State of the Climate: 5 Steps President Obama Should Announce to Avert Global Disaster

For Immediate Release

State of the Climate: 5 Steps President Obama Should Announce to Avert Global Disaster

WASHINGTON - Following news that 2013 was the fourth-hottest year on record, the Center for Biological Diversity is urging President Barack Obama to announce five bold steps to curb greenhouse gas pollution in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. The president vowed in last year’s address to tackle the climate crisis even if Congress would not, but his administration’s actions so far have done little to curb planet-warming pollution.

“Climate change is a defining issue of our age, and President Obama’s window for action is starting to close,” said Bill Snape, the Center’s senior counsel. “What we do now, as a country and as a society, will determine whether future generations will have planet that’s livable. History will remember whether President Obama boldly met this crisis head-on or left us on a path where polluters rake in profits while the rest of the world pays a very steep and terrible price.”

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that the planet suffered its fourth-hottest year on record last year. The 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1998, and a recent federal report predicted that the average global temperature could rise as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Here are five actions President Obama should take in 2014 to curb pollution and fight climate change:

1. Create a national cap on carbon pollution: The president should order the EPA to set a national pollution cap for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The agency has already set caps for six other pollutants, including carbon monoxide and lead. Between 1980 and 2010, emissions of these six pollutants fell by 63 percent while the gross domestic product grew by 128 percent. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions, which were unregulated, went up by 21 percent.

2. Strengthen Power Plant Pollution Rules: The Obama administration must greatly strengthen regulations aimed at cutting the billions of metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution emitted every year by fossil fuel-powered power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency’s recently published proposed rule for new plants would not achieve any actual pollution reductions from gas-fired plants, even though existing technology would allow the industry to cut emissions. The president should also order the EPA to immediately regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution.

3. Push to end subsidies for oil companies: Even as petroleum companies rake in up to $175,000 a minute in profits, the U.S. government hands out more than $4 billion per year in tax credits and subsidies to the oil industry. President Obama must push for an end to this federal largesse, which rewards an industry that contributes massively to the carbon pollution warming the planet.

4. Reject the Keystone XL pipeline and other dangerous energy projects: The climate crisis would be profoundly deepened by the construction of this pipeline, which would transport up to 35 million gallons of oil a day from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. Extracting and refining tar sands oil produces two times more greenhouse gases per barrel than conventional oil, which is why Dr. James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, has called the Keystone pipeline "game over" for the climate. The Keystone pipeline cannot go forward without State Department approval, and the president should stop the project permanently. Beyond Keystone, the Obama administration must curb other tar sands energy projects, reject oil drilling in the Arctic and begin a large-scale transition to more renewable forms of energy.

5. Ban fracking and end fossil fuel development on public lands: The Obama administration should stop leasing millions of acres of publicly owned lands for fracking and other highly polluting forms of fossil fuel development. Fracking and drilling for oil and gas produce about 50 percent more methane than suggested by federal estimates, according to a recent study. Methane is more than 80 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. But the Obama administration’s recently released rules for fracking on public lands don’t even require well operators to use devices to capture methane. Given calls by the industry to export oil and gas, it is clear that we don’t have any need to sully our federal public lands and offshore areas with any fossil fuel extraction.

Scientists say, to avoid catastrophic changes, atmospheric carbon levels must be reduced to 350 parts per million. Left unchecked, the result will be more chaotic weather, coastal areas inundated by rising seas, longer and more severe droughts, food and water shortages, more acidic oceans, wildlife extinctions, coral reef failures, increased public health problems due to heat waves and related crises, and massive financial losses from flooding, fires and other climate-related events.

“2013’s high temperatures and dangerous weather will be just a taste of the chaos ahead unless President Obama steps out of his comfort zone and takes strong steps to cut pollution,” Snape said. “Decisive action isn’t always easy, but half measures will only put our planet on the road to a catastrophic future.”

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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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