Climate change and US Sen. Mark Kirk

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Greatest threat to future generations: Obama uses State of the Union to highlight climate change.

United States Vice-President Joe Biden, left, and House Speaker John Boehner listen as President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address in Washington.

At some point in the past few years, it dawned on leading Republicans that dismissing the science behind climate change was not doing them any favors with the public. Recent polls show that a clear majority of Americans believe the climate is in fact changing, and nearly half view that as a major threat to the country’s future. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does: 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.” Delivering on his repeated pledge to use his executive authority to sidestep an intransigent Congress, the president has harnessed Cabinet agencies and the bully pulpit – the so-called pen-and-phone strategy – to transform environmental issues from an oft-ignored fringe topic, one dismissed by powerful industry groups and conservative lawmakers, to the centerpiece of his second term. Two months after he brought climate change to the forefront of the G20 summit in Brisbane, Mr Obama used Tuesday’s address to vow to tackle any efforts by the US Congress to roll back action on climate change. But to embrace the science, for a GOP leader, would be to alienate a powerful conservative base that continues to plug its ears and shout “Climategate” when confronted with the evidence.

Obama elevated global warming to the top of the list of challenges facing us, saying, “And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Here’s his retort to the “I’m not a scientist” rhetoric, used by Republican Sen. Since unveiling his Climate Action Plan in an address in June 2013, he’s used the Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Department and Interior Department to introduce the first federal restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, extend hundreds of billions of dollars in government support and loan guarantees for clean energy projects, tighten fuel standards for motor vehicles and curtail heat-trapping methane gas emissions from the oil and gas sector.

And so, one by one, top Republicans—including presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio—have fallen back on what is becoming the new party line: “I’m not a scientist.” It is not a particularly compelling line, as many analysts have pointed out. “It’s got to be the dumbest answer I’ve ever heard,” one Republican energy lobbyist told the New York Times. “Using that logic would disqualify politicians from voting on anything.” To some extent, GOP leaders are banking on polls that show Americans don’t consider climate change a top national priority. A taskforce is being established in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to review Australia’s targets in the lead-up to the summit, but the government has foreshadowed its actions will depend on those taken by other countries. More than that, they’re banking on Democrats being too timid to push back very hard on environmental issues, for fear of being painted as liberal tree-huggers. In November, the US and China announced a landmark deal setting ambitious new carbon emissions reduction targets, including an undertaking by China to put a cap on its emissions. “And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got,” Mr Obama said in Tuesday’s address.

I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA.” Obama touted expansions in U.S. production of both traditional and renewable energy, such as solar and wind power. It was good thing, then, that he not only mentioned the issue, but also delivered a ringing defense of global warming science — an explanation for why he is determined to act and a rebuke of those who would end his climate program. And he referred only indirectly to the Keystone XL project, the controversial pipeline that would transport Canadian petroleum to refineries in the United States. Rather than focusing on “a single pipeline,” he said, Congress should support an “infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs,” he said.

The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict and hunger around the globe. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.” Achievements have also been won overseas. In November, Obama struck a landmark climate accord with Chinese President Xi Jinping, winning the first-ever commitment from China to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, while also pledging to slash U.S. carbon emissions by more than a quarter from 2005 levels. That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it….

Last week, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that last year was Earth’s warmest since record-keeping began in 1880. “I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Obama’s legacy won’t be established by some grand new program for reinvigorating the middle class, miraculously passed by a GOP Congress in the fourth quarter of his term. Much of the next two years are going to be about entrenching domestic policies Obama established during the last several — a time marked by economic sluggishness and foreign messes, yet also by a burst of policy accomplishment, particularly on health care for lower-income Americans and on global warming. As it is, the Obama administration has to rely on the cumbersome Clean Air Act to mandate greenhouse gas cuts, and there’s no plan for what happens after the next decade or so. Given the GOP Congress’s stance on the issue, the immediate result might only have amounted to a few Americans thinking about the issue with a little more depth.

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