President-elect Barack Obama is stepping up to the climate crisis, even before taking the oath of office. In a video address to the governors' climate meeting held in California he noted that "few challenges facing the world are more urgent than climate change."
It is a relief that we are now discussing how, rather than whether, to address this global crisis. But will Obama's actions be up to the crisis at hand?
The American people are ready. As we reported in the Fall 2008 issue of YES!, 79 percent of Americans favor mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions, and 75 percent favor clean electricity, even if they have to pay higher rates.
That being said, this is a question that may stretch beyond what is easily politically acceptable. The carbon we emit today can stay in the atmosphere for decades, and, as NASA scientist Jim Hansen has warned, if we don't reduce emissions adequately, we are leaving a planet to our children that will be past the point of return.
President-Elect Obama's target of reaching 80 percent reduction in 1990 levels by 2050 is great, but reaching 1990 levels by 2020 is not enough -- the 1sky initiative says we will need a 25 percent reduction by that date. And, while "clean coal" sounds promising, it is actually a dangerous distraction. There is no reliable means to capture and sequester coal CO2 emissions at this time. And there is an enormous amount of inexpensive coal available to be burned (inexpensive unless you live near one of the mountains that's being blown to pieces for the coal or near one of the streams filled with the debris.) So it will be hard, but necessary, to just say no.
We must stop the construction of any new coal plants unless truly CO2-free technology is proven. In the meantime, we should phase out existing coal plants and end any discussion of exploiting tar sands.
There are some great renewable energy production and conservation options available now. President-elect Obama is on the right course with the cap & trade proposal that will fund green jobs. Let's just make sure we charge polluters the full cost of carbon pollution, and that we're funding real solutions with the income. To do that will test Obama's willingness to stand up to special interests and make the changes needed to avert climate disaster.
This may be politically difficult and costly -- but less so than the increasing wild fires, mega-storms, droughts, flooding, and dislocation that will result if we (who are the largest greenhouse gas polluters) don't deal with this issue. And many of the necessary initiatives will help stimulate the economy, building the long-term foundations of sustainable future.
The American people are prepared to make changes, even if it involves some sacrifice. Thousands met with members of Congress this week to urge them to take tough action to confront the climate crisis. This will be among the first tests of leadership for the new president-elect.
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