President Barack Obama’s speech on climate change may augur a new era of liability for carbon polluters with respect to climate and weather damages. In his address at Georgetown University on Tuesday, the president laid out the logic that ties greenhouse emissions to economic costs being borne today:
Global warming influences all weather events: “in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet”
There are economic costs from extreme weather: “Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction in insurance premiums, state and local taxes, and the costs of rebuilding and disaster relief”
Global warming is caused by human activity: “Ninety-seven percent of scientists . . . have acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.”
Carbon pollution will continue to increase weather damages: “The hard truth is carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades now. And even if we Americans do our part, the planet will slowly keep warming for some time to come. The seas will slowly keep rising and storms will get more severe, based on the science.”
President Obama highlighted Superstorm Sandy as a specific example of a multi-billion-dollar disaster exacerbated by carbon pollution, noting “[t]he fact that sea level in New York, in New York Harbor, are now a foot higher than a century ago—that didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy, but it certainly contributed to the destruction that left large parts of our mightiest city dark and underwater.”
The $51 billion Sandy federal relief bill was an emergency spending bill that was limited by the sequestration cuts. A majority of Republicans called for pay-fors for the bill. No attempt was made to derive funding from greenhouse emitters or financiers—such as those who make up the wealthiest residents of the New York City region.
Currently, disaster relief and flood and drought insurance programs are treated as discretionary or emergency spending that goes against state and federal budgets. No civil or criminal liability is assumed by emitters of greenhouse gases. The president’s remarks may indicate a new effort to have carbon-producing and financing industries bear the responsibility for the societal costs of extreme weather, sea level rise, and climatic disruptions.
Now, we know that no single weather event is caused solely by climate change. Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet. The fact that sea level in New York, in New York Harbor, are now a foot higher than a century ago—that didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy, but it certainly contributed to the destruction that left large parts of our mightiest city dark and underwater.
The potential impacts go beyond rising sea levels. Here at home, 2012 was the warmest year in our history. Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and then drenched by the wettest spring on record. Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland. Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s.
And we know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief. In fact, those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don’t have time to deny it—they’re busy dealing with it. Firefighters are braving longer wildfire seasons, and states and federal governments have to figure out how to budget for that. I had to sit on a meeting with the Department of Interior and Agriculture and some of the rest of my team just to figure out how we’re going to pay for more and more expensive fire seasons.
Farmers see crops wilted one year, washed away the next; and the higher food prices get passed on to you, the American consumer. Mountain communities worry about what smaller snowpacks will mean for tourism—and then, families at the bottom of the mountains wonder what it will mean for their drinking water. Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction in insurance premiums, state and local taxes, and the costs of rebuilding and disaster relief.
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. . . .
So using less dirty energy, transitioning to cleaner sources of energy, wasting less energy through our economy is where we need to go. And this plan will get us there faster. But I want to be honest—this will not get us there overnight. The hard truth is carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades now. And even if we Americans do our part, the planet will slowly keep warming for some time to come. The seas will slowly keep rising and storms will get more severe, based on the science. It’s like tapping the brakes of a car before you come to a complete stop and then can shift into reverse. It’s going to take time for carbon emissions to stabilize.
On Thursday, March 7, President Barack Obama met with energy industry executives, cleantech entrepreneurs, and influential Obama supporters to discuss an approach to energy policy that emphasizes fracking, renewables, and energy efficiency.
The White House described the meeting as such: “During the meeting, the president reiterated his commitment to a cleaner and more secure energy future. The discussion covered a variety of topics including the important role of natural gas in our domestic energy portfolio, new opportunities for renewables like wind, solar and advanced biofuels, the importance of clean energy research and development, as well as the promise and potential of increased energy efficiency in our homes and businesses.”
