How would you rule with respect to Keystone XL if you were president today — that is, if it were your decision to make? Would you approve it or deny approval? Please be clear, forthright, and decisive. Thanks.”

    In sum, let’s not let ourselves off the hook to choose a nominee and president who will do what it takes, and provide real leadership, next time around. Ultimately, we are responsible for the leaders we nominate and choose. And, we are responsible for finding out where would-be leaders stand, clearly, and in a timely fashion, so we can make those choices between potential nominees wisely and on a timely basis. Let’s not end up four years from now in a situation like we’re in today.

    Bill, thanks again for the article, and Be Well,


  3. Superman1 says:

    “commitment”. How do you understand someone’s commitment until they are in office and faced with setting priorities and making decisions? The best that can be done is laying the groundwork and having the electorate impose its will on the President. Good luck when half the electorate is voting for the deniers, and most of the other half could care less.

  4. Pennsylvania Bob says:

    Which is no reason not to try to smoke the deniers out. Local officials have a way of running for state office and state officials have a way of running for Congress. We must starve this feeder system. Candidates need to learn that they will not win and not advance if on the wrong side of climate change. Posting on this blog won’t do it. Getting political will.

  5. Superman1 says:

    “Candidates need to learn that they will not win and not advance if on the wrong side of climate change.” So, what was the lesson they learned from the candidacy of Al Gore?

  6. Joe Romm says:

    Uhh, Al Gore won.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Particularly after the Rightwing Reptilican ideologues of the SCOTUS have just given the green light to massive voter disenfranchisement campaigns in Reptilican states.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That the Rightwing Reptilican ideologues on the SCOTUS handed the Presidency to George Bush, the loser of the election. Viva democrazy!

  9. Mark E says:

    Somewhere in these pages I scolded Jeff for this persistent song and dance.

    However, I have completely changed my mind on that.

    You go Jeff.

    In my view, would-be election volunteers should make forceful global warming talking points a condition of their service…..

    … and if that means working instead for the Greens, so be it.

    Either the congressional DEMS forcefully back up President Obama’s speech, on a daily basis, or they are useless.

  10. Superman1 says:

    “Uhh, Al Gore won.” Eight years of prosperity, no major foreign wars; he should have won by a 60/40 majority. He not only lost according to the rules of our election system, he couldn’t even carry his home state. But, hey, why not make the case that without his strong position on defending the climate, he would have lost by ten points? Climate is such a high priority issue with the electorate that neither of the candidates was even willing to discuss it in the debates.

  11. Joe Romm says:

    Uhh, he didn’t run on climate. Indeed, he downplayed his environmentalism. And you seem to have forgotten a small detail named Monica.