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Climate Change, the second phase

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In his State of the Union Address last week, President Obama stated that ‘…the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.” Yet many folks in our country are not convinced that the debate is over. Some of those still spewing uncertainty on an issue long settled by world climate scientists are powerful folks with serious political clout. They don’t intend to give an inch on what is for them an ideological issue and is for us actual reality.

Unlike the other issues hijacked by rich and powerful merchants of doubt—the dangers of cigarette (including second-hand) smoking to one’s health, acid rain, ozone layer thinning, and DDT (Read “Merchants of Doubt”)--Climate Change threatens to quickly overwhelm our ability to sustain our environment, which despite having been rendered an externality by economists, is our life support system.

While most agree that efforts to address Climate Change must include a political strategy to work around and through obstructionists, many environmental groups think the President has gone too far in appeasing the fossil fuel corporations. Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which translates into a “have your cake and eat it too” policy by increasing both renewable energy and fossil fuels, is pure folly:

Jekyll And Hyde: The Two Sides Of Obama’s Energy Strategy In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama once again tried to reconcile the split personality of his energy policy. On the one hand, the President clearly stated his Dr. Jekyll commitment to cutting carbon pollution and fighting climate change. But not before he pushed his Mr. Hyde expansion of domestic fossil fuel production, starting early in the speech, where he touted this success: “More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world –- the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.” (January 28, 2014) Think Progress/Climate Progress

Obama’s action on reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs), which may or may not be accurately portrayed by his boast that “the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth”, is nevertheless a leap forward from his predecessors. [You can fact check the President’s carbon claims here, but that still won’t cover carbon emissions from CAFOs, Fracking, and existing natural gas pipeline leaks.] Especially heartening is the possibility that he may be able to “…continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.” Hurrah! Even though it has long reached advanced adulthood, the fossil fuel industry is still suckling on our shriveling tax base.

The President said nothing about whether he would stop the XL Keystone Pipeline through the US. A decision to approve piping this dirty fossil fuel through our country and into our local gas tanks alone would negate most what of he’s accomplished so far. But even if Obama stops the pipeline dead in its tracks, he will ‘own’ the Climate Change issue only until 2016. Then it will be another American president’s problem.

The first phase in understanding Climate Change has come through the collected work of scientists, intrepid reporters and editors, environmentalists, writers, teachers, business leaders, bloggers and heroic political leaders who have brought us to this point, a point where Climate Change is understood to be a world crisis. No small feat that. Wherever you stand on this issue, no one who calls themselves educated can at this phase be unaware of the science behind Climate Change and the level of gravity it implies.

Climate Change, the second phase: Beyond Obama the possible election of a leader heedless of Climate Change and willing to cut back what meager efforts have been accomplished thus far is likely the next dramatic phase in what portends to be a long slog towards a planetary solution to this problem. Already in Japan, Australia, and Canada, previous measures to tax carbon and move towards producing less greenhouse gases have been thrown back. Just this week a less than robust European Union (the leaders in addressing Climate Change) effort has caved into economic and political realities:

New EU climate plans not good enough, say the experts The European Union's new proposals are simply inadequate for a climate pioneer like Europe, say the experts. Many suspect that big business is getting preferential treatment. For years Europe has been seen as a world leader on climate issues, but economic constraints are now hitting environmental policy. That was the subtext of José Manuel Barroso's presentation on Wednesday (23.01.2014) as the head of the EU Commission outlined proposals for new climate goals for the bloc. For Arthur Neslen, a European energy policy expert and journalist with the EU affairs website EurActiv, the proposals are disappointing, but understandable. "It's politically safe to propose the minimum, most painless, climate protection solution for industry now," Neslen said. "But, ultimately, we are just storing up problems for down the road." (January 23, 2014) DW

Here’s the question for this next phase of Climate Change: How in this world are we going to sustain our commitment to those who come after us if we undercut what little gains we’ve made every time there’s an election? It’s taken us several decades since we began to think seriously about this issue to get where we are—and that’s still a place where manmade GHGs are steadily accumulating and extreme weather events are increasing.

What is it that will keep us focused on bringing down GHGs year after year, decade after decade, election cycle after election cycle, until it’s sustainable—and keep it there? What is there inside us that we can muster to become the kind of species we need to be to do that? Whatever that is, we’d better figure it out soon.

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