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On Climate, A Call for Obama to Speak Forcefully and Act Urgently

Groups say that climate crisis must begin with strong rhetoric, but true test is immediate action

Jon Queally, staff writer

(Image: Sierra Club)

Following his remarks on climate change made during his inaugural address last month, progressives and environmentalists are making it clear what they want and expect from President Obama on Tuesday night when he delivers his State of the Union address: More.

Calling the challenge posed by human-induced climate change "so large it threatens to render meaningless everything else we do," Bill McKibben, climate activist and co-founder of the group, urged Obama to take the reins forcefully in both rhetoric and action.

The president, McKibben argued, should "put the full power of the federal government behind a crash program to insulate homes, scale up energy efficiency" and move the US toward a renewable energy future immediately.

Sierra Club president Michael Brune championed the president's ability to "inspire millions to believe in the possibility of change and the power of hope" and said he should use his position to prove that solving the climate crisis is an incredible opportunity for the country rather than a burden.

"We need him to inspire a nationwide groundswell for clean energy, energy efficiency, and a 21st-century economy," Brune continued. "And we need him to bring every iota of his considerable political skill to bear on forging bipartisan solutions to curbing carbon pollution, and to call out those who persist in trying to hold us back."

In his inaugural address Obama was congratulated for using strong language to voice his commitment to the issue of global warming that had long gone dormant in Washington. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he said in his speech.

Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says Obama must now move from rhetoric to precise action, calling on him to take up a plan offered by the NRDC to use his executive authority and the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to curb the carbon pollution caused by the nation's coal and gas-fired power plants.

"The single most important thing we can do as a nation to address climate change is to reduce carbon pollution from power plants," she said in a statement ahead of Tuesdays' address.

"These plants are the largest source of global warming pollution in our country. Cleaning them up will not only strike a blow against climate change, but it will also create jobs, save our families money on electricity bills, and make our air safer to breathe."

The Center for Biological Diversity also urged Obama to move swiftly from strong words to strong action. Acknowledging the impossible congressional scenario for passing meaningful legislation, the group also recommended a push from the executive branch.

“President Obama needs to grab the steering wheel before we drive off the climate cliff,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel for CBD. “Starting tomorrow, the president can regulate carbon pollution from power plants and airplanes, ban fracking on public lands and set a national cap on greenhouse gases. Bold and immediate action is the only way to avoid the terrifyingly hot future predicted by climate scientists.”


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CBD urged five specific actions the president could take, which included: setting a national carbon pollution cap; banning fracking and end fossil fuel development on public lands; rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline; protecting the Arctic from offshore drilling; and joining the world in efforts to forge a fair, ambitious and binding climate treaty.

As reporting in the National Journal illustrates, the public's desire for meaningful action far outweighs what's evidenced in Washington:

In the wake of superstorm Sandy and new reports showing that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous U.S., public support for climate action – even without buy-in from Congress – is high.

A Duke University poll released last Thursday found that a majority of Americans – 64 percent – strongly or somewhat favor regulating greenhouse-gas pollution from power plants, factories and cars, and requiring utilities to generate more power from “clean” low-carbon sources.

Grassroots and lobbying action to push Obama to act on climate change soon is ramping up. On Monday, a group of New Jersey residents – survivors of superstorm Sandy – met with White House officials and delivered a letter with 280,000 signatures urging Obama to lead on climate change. This Sunday, thousands of environmental protesters will converge at the White House in what organizers hope will be the largest climate-change rally in U.S. history. On Friday, six scientific organizations sent Obama a letter urging him to convene a “national summit” on climate change, to identify the most effective climate policies.

The climate justice movement hopes the rally on Sunday—organized and endorsed by, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Hip Hop Caucus and other groups—will compel Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline once and for all.

The groups say that his decision on this one project will tell them everything they need to know about his commitment to "our children and future generations."

As energy expert and Hampshire College professor Michael T. Klare explains in a piece published here Monday, "the stakes in this battle could not be higher." 

"If Keystone XL fails to win the president’s approval, the industry will certainly grow at a far slower pace than forecast and possibly witness the failure of costly ventures, resulting in an industry-wide contraction.  If approved, however, production will soar and global warming will occur at an even faster rate than previously projected. In this way, a presidential decision will have an unexpectedly decisive and lasting impact on all our lives."

And Snape concluded: “If 2012 taught us anything, it’s that climate change is setting in and Americans are feeling the pain, whether it’s Superstorm Sandy, record hot temperatures, widespread drought or massive wildfires. It’s imperative that the president take the reins and finally do what’s needed to begin addressing this crisis before it’s too late.”

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