Climate Crisis Should Be Front and Center in Obama's State of the Union Speech

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Bill Snape, (202) 536-9351

Climate Crisis Should Be Front and Center in Obama's State of the Union Speech

WASHINGTON - Unmistakable signs of the global climate crisis were seen around the world in 2011: epic droughts, record high temperatures, massive wildfires, flooding, food shortages, a gathering humanitarian crisis and increasing numbers of animals and plants pushed toward extinction. President Barack Obama has an important opportunity Tuesday to address the climate crisis in his State of the Union speech to Congress.

“Climate change is the challenge of our lifetime and should be a major theme of Tuesday’s State of the Union speech,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “More than any other person on the planet, the president has the power to set a course for immediate, tangible progress on the most devastating problem facing life on Earth. Delaying action will virtually ensure a climate catastrophe.”

2011 was the 11th warmest year on record since 1880. Climate change is having profound effects: Polar bears are starving and drowning; coral reefs are suffering massive die-offs; people are struggling against wave after wave of extreme weather, including record heat, floods and blizzards. Food and water supplies are becoming unstable, and hundreds of thousands of people die climate-related deaths each year. Scientists estimate climate change will commit one-third of the world’s plant and animal species to extinction by 2050 and threaten up to two-thirds with extinction by 2100.

“The world needs the United States to help solve this global crisis, and President Obama should do just that,” Suckling said. “Without his leadership now, all living beings on Earth risk dangers that belong in science-fiction novels, not reality.”

Obama’s scientific agencies — notably the EPA, Department of the Interior and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — already possess the legal authority to reduce greenhouse pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane and black carbon. The Clean Air Act is the best existing law to begin making the significant cuts in carbon emissions needed to avoid catastrophic, runaway climate change. Abroad, Obama’s constitutional foreign-relations powers already enable him to enter into meaningful, binding agreements with other countries on cutting greenhouse gases.

“Ignoring climate change in his State of the Union speech would be a deeply troubling sign that Obama is disengaging from a crisis with profound consequences for not only all Americans, but all people,” Suckling said. “He should build on his smart decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and finally launch a visionary plan to address climate change and move us toward safer, cleaner, saner sources of energy.”

The current president finds himself in a position similar to that of President Abraham Lincoln, who faced great tumult during the months leading up to his own re-election. In Lincoln’s December 1863 State of the Union Address — his last before the presidential election — he said this about slavery and the emancipation proclamation issued in January 1863:

When Congress assembled a year ago … the tone of public feeling and opinion, at home and abroad was not satisfactory. With other signs, the popular elections then just past indicated uneasiness among ourselves, while, amid much that was cold and menacing … By the proclamation a plan is presented which may be accepted by them as a rallying point, and which they are assured in advance will not be rejected here. This may bring them to act sooner than they otherwise would.

President Obama must now courageously, steadily chart a path to a healthy and vibrant America, free of the fossil-fuel pollution that is driving global warming across the planet as it lines the pockets of oil and gas corporations. Rejecting the dirty Keystone pipeline was clearly a step in the right direction; but the president can and must do far more to lead the world out of a climate change disaster that threatens all people and will have devastating impacts on vulnerable populations.

Congress has previously spoken, with the highly successful Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. It is time to put President Obama’s 2011 Earth Day Proclamation into real motion: “The United States can be a leader in reducing the dangerous pollution that causes global warming and can propel these advances by investing in clean energy technologies, markets, and practices that will empower us to win the future. While our changing climate requires international leadership, global action on clean energy and climate change must be joined with local action.”

“You said it, Mr. President — now let’s actually do it,” Suckling said.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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