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Climate Action: Part four – Obama’s Legacy

It’s by no means too early for a president to consider his legacy. Barack Obama has given hints he’s already thinking about his. Final January, he informed Diane Sawyer:

I’d quite be a very good one-time period president than a mediocre two-time period president…I don’t need to look again on my time right here and say to myself all I was interested by was nurturing my very own reputation.

In his interview this month with Rolling Stone, Obama promises his legacy will embrace the beginnings of a clean vitality economic system:

One among my prime priorities next yr is to have an vitality policy that begins to address all aspects of our overreliance on fossil fuels. We could end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some form of complete omnibus legislation. However we’re going to stay on this as a result of it is sweet for our financial system, it’s good for our national security, and, in the end, it is good for our setting…Am I satisfied with what we’ve gotten performed Completely not.

When folks around the world look back on the Obama presidency 20 years from now, they won’t think of health care reform, financial reform, immigration reform or economic stimulus. They will remember Barack Obama as the primary African-American president, however while that is an incredible milestone, it is not a legacy. Two decades from now, individuals might be experiencing much more intense climate disruption; they’re going to think about what Obama did, or didn’t do, to stop it.

Left unaddressed, climate change will undo lots of the accomplishments on which Obama spent so much political capital throughout his first two years in office. The well being care system will labor beneath the escalating prices of climate-related accidents and illnesses. Climate refugees will surge over our southern border in numbers that make as we speak’s immigration problem look minor. The world can be even more tense than in the present day, as similar issues happen at much bigger scale in different nations with less potential to cope. The recruitment of terrorists will likely be simpler as a result of of worldwide instability. The United States shall be regarded worldwide as an eco-criminal, a theme Osama bin Laden already is sounding.

The costs of making an attempt to adapt to climate change and repair its damages will keep authorities budgets in unprecedented deficits. Once the flood waters attain their ankles, even libertarians will count on government to assist.

That world will become President Obama’s lasting legacy if he would not put his full weight behind bold and decisive local weather motion. Honest or not, the President is thought to be essentially the most highly effective leader on this planet; in the judgment of fashionable history, the buck will cease with him.

Historical past might also conclude that Obama was the final U.S. president with an opportunity to prevent runaway local weather disruptions. Time is working out. The United States continues to be the important thing to an efficient international response to climate change; with a stalemate in Congress that includes poor prospects for Senate ratification of a local weather treaty, Obama is the key to the American government’s response. His legacy in all probability can be determined subsequent yr, earlier than he goes into reelection mode in 2012.

The President and his group already have put down a basis of “chunks” over the past 22 months – more chunks, actually, than the Administration is given credit for. Obama’s 2011 finances request included vital increases in vitality efficiency and renewable vitality programs on the Departments of Vitality, Agriculture and Interior. The Administration is elevating vehicle efficiency standards to historic ranges, among them the primary national emissions and effectivity standards for heavy vehicles. It is lowering greenhouse gasoline emissions from America’s largest vitality consumer, the federal authorities. It is transferring forward on greater renewable vitality production on public lands. Having determined that climate change is a menace to public health and welfare, the Environmental Protection Company (EPA) is about to regulate greenhouse fuel emissions from massive polluters.

EPA is toughening its regulation of environmental impacts from fossil energy industries – for instance, the impacts of mountain top removing coal mining in Appalachia. A presidential process pressure has been working for greater than a year to frame a national strategy for local weather adaptation. Another activity drive is engaged on national policy to protect our oceans, coasts and Nice Lakes. The Fish and Wildlife Service has included the consequences of local weather change on wildlife into its grants for defending endangered species. The Department of Energy (DOE) has cleared its backlog of new appliance effectivity requirements, an achievement expected to save shoppers tons of of billions of dollars over the next 30 years.

The Administration has created a strategic plan for high-speed rail in America. It championed more than $eighty billion in inexperienced investments within the stimulus package deal, making it the largest power bill in U.S. history. Obama has directed 9 agencies to expedite construction of transmission lines on public lands to assist distribute renewable energy. The nature Conservancy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) try to protect coral reefs from local weather-related damage in the Caribbean, Florida, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

Below Obama’s watch, as I pointed out in Components 2-three of this put up, company environmental practices have gotten extra clear. The Federal Commerce Fee has issued new guidelines on truth in inexperienced labeling. The Securities and Change Commission has issued guidance on how publicly traded companies should report local weather risks. EPA and the Department of Transportation are revising gasoline-economy labels for vehicles and mild trucks to indicate each new car’s carbon emissions profile. EPA now requires 10,000 of America’s largest carbon emitters to publicly report their emissions. Federal companies have been directed to repeatedly report their progress on lowering emissions, too. The Administration is engaged on a requirement that local weather impacts must be thought of in environmental assessments of federally funded tasks.