According to The Hill, the only climate scientist in the room was Dr. John Holdren, the White House science adviser. There were no representatives of environmental organizations.Participants:
- James T. Hackett, executive chairman, Anadarko, gas and oil
- Jeffrey W. Shaw, chief executive, Southwest Gas
- Lew Hay, executive chairman, NextEra (low-coal utility); chairman, Edison Electric Institute
- Debra Reed, chief executive, Sempra, natural-gas
- Frederick W. Smith, chairman, president, and chief executive, FedEx
- Terry Royer, president and chief executive, Winergy, wind-power company
- Cynthia Warner, president, Sapphire Energy, biofuel entrepreneur
- Alex Laskey, president and founder, Opower, smart-grid entrepreneur
- Walter Isaacson, president and chief executive, Aspen Institute, author of Steve Jobs biography, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors
- Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, nuclear physicist
- Dr. Eric Lander, professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, PCAST, biologist
- Bill Ritter Jr., director, Center for New Energy Economy, Colorado State University, former Democratic Colorado governor
- Dr. Cass R. Sunstein, professor, Harvard Law School, former Obama OMB OIRA administrator
- Susan F. Tierney, managing principal, Analysis Group, director, World Resources Institute, Policy Subgroup Chair of the National Petroleum Council’s study of the North American natural gas resources, Bipartisan Policy Center, Obama transition team
- Heather Zichal, White House energy and climate adviser
- Dr. John Holdren, White House science adviser
- Cecilia Muñoz, Domestic Policy Council Director
Obama is scheduled to visit the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago next Friday for a public speech on energy policy.
President Barack Obama embarked on his second term with his inspiring inaugural promise to “respond to the threat of climate change” lest we “betray our children and grandchildren.” He can begin to turn ambition into action at this year’s State of the Union on February 12, the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.
Of all the bold political moves made by Obama, few are as audacious as his deliberate invitations to be compared to our nation’s greatest president Obama announced his candidacy for president at the site of Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech and was sworn into office on Lincoln’s Bible. Like Lincoln, President Obama is a great orator. But Lincoln is revered not for his great speeches, but for his actions at the moment of America’s greatest crisis. For President Obama to be remembered as a great leader, he must act decisively on the existential threat of our era, climate change.
It thus makes sense to look to Lincoln for guidance. In the decades before the Civil War, Americans struggled to reconcile deep qualms about slavery with the wealth it brought to the young nation. The country’s political class was dominated by the entrenched power of the wealthy southern “slaveocracy” committed to the preservation and the expansion of their “peculiar institution.” Failing to challenge the power of King Cotton, weak presidents instead accommodated the slave power. James Monroe ratified the Missouri Compromise, Millard Fillmore agreed to the Compromise of 1850, Pierce and Buchanan dithered as Kansas bled – until Lincoln drew a hard line against slavery’s expansion into the West.
Speaking on the steps of the Illinois State Capitol, two years before he was elected President, Lincoln described the urgency of the threat facing the Union. “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free, I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” Lincoln’s greatness derives from his willingness to force the nation to admit that freedom and slavery could not coincide — that continued inaction, indecision, and compromise meant the end of the nation. Through the nation’s deadliest war, against widespread demands for another round of compromises, another expansion of slavery, Lincoln held firm.
Today, we have again spent too long ignoring a looming crisis, one that threatens not just our nation, but the world. In 1863, the fate of the world’s only democracy was imperiled by the sin of slavery. Seven score and three years later, the fate of all the world’s people is imperiled by the poisoning of the climate. Over the course of two hundred years, hundreds of billions of tons of carbon have been dumped into our atmosphere, incurring a debt that is now being called for remittance.
Continuing on our fossil-fueled path, scientist Kevin Anderson warns, will take us into a world that is “incompatible with organized global community.” Already, New Orleans and New York, Nashville and Minneapolis, Vermont and Kansas have faced unprecedented floods, fires, and storms, with lives lost and families torn asunder. The maelstrom is now upon us.
Once again, our politics are dominated by a wealthy elite, this time a ‘carbonocracy’ of fossil-fuel corporations. Their money is freely spent to corrupt our democracy; Obama’s inaugural ceremonies this year were brought to us in part by a $260,000 contribution by Exxon Mobil. The profits of these companies depend on their capacity to convince Americans, against all evidence, that climate change is not an urgent problem, that the expansion of offshore drilling, tar-sands pipelines, and natural-gas fracking are acceptable compromises, that the challenge of global warming can be put off for another generation.
