"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.
"Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it."
With 2012 having been confirmed as the hottest year on record, and even the leader of the World Bank weighing in to warn us of our moral duty towards the planet and its inhabitants, Obama is right: now is the time to act and we must. The consequences of not acting effectively are detailed in the leaked IPCC 5th assessment report on climate change as well as the report commissioned by the World Bank "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 degree Warmer World Must Be Avoided" and include the acidification of the ocean, a three-foot rise in sea levels accompanied by a 4°C increase in temperatures by the end of this century resulting in mass population displacement from coastal, island and low-lying areas, lower agricultural yields and more extreme weather patterns, a reduction in ocean fish stocks and an increase in tropical and parasitic diseases.
In announcing his intentions to tackle the issue during his current term, he is setting up a divide between his government and the congressional Republicans who have long fought in opposition to any measures to control carbon emissions and anthropogenic warming.
In doing so, the President is acknowledging the failure of his government to act effectively on climate change during its first term, despite Obama's words on climate change at this inaugural speech, however, ringing a disturbingly familiar peal. During his speech a week after he won the 2008 presidential election, as he was addressing a gathering of governors and other officials in Los Angeles, he said
“Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all,” he said. “Delay is not an option.”
assuring those gathered that global warming would be a top priority for his first term.
Few would call the actions of the U.S. government effective in relation to the specter of climate change, although the issue was not completely ignored by America's first African-American president during his first term:
- He tried to get a climate change bill through Congress during his first term, although he was unsuccessful.
- The massive stimulus plan which passed in the early days of the President’s first term in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis contained $90 billion dedicated for green technologies, and as a result these technologies including wind, solar and other green sources of energy, are in better shape now than they’ve ever been before.
- He pushed through a major tightening of automobile fuel efficiency standards, a move that will cut foreign oil imports and cut carbon.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began tightening air pollution standards that will reduce the use of coal.
President Obama has pledged to boost renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, along with more traditional energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas.
“The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition. We must lead it,” Obama said.
2012 has seen a number of important advances in the field of sustainable and renewable technology, including a 'green' lithium-ion battery which utilises an ancient plant-based dye compound, the development of an all-carbon solar cell which can one day be produced at a much reduced financial and environmental cost than the current silicon-based panels, a new biofuel process which is 20 times more efficient than its predecessors and windows which can generate electricity.
He said developing new energy technologies will lead to jobs and new industries and
“That is how we will preserve our planet,”
Andrew Hoffman, director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, said Obama’s focus on climate showed political backbone.
"He finally had the courage to acknowledge the words 'climate change,'"
Hoffman said, adding that Obama and other administration officials have frequently used words such as green jobs or clean energy to describe energy policy, instead of the more politically charged term.
"I find it very interesting that in this second term he’s just coming right out and saying that climate change is exactly what we’re dealing with," Hoffman said.
Is the President serious about following up on his pledge? We will soon see by how he responds to the proposed $7 billion pipeline that will carry oil extracted at great environmental cost from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to Texas. As the pipeline begins in Canads, the State Department has federal jurisdiction.
The proposal was blocked by Obama last year when the President cited uncertainty over the pipeline's route through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska, however, political pressure from the Republicans is mounting with the Nebraskan governor, Republican Dave Heineman, approving a revised route.
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Obama’s
“clarion call to action” on climate change “leaves no doubt this will be a priority in his second term.”
After Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events, there has been more political momentum than ever to address climate change, Meyer said.
“With presidential leadership, that shift will continue and deepen over the next four years, and meaningful progress on climate change will become an important part of Barack Obama’s legacy as president,” he said.
Brad Plummer of the Washington Post has just three recommendations for how Obama might achieve a more significant focus on climate change and averting its dangers:
1) Use the EPA to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Thanks to a 2007 Supreme Court decision, the EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide, although it has yet to fully utilise these powers.
2) Use the EPA to crack down on methane leaks from natural-gas infrastructure.
3) Order government agencies to take the long view on climate change.
That's not a long list of possible avenues, however, it would make a considerable improvement over the current situation.
- 2012 the hottest year on record for the United States, 3.3 degrees above average
- Conservatives change their minds about the environment when shown effect on them (Video)
- Sustainable, non-toxic "green" lithium-ion battery made from ancient plant dye (Video)
- All-carbon solar cell developed by scientists could lead to cheaper solar panels
- New biofuel process creates 20 times more energy than existing methods