By Ted Glick
Progressive America Rising via Grist.org
“Those of us in positions of responsibility will need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of our children.” Barack Obama, June 29 national radio address
I’ll admit it—I was moved several times as I watched and listened to President Barack Obama’s major speech on the climate crisis on June 25th. As much as I have been angered so many times over the last 4 ½ years since he came into office by the weakness of many of his actions and his pretty-close-to public silence on climate, it is no small thing that the U.S. President, an essential actor if we’re to have any chance of avoiding worldwide, catastrophic climate change, has clearly turned a corner and come out rhetorically strong.
To have Obama speaking for 50 minutes on the subject—to hear him put forward a solid analysis of why this is such a critical issue—to hear him go aggressively after the climate deniers (“we don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society”)—and to hear him say, unexpectedly, about the Keystone XL pipeline that it should be built “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” which of course it does, big time—to hear all of this was a very big deal.
What about his specific plans? A number of them are important, without a doubt: directing EPA to come up with a regulatory regime to reduce CO2 from all, both new and existing, power plants; active government support for the spread of renewable energy; a strengthening of energy efficiency; support to communities in their efforts to adapt to a changing climate; advocating, again, a phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies; an end, or close to it, of government funding of overseas coal plants; and more.
But here’s the thing, the very big “but” about Obama’s speech: it was the speech of an incrementalist on climate. His plans are not even close to what is needed. A goal of a 17% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2005 by 2020 is weak, very problematic. And the most problematic of all: in his speech Obama projected as the #1 thing we should be doing to reduce emissions the “strengthen[ing] of our position as the top natural gas producer” in the world. He did this even though in his plan of action he identifies the reduction of methane leakage into the atmosphere as one of his objectives. About 90% of natural gas is methane, and there’s a huge problem of leakage all throughout the lifecycle of gas, especially fracked gas. Talk about a contradiction!