If we do not change course now, and instead continue to increase the burning of coal and oil as multinational energy companies desire, we will fundamentally transform the very land we live on, the water we drink, the air we breathe in ways that are beyond our ken.
To defend Americans from the devastating impacts of climate change, Obama must recognize that the fossil-fueled economy is a moral wrong in our society that requires action today. “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” Obama said on Monday. But if he aims to be our generation’s Abraham Lincoln, Obama must do what is hard. If Obama doesn’t present a plan on climate, one that severs our ties to a morally unfathomable economic system of planetary destruction, with the fixed idea that it must and will come to an end, the union will be lost.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, there is renewed energy on Capitol Hill and in the White House to take action against the fossil fuel industry’s destruction of our climate. President Barack Obama startled pundits with his emphasis on fighting climate change in his inaugural address. Furthermore, “Senate Democrats will push a bill to help areas vulnerable to climate change prepare for extreme weather events,” the HuffPost Hill newsletter reports.
As it turns out, Obama’s inauguration ceremony was funded in part by $260,000 from Exxon Mobil, and the HuffPost Hill newsletter is sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, Big Oil’s lobbying arm.
Exactly three months earlier, the HuffPost Hill mocked Change.org for changing its policies to accept any corporate sponsors with the headline “CHANGE.ORG WILL SEE YOU NOW, AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE.” HuffPost Hill editorialized that Change.org had “decided to reject its founding progressive principles and embrace corporate advertising, Republican party solicitations, astroturf campaigns, pro-life or anti-union ads and other sponsorships that its liberal base of users may object to.”
There’s significant evidence that Barack Obama as an individual cares very deeply about climate change, particularly in his role as a parent.
However, he built a governing team around him with deep, unresolved conflicts on climate action. Inspiring scientists like John Holdren, Jane Lubchenco, and Stephen Chu are at key leadership positions in his administration. However, his top economic advisers – Timothy Geithner, Peter Orszag, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers – reflect the false economic orthodoxy that climate action comes at the price of economic growth. (Even though Summers believes that climate change is on par with nuclear war as an existential threat to the human race.) His top political advisers – Bill Daley, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Jim Messina, Anita Dunn, Stephanie Cutter – believe climate action to be a political loser.
As president, he economic advisers hold sway first, followed by the political advisers, then last the scientists.
As a candidate, the political advisers come first, followed by the economic advisers. The scientists are thought to be irrelevant.
This has led to problems.
Challenged By MTV On His Climate Silence, Obama Says It's A 'Critical Issue' And Is 'Surprised It Didn't Come Up'
Today, after the history-making silence on global warming during the national debates, MTV’s Sway Williams challenged President Barack Obama to address his climate silence. The president acknowledged to the young voters watching the Friday afternoon interview that the climate crisis is a “critical issue,” but said he was “surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates.”
The answer is number one, we’re not moving as fast as we need to. And this is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation. So this is a critical issue. And there is a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I am surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates.
The President of the United States shouldn’t pretend to befuddled why he promoted deadly coal, gas, and oil production during the debates instead of addressing the urgent threat of carbon pollution.
President Obama was right to finally tout in this interview the steps his administration has taken to cut carbon pollution and the commitments he made to the world in Copenhagen, but he was even more right to acknowledge that “we’re not moving as fast as we need to.”
The president unfortunately continued to portray global warming as a threat to “future generations” that is “going to have a severe effect.” But global warming is not a someday problem, it is now. The freakish Hurricane Sandy, barreling down on millions of Americans and powered by superheated seas, is likely to be the latest in the growing barrage of long-predicted billion-dollar climate disasters fueled by carbon pollution.
