In today's installment of Terrifying & Obvious News Most Americans Don't Care About, President Obama spoke to the Today Show about the latest National Climate Assessment, which features an excellent website detailing exactly how "climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present." Critics say Obama has not invested the necessary political muscle into pushing climate change legislation through Congress, but with his time in office running out, he appears to be renewing his focus.
"This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now," Obama told Al Roker (whose own thoughts on global warming during the Clinton administration were predictably glib). "Whether it means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires — all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak."
Asked about his seemingly renewed sense of urgency, the president diplomatically replied, "We've been sounding this urgency for the last five years. You've seen some resistance from Congress. Part of the reason for putting forward this assessment — which involved hundreds of people, experts, businesses, not-for-profits and local communities sharing their experience — is we want to emphasize to the public, this is not some distant problem of the future."
Obama and other members of his administration are fanning out across the country this week to try to shore up public support for action on climate change. The White House is holding a summit on green building tactics, and CNN reports that later in the week, Obama will announce new solar power initiatives. Asked yesterday about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Obama said it "isn't going to be the determining factor" of his plan for coping with climate change.
The determining factor will, as always, be conservatives in Congress. Right on cue, Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell said, "Even if we were to enact the kind of national energy regulations the President seems to want so badly, it would be unlikely to meaningfully impact global emissions anyway unless other major industrial nations do the same thing." McConnell added that the debate is "cynical" because Obama allegedly knows "much of the pain of imposing such regulations would be borne by our own middle class."
Fortunately, by doing nothing, the middle class will surely spared the intensifying effects of catastrophic climate change.
The White House is now trying to bypass Congress and reduce emissions through regulations. In January, the Environmental Protection Agency published rules governing emissions from new power plants; effectively, they prohibit the construction of coal-burning plants. In February, the Administration announced plans to tighten fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles like garbage trucks and tractor-trailers, and, this spring, it is expected to propose new regulations limiting emissions from existing power plants. These are all laudable efforts, but the last set of regulations, which should be the most consequential, are coming so late in Obama’s second term that they will be left to the next President to implement—or not, as the case may be. And, unfortunately, the Administration is undermining its own best efforts by pressing for more domestic fossil-fuel production.
The fact that so much time has been wasted standing around means that the problem of climate change is now much more difficult to deal with than it was when it was first identified. But this only makes the imperative to act that much greater, because, as one set of grim predictions is being borne out, another, even worse set remains to be written.
As Kolbert aptly put it toward the end of her riveting book on climate change, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, "The changes that can be seen lag behind the changes that have been set in motion." Kolbert's tremendous new book, The Sixth Extinction, will scare you even further.