Not so fast Mr. President – progress and setbacks for the planet
A few months after the planet exceeded 400 ppm of global warming pollution in the atmosphere for the first time in hundreds of years we're still seeing some mixed signals from President Obama and his team.
One day they're sweating climate change, calling it a grave threat to the national interest and promising real action. The next day they're considering allowing fracking for natural gas on public lands and opening the Arctic to extreme oil drilling. Of course, we're still waiting for an official follow-up on the president's Keysotne XL quote that "…our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."
Next Tuesday is the State of the Union, when President Obama gets to address Congress and lay out his plan for the environment, climate change, Keystone and more. Here's what I'm looking for:
- All of the Above = Anything goes? We've mentioned before that the biggest thing the President can do to improve his reputation as a planet-defender is to drop his so-called "All of the Above" energy plan. #AOTA (as it's called on twitter) claims that domestically produced coal, oil, gas and other fossil fuels are essential to American energy independence — and gives a green light to all kinds of extreme energy from drilling in the Arctic to fracking on public lands. The good news is that there's a growing consensus that the President can't sensibly be against global warming and for finding new domestic carbon bombs like Western coal exports or fracked gas. A big coalition of groups just signed on to a letter telling the president so, and I'll be looking to see if he goes beyond #AOTA in his speech, or continues to spout the self-contradictory idea that global warming is a serious threat to the national interest, but drilling up all the oil, coal, gas and carbon we can find is good for the national interest — so long as they're AMERICAN fossil fuels.
- Will Obama quit digging this climate hole, already? Our friends and co-hosts, Oil Change International, made one of the best info graphics of 2013 for last year's carbon talks – a simple series of charts that makes the case that if we're in a hole (in this case, a climate-crisis hole deeper than an oil well) the first step is to stop digging. Specifically, OCI's graphic makes the compelling case that we need to stop burning the fossil fuels we have – and stop investing billions of taxpayer dollars a year in the industries that only profit from finding and digging up more carbon bombs. Their argument was so compelling, the UN Secretary General repeated it a few days later in a New York Times Op-Ed. But we'll have to wait until next week to hear if the President hears and agrees with it too.
- Taking on King Coal, or more court politics? Millions of people were horrified at the disaster in West Virginia that allowed a coal washing facility to poison the water of 5 counties in what should have been a preventable and foreseeable accident. The sad truth is that the West Virginia 'Freedom Industries' spill is just an example, writ large, of the damage the coal industry is doing to the planet every day: from contaminating streams and drinking water to fouling our air and wrecking the climate. Last summer, in a highlight of his presidency for the environment, Obama proposed tough new rules on global warming pollution from power plants. Those rules would hit coal electricity the hardest, and could well spell the end of coal power in America (and good riddance, to our thinking). Unfortunately, with the 2014 elections less than a year away, and several coal-state Senate seats in play, there's talk that the President might back down or soften his rhetoric. That would be a mistake — not only is coal-fired electricity the single leading cause of global warming pollution in America, the coal companies and related polluters are proven liars and polluters with no regard for the safety of the planet or the people who live on it. Trying to win back friends in Coal Country 6 months before an election would be a waste of Obama's time, and it could cripple or delay one of his best accomplishments.
- Bragging locally, or acting globally? One of the most frustrating moments of last year was when the President's PR team jumped on news that emissions of global warming pollution were declining (slightly) to send out a talking-point that Obama was leading the world on climate action. The truth is much more complicated: The president has taken some great steps – the power plant rule we mentioned above is one, and his plan to make cars go farther on a gallon of gas has also been a winner for the climate. But at the same time Obama has done some good work, he's also been backing a huge increase in our exports of oil, and is considering new exports of coal and fracked gas. But global warming is, well, GLOBAL. So it doesn't really matter if we stop burning coal or oil in America, only to ship the same dirty fuels to China or other nations who will burn them instead. The President's done a fine job acting local – let's see if he can 'think global' in his state of the union next week by banning exports of the fossil fuels that are overheating our planet.
That's what's on my list for this year's State of the Union. Just like last year, we'll be joined live and online by experts and friends from Oil Change International, as well as other special guests. We'll give you some special context and insider updates on the news from Washington, D.C., as it happens. You're encouraged to participate by adding your own thoughts, ideas and opinions as you hear the speech. It's a fun, eye-opening way to watch the speech and talk about its impacts on the planet and I hope to see and hear from you there.
Director, Environmental Action
Director, Environmental Action