The network of Jersey Shore should be applauded for doing the job that PBS’s Jim Lehrer, CNN’s Candy Crowley, and CBS’s Bob Schieffer failed to do in breaking the candidates’ climate silence. Gov. Mitt Romney has been asked by MTV to also appear, but has given no response. This writing off of young voters is only fitting, as Romney’s aggressively pro-carbon agenda would write off any hope for their future.
There is now a little more than a week left for the presidential candidates to present a serious plan to eliminate carbon pollution before Election Day.
Q: Until this year global climate change has been discussed in every presidential debate since 1988. It was a big part of your previous campaign but pushed back on the back burner. Given the urgency of the threat, do you feel that we’re moving quickly enough on this issue, number one, and Samantha from New Jersey wants to know what will you do to make it a priority?
OBAMA: The answer is number one, we’re not moving as fast as we need to. And this is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation. So this is a critical issue. And there is a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I am surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates. Gov. Romney says he believes in climate change. That’s different than a lot of members of his own party that deny it completely. But he’s not sure that man-made causes are the reason. I believe scientists who say we are putting too much carbon emissions into the atmosphere and it’s heating the planet and it’s going to have a severe effect.
There are a lot of things we have done a lot of things in the last four years. We have already doubled the fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. That’s the first increase in 30 years in the fuel mileage standards. As a consequence we will be taking huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, even as we’re also saving folks money at the pump and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
We have doubled clean energy production – wind, solar, biofuels – and that means that increasingly people are getting electricity, companies are generating power, without the use of carbon-producing fuels. And that’s helping as well.
The next step is to deal with buildings and really ramp up our efficiency in buildings. If we had the same energy efficiency as Japan, we would cut our energy use by about 20 percent, and that means we’d be taking a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere.
And if we do those things, we can meet the targets that I negotiated with other countries in Copenhagen, to bring our carbon emissions down by about 17 percent, even as we’re creating good jobs in these industries.
In order for us to solve the whole problem though, we’re gonna have to have some technological breakthroughs. Because countries like China and India, they’re building coal-power plants and they feel that they have to prioritize getting people out of poverty ahead of climate change. So what we have to do is help them and help ourselves by continuing to put money into research and technology about how do we really get the new sources of power that are going to make a difference.
For the first time in two years, President Barack Obama has spoken out about how climate change is now causing extreme weather disasters in the United States. In a campaign speech in Iowa following the “climate silence” town hall debate, Obama called out the “droughts we’ve seen” as caused by “the carbon pollution that’s also heating the planet.” In the same speech, Obama claimed that “we all agree we got to increase oil production” and “we got to increase natural gas production.”
At Iowa Campaign Stop, Obama Links Carbon Pollution To ‘The Droughts We’ve Seen.’ “My plan will keep these investments, and we’ll keep reducing the carbon pollution that’s also heating the planet – because climate change isn’t a hoax. The droughts we’ve seen, the floods, the wildfires – those aren’t a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And we can do something about it. That’s part of what’s at stake in this election.” [Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event in Mt. Vernon, IA, 10/17/12]
At Iowa Campaign Stop, Obama Says ‘We All Agree We Got To Increase Oil Production, We All Agree We Got To Increase Natural Gas Production,’ But Also ‘We’ve Got To Develop New Sources Of Energy.’ “Look, we all agree we got to increase oil production. We all agree we got to increase natural gas production. But the question is whether we build on the progress for the new energy sources of the future.” [Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event in Mt. Vernon, IA, 10/17/12]
Since 2010, the president has spoken only of climate change’s impacts on extreme weather disasters as a “threat to our children’s future,” if he mentioned climate change at all. When Obama addressed the nation about the Colorado wildfires, Irene’s floods, the national drought, and others of the billion-dollar climate disasters of 2011 and 2012, he did not attribute their destructiveness to influence of greenhouse pollution.
At his campaign stop that afternoon in Ohio, Obama promoted “clean coal” and mocked Romney for claiming to be “champion of coal” because the Republican candidate said in 2003 that coal plants kill people. In the Ohio speech, as in the town hall debate, Obama didn’t discuss carbon pollution at all.