Wednesday, November 19, 2014

President Obama's climate leadership faces the Keystone XL challenge.

Verne Strickland usadotcom 11/19/14 

Bad science meets U.S. energy crisis. Big deal on the docket this week.

I have no faith in the circumstances and global warming claims that have had a bearing on the importance of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Nor do I buy many of the assertions in this story about Obama's emergence as a global climate liberator. What I believe is that the President has ended his wild search for "legacy" and has fixed on global warming -- specifically how he can establish his place in history by single-handedly blocking the one project so vital to America's energy independence.

President Obama's climate leadership faces the Keystone XL challenge

President Obama has shown great leadership in tackling global warming, but his legacy may hinge on Keystone XL

President Barack Obama speaks at the TransCanada Pipe Yard in Cushing, Oklahoma in March 2012.
President Barack Obama speaks at the TransCanada Pipe Yard in Cushing, Oklahoma in March 2012. Photograph: LM Otero/AP

What a change a few years makes. For those of us concerned about climate change, seven years ago marked a low-point. It was a time where no meaningful actions had been taken to reduce carbon pollution and prepare our nation and the world for the threat of global warming. Now, we celebrate a series of major plans and actions that have the potential for helping us avoid the worst climate risks.
These past years have cemented Obama’s legacy as a climate-aware president. They have also cemented the opposition (as if more cement was needed) as either too weak-minded to understand basic physics or too cowardly, favoring political expediency over the fate of future generations. This is one of those issues on which history books hinge. This was the time the USA took a leadership role to simultaneously reduce carbon pollution, adapt to the unavoidable changes in the pipeline, and build the energy infrastructure to lead in the future’s energy economy.
What actions has the Obama administration taken? We can remember back to the increase in fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles and finalization of standards for commercial vehicles. These standards not only reduce carbon emissions but they lower costs to consumers and preserve the valuable resource petroleum.
Perhaps the most significant actions taken by the administration deal with pollution from existing and new coal power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency has developed a Clean Power Plant to reduce power-plant emissions. The plan allows flexibility in meeting emission reductions reflecting different conditions and power-portfolios across the country.
The administration has set forth an international agreement to reduce very potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons. This agreement was exciting because it gave lie to the idea that USA action would put as at an economic disadvantage. What this agreement showed is that when the USA acts, other countries follow.
That point was powerfully made last week. China and the US announced a hugely important agreement to bend the curve of emissions, and quickly. Under the agreement, these two countries will dramatically increase their share of renewable energy production, a move that is expected to further increase employment in this future sector. For the US, this means approximately 27% reduction in carbon pollution by 2025. This action now puts pressure on other major polluters, in particular Canada, Australia, India and Brazil.
Additionally, the US has worked to modernize our electrical grid to increase energy efficiency and facilitate a more sensible mix of power generation sources in the future. The USA has also announced contributions to an international fund to spur developing world integration of clean energy.
All of this culminated at the recent G20 summit in Australia. Other countries have seen how quickly action can happen, particularly when the world’s two largest emitters are in agreement.
Of course President Obama’s role isn’t over. One issue still hanging over his presidency is the Keystone XL pipeline. A pipeline that, if approved, will increase exploitation of the world’s dirtiest fuel, will actually raise gasoline costs in the USA, and will result in the wrong signals for the future energy market. I certainly hope he will stop the pipeline and ensure his legacy. It would be a real shame if, after all his excellent actions, it is the pipeline he is remembered for.
On the other hand, the actions taken so far are as monumental as they are courageous. Courageous because President Obama’s actions, while helping average citizens, raise the ire of fossil fuel organizations that are happy to spend hundreds of millions of dollars against his party. And some in his own party have taken votes against his vision, not because they doubt the science, but because they are afraid of the political consequences. Where I’m from, we call that cowardice.
In the end, when historians looks back on this presidency, they will judge him based on the challenging decisions faced during his tenure. Dealing with climate change is the grand challenge. The books will say Obama acted, in the face of great opposition, to build the future economy of the US in a way that didn’t sacrifice our children’s’ futures.
The history books will also remember those who opposed him, from either party. As the extreme weather we are already seeing grows in intensity, as we face increasing economic costs from the changing climate, people will ask, “what were they thinking?”. Certainly, those obstructionists will not be able to say they just didn’t know. They can’t say the scientists didn’t tell them; rather, they didn’t listen. The people who have stood in the way of dealing with climate change now own the consequences. Let’s not forget that.