On June 25, with the hot sun beating down on him, President Barrack Obama delivered his initiative to fight climate change to an audience of young people at Georgetown University. Standing in front of four American flags, frequently mopping his perspiring brow, Obama intoned, “We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave a planet that is not polluted and damaged.”
The previous evening, the White House released to the press a twenty-one-page manifesto based on three primary building blocks that would:
- Cut carbon pollution in the United States
- Prepare the country for the impacts of climate change
- Lead an international effort to address global climate change
Talking heads are already pointing to a backlash in coal-producing states. Others, who have been at the mercy of superstorms, are relieved to see the President finally make a stand for the environment. His position on the Keystone Pipeline allowed for different interpretations, as individual entities scrambled to define his statement within a context that best served their agenda.
The Action Plan noted that asthma rates had doubled in the past three decades, and that “our children will suffer more asthma attacks as air pollution gets worse.” It pointed to extreme weather impacting farming and food prices, and called for steps to aid both state and local governments in rebuilding their infrastructures in preparation of future storms. Outlined were strategies to cut carbon pollution by retrofitting power plants and creating cleaner forms of American made energy, all while creating jobs, eliminating foreign oil dependency, and boosting the efficiency of appliances—thereby lowering utility bills.
I was live tweeting the speech, which had a distinct “call to arms” tone, as Obama underscored the need for each citizen to do his/her part. He said, “I’m going to need all of you to educate others. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle. Make yourself heard.”
Obama admitted the task at hand was a challenge, but spoke to American pride, ingenuity, and can-do abilities. Recognizing the push back he would get on jobs and the economy, he maintained, “Acting on climate change in not an either/or. It’s a both/and.” He set a goal to double the electricity from solar, wind, and geothermal sources by 2020. Yet, he repeatedly referenced “clean” energies that included “efficient natural gas, nuclear, and clean coal technology.”
Acknowledging the difficulties he has been having getting his EPA appointee, Gina McCarthy, approved, Obama emphasized that McCarthy has worked for Democrats and Republicans. He commented, “She’s been forced to jump through hoops. The Senate should confirm her without any further delay.”
Obama’s overview clearly extended to a “global solution,” with America leading the way. He noted, “No nation can fight changing climate alone.”
Numerous members of the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force released statements on the speech. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said, “For too long, the barricade of special interests in Washington has stopped Congress from acting against carbon pollution. President Obama knows that we can’t wait to address this issue. We’re already paying the costs of climate change.” Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) (who just won the race to replace John Kerry in the Senate), said, “These efforts to battle climate change are achievable, they are justified, and above all else, they are necessary to protect our planet and future generations.” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) stated, “It is not only an environmental issue—it is a public health issue, an economic issue, a national security issue…Clean air is good for the economy, as we have seen in Maryland, where our strong clean air rules have resulted in job creation and economic growth.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) observed, “There is no doubt that climate change is real and that it is here. In New York, we had two ‘storms of the century’ one year apart. We can’t pretend that climate change is not happening and hope it will go away on its own. We have to take this issue head on and I commend President Obama for taking action, and heeding our call to cap carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants.” Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) remarked, “The President is absolutely right to act now to address climate change. We have a moral obligation to protect our children and future generations. If we don’t act, history will not judge us kindly.”
Obama addressed the climate deniers with the simple sentence, “We don’t have time for the meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”
He asked the country to push for his agenda with the sentences:
- “I know the politics will be tough. But can we imagine a more worthy goal?
- Don’t bet against American industry. Don’t tell people we have to choose between the health of our children and the economy.
- If we get it right, we can build a sustainable planet for the future.”
The time is now.