So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science -- of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements -- has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They've acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it...
I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing. And that’s why, today, I'm announcing a new national climate action plan, and I'm here to enlist your generation's help in keeping the United States of America a leader -- a global leader -- in the fight against climate change.
-President Barack Obama
Finally! There was some exciting news on the environmental front this week, as the President of the United States spoke in front of an audience at Georgetown University – and multitudes more eagerly watching on television – to lay out a detailed and concrete plan for the United States to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions. I have been hoping for years to hear the President stand up and denounce the dirty carbon-polluting energy industries, as well as those climate change deniers belonging to the “flat earth society” as he so accurately pegged them. Hearing the President’s speech last Tuesday was possibly the most hopeful I’ve felt since learning of the dangers of climate change years ago. With the oil and gas industry so entrenched in our society and government, and for years hearing so many politicians crying that climate change is a hoax, I have for a long time felt pessimistic that the government would ever take action, or even speak up on the issue. After hearing the leader of the most powerful nation on earth FINALLY issuing a resounding call to action, I am now hoping that this is the turning point we’ve been looking for. The point where the President has spoken out and stepped up to lead the United States toward a future based on renewable energy, low carbon emissions, and an ethic of conservation to ensure that our planet will be as clean, healthy, and livable for as possible for future generations.
If you haven’t heard the speech yet, I would highly recommend listening to it. It is a well-written and inspiring speech and I was extremely impressed with (most of) what the President had to say. Check out the speech in the video below, or if you’re like me and get driven completely mad by all of the interruptions for applause, you can read the speech here.
After declaring that 1. Climate change is real, and 2. We are already dealing with the effects of climate change, the President outlined three basic steps in his plan to reduce carbon emissions at home:
- Use less dirty energy. For the first time, coal-fired power plants (which currently provide the majority of our country’s energy) will face strict carbon emissions standards under the Clean Air Act. Experts are expecting that these tough new emissions standards will in fact force many coal plants to be shut down, and make it uneconomical to build new plants, thus facilitating the next step:
- Transition to cleaner sources of energy. The President stated that he will direct the Interior department to develop enough renewable (wind and solar) energy on public lands to power 6 million homes by 2020. In the meantime, he stressed that we need to further develop the use of natural gas for fuel, which has lower emissions than coal power. Natural gas will be the “transition fuel” to get us off of oil, coal, and gas and help us move to wind and solar. (This is the part of the speech that I was not too impressed with. Fracking, the process of extracting natural gas, is extremely destructive to the environment and has poisoned the water supplies of numerous communities in the eastern US)
- Wasting less energy. This involves making our vehicles, homes, office buildings, etc. more energy efficient. One way to accomplish this is by setting new standards for fuel efficiency in our vehicles, and new efficiency standards for home appliances. The less energy wasted through vehicles with outrageously bad gas mileage or poorly designed and outfitted buildings, the less energy we’ll need to use overall.
The three steps to reducing carbon emissions outlined above are beautifully simple and straightforward. I didn't provide too much detail above, but in his speech the President further explained the types of new regulations that would be put in place to meet those three goals, as well as steps to be taken on a global scale.
One theme throughout the speech that particularly struck me was the expression of the utmost faith in the ingenuity, hard work, and incredible potential of the American people to meet the challenge before us. I think that is one aspect that has been sorely lacking in the discourse thus far. America has been historically known as a country that leads the way in technology and innovation and yet, we’ve been left far behind other countries in the development of renewable energy technologies. Instead of investing in the creativity, intelligence, and ingenuity of the American people, our government has instead been investing in the dirty oil and gas industry, fattening the wallets of the very same companies that are destroying the livability of our planet. At the end of the speech, the President reminded the audience of the “space race” back in the 1960’s, when President Kennedy vowed that America would make it to the moon by the end of the decade. And we did. What happened to that ambitious spirit of innovation that our country used to be known for? The fight against global climate change and the need for renewable energy technology has provided an opportunity for our country to reconnect with that spirit, and the President’s speech was a hopeful and inspiring starting point. Now let’s hope that our government and citizens can put some substance and action to those words, and put our country on a better path for the sake of our planet, ourselves, and for the generations that will follow. Until the proposed changes are approved and start to take effect I will remain guardedly optimistic... but if even a fraction of our government and citizens have the same passion to tackle this issue, I think we might stand a fighting chance.
“And those of us in positions of responsibility, we’ll need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of posterity. Because you and your children, and your children’s children, will have to live with the consequences of our decisions…
Nobody has a monopoly on what is a very hard problem, but I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm. And ultimately, we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country on where we go from here.”
-President Barack Obama