Inside Secretary Ken Salazar issued an order to enhance federal water policies to deal with climate change, inhabitants growth and different pressures on freshwater provides. NOAA created a brand new office to enhance climate change data for local governments, academia and trade. DOE has launched an effort to reduce vitality consumption in U.S. buildings 25-30 percent by 2030. EPA and the Division of Agriculture are collaborating on a program to cut back greenhouse gas emissions from livestock operations. The U.S. Geological Survey has created a new technique to evaluate the carbon sequestration potentials of geologic formations.

Recognizing how renewable energy applied sciences can improve its effectiveness as well as general national safety, the U.S. army is changing into the nation’s clear energy groundbreaker. This month for the first time, the military outfitted a field encampment – an organization of Marines in Afghanistan – with fold-up solar panels, vitality efficient lights, photo voltaic chargers for phones and computer systems, and solar tent shields that provide each shade and power for tents. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wants 50 percent of the facility utilized by the Navy and Marine Corps to return from renewable vitality on bases, in vehicles and on ships within 10 years. Final year, the Navy introduced its first hybrid vessel, the U.S.S. Makin Island. On its first voyage, from Mississippi to San Diego, the ship used 900,000 gallons much less gas than a standard vessel. The Air Force plans to have its total fleet certified to operate on bio-fuels by subsequent year.

Obama proposed phasing out $36 billion in subsidies and tax loopholes for fossil fuels. He proposed a $50 billion enhance to infrastructure enhancements, funded by stone island ice camo jacket ending some oil and gasoline tax breaks.

On the worldwide front, the President received the G-20’s approval of his proposal to cut international fossil vitality subsidies by $300 billion yearly. The Administration has negotiated agreements to collaborate on carbon sequestration and clear energy applied sciences with Canada, Mexico, China and India. It has joined an international partnership to scale back world emissions of methane, a highly potent greenhouse fuel. And in Copenhagen last year, President Obama personally brokered a multi-national accord in which most nations have endorsed the objective of retaining atmospheric temperatures from warming more than 2 levels Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Copenhagen Accord is way short of an ample international response to climate change, nevertheless it salvaged one thing out of the debacle in Denmark.

President Obama has been justifiably criticized for failing to exert his full force to move a local weather bill by Congress, a objective that may be deferred for a number of years on account of the November election. The goal Obama set for decreasing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — just three % by 2020 in comparison with the 25-forty p.c cuts the Intergovernmental Panel on Local weather Change says are needed from industrial economies — is embarrassingly low for the nation that has put more carbon within the atmosphere than every other. Assuming they aren’t repealed, weakened or starved of resources by Congress, the “chunks” the Administration has applied or announced up to now will obtain 70 percent of Obama’s three p.c goal, according to the World Assets Institute. But that is still 70 p.c of an inadequate aspiration.

Yet even with those essential exceptions, Obama and his group have made extra progress on this challenge in 22 months than all his predecessors managed since Lyndon Johnson was warned about climate change by his science advisors forty five years ago. And he is executed it at the identical time he’s wrestled with his rapid predecessor’s debilitating legacy of crimson ink, the good Recession, Wall Avenue scandals, the housing disaster, the collapse of a few of the nation’s largest firms, and two wars.

Many people in the climate-motion motion are nonetheless working via Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 phases of grieving over the failure to get cap and commerce from Congress. It appears that almost all of us are someplace between anger and depression. But it’s time to graduate to acceptance. Unless progressives score a tremendous come-from-behind victory on Nov. 2, or until something improbable occurs in this fall’s lame-duck session, we won’t hope for a lot on Capitol Hill. The target in Congress will probably be to defend the progress the Administration already has made and the powers it already has.

Luckily, there are two other branches of federal government. Courts have been making extra local weather policy than Congress in recent times. The Executive Branch has many more instruments for making chunks. If Obama cares about legacy, the third yr of his presidency might be his likelihood to remove all questions about his Nobel Peace Prize and his place in historical past. He’ll have to mobilize the prestige of his workplace, the full power of the Government Department, and the motivational expertise he showed the American people during his marketing campaign. Although skeptics and deniers are getting most consideration within the media, a new report from the Yale Venture on Climate Communication shows that sixty three percent of People imagine climate change is actual. They’re right now’s silent majority.

One among the issues with chunks is that they indicate sluggish, transactional change as an alternative of the financial and social transformation many of us hoped would be triggered by a cap-and-trade regime. As Sam Walton reportedly stated, “Incrementalism is innovation’s worst enemy. We don’t want steady enchancment, we would like radical change.”

However chunks may end up in tipping points and catalytic occasions. And while lawsuits, regulations and govt orders aren’t by themselves the game-changers we hoped for, many chunks are higher than no chunks. The accountability of the green motion now, I believe, is to make progress where progress could be made – and to be “shovel prepared” when the opportunity for a lot greater progress comes.

Obama surely acknowledges the significance of this moment in historical past. He has spoken about it typically. He has the opportunity and the personal gifts to turn out to be a really nice two-time period president – the world leader who confronted essentially the most troublesome challenge the worldwide community has ever faced.

Regardless of our polarized and paralyzed political environment, I nonetheless believe President Obama and his staff could be the brokers of a profound shift in authorities coverage and American values. It could be an incredible legacy — and far better than the choice.

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