President-elect Obama Delivers Strong Statement on Climate Change

As we prepare to move past President Bush’s disastrous environmental policies, I’ve been interested to see what President-elect Obama plans to do for the environment. The economy has garnered the most attention, and in the short term, is more important. But continued neglect of the environment will, in the long-term, lead to crises both in the economy and in other sectors.

President-elect Obama addressed the attendees of the Governor’s Global Climate Summit in a four-minute video (high-resolution version is available at change.gov; full text of speech at the end of this post).

He thanked the governors for their work (Governor Schwarzenegger of California along with governors of other U. S. states are hosting the Governor’s Global Climate Summit; leaders of key nations around the world are attending) and also thanked businesses for their efforts, going on to remark “But too often, Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership. That will change when I take office. My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.”

President-elect Obama went on to deliver more specific goals: “That will start with a federal cap-and-trade system. We’ll establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80 percent by 2050. Further, we’ll invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future”, indicating plans to invest in renewable resources as well as nuclear power and clean coal technology. He intends for this to help the economy as well, creating jobs and helping industry.

Mr. Obama also indicated a change in the way the U. S. has participated on the international stage, stating that the U. S. would work with and depend on other nations: “And once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”

Perhaps the most significant statement is the strong importance Mr. Obama still places on environmental problems, despite the problems with the economy. As John Broder writes in the New York Times, “State officials and environmental advocates were cheered that Mr. Obama choose to address climate change as only the second major policy area [after the economy] he has discussed as president-elect.” Reaction from environmental groups appears quite favorable.

The CEO of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) praised President-elect Obama’s remarks: “Today President-elect Obama gave us his first official statements on climate and without a doubt he nailed it. He sees clearly the huge risk that climate change poses to our economy and our future, and he understands that solving climate change is a foundation for a global economic recovery.

Writing in the Sierra Club blog, Heather Moyer called the speech “very enjoyable”. And Peter Miller, in the National Resources Defense Council blog, wrote “Looking very presidential, Obama enunciated an unambiguous commitment to enacting a federal cap and trade program with tight annual caps leading to an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.  The contrast with President Bush’s stance on climate change was abundantly evident to everyone.  It was the first time I’ve ever seen a standing ovation for a video.”

I look forward to more. Below is a transcript of the speech, taken from Grist with slight editing.

Let me begin by thanking the bipartisan group of U.S. governors who convened this meeting.

Few challenges facing America — and the world — are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season.

Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.

I know many of you are working to confront this challenge. In particular, I want to commend Governor Sebelius, Governor Doyle, Governor Crist, Governor Blagojevich and your host, Governor Schwarzenegger — all of you have shown true leadership in the fight to combat global warming. And we’ve also seen a number of businesses doing their part by investing in clean energy technologies. But too often, Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership. That will change when I take office. My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.

That will start with a federal cap-and-trade system. We’ll establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80 percent by 2050. Further, we’ll invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future. We’ll invest in solar power, wind power, and next generation biofuels. We’ll tap nuclear power, while making sure it’s safe. And we will develop clean coal technologies.

This investment will not only help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, making the United States more secure. And it will not only help us bring about a clean energy future, saving the planet. It will also help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis by generating five million new green jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.

But the truth is, the United States can’t meet this challenge alone. Solving this problem will require all of us working together. I understand that your meeting is being attended by government officials from over a dozen countries, including the U.K., Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Chile, Poland and Australia, India and Indonesia. And I look forward to working with all nations to meet this challenge in the coming years.

Let me also say a special word to the delegates from around the world who will gather at Poland next month: your work is vital to the planet. While I won’t be president at the time of your meeting and while the United States has only one president at a time, I’ve asked members of Congress who are attending the conference as observers to report back to me on what they learn there.

And once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change. Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious.

Stopping climate change won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. But I promise you this: When I am president, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America. Thank you.

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Sarah Palin’s Anti-Science and Anti-Environment Policies Are Worrisome

Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, just announced Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. She was a surprise pick and is relatively unknown, but what I’ve found so far is somewhat disturbing. While I haven’t made my final electoral decision, what I do know is that I don’t want another George W. Bush.

Wired Science, part of the Wired blog network, discusses her views on teaching creationism in public school science classes. (Merriam-Webster defines “creationism” as “a doctrine or theory holding that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by God out of nothing and usually in the way described in Genesis [the first book of the Judeo-Christian Bible].”) They refer to an article in the Anchorage Daily News covering a 2006 Alaska gubernatorial debate:

The volatile issue of teaching creation science in public schools popped up in the Alaska governor’s race this week when Republican Sarah Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state’s public classrooms.

Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night’s televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.”

The article goes on to point out:

The Republican Party of Alaska platform says, in its section on education: “We support giving Creation Science equal representation with other theories of the origin of life. If evolution is taught, it should be presented as only a theory.”

This stance alone is a significant strike against her. However, her anti-environment policies are also troubling. For instance, she told NewsMax, “I’m not one though who would attribute [global warming] to being man-made.” As I discussed in a previous post, all major scientific societies concur that humans are responsible for climate change. Senator McCain, as well as Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama and his running mate Senator Joe Biden, all agree that climate change is a real threat and have proposed plans to combat it.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that her policies appear to show general disregard for the environment, especially with regards to her strong advocacy for oil drilling. For instance, she stated, “I beg to disagree with any candidate who would say we can’t drill our way out of our problem…”, as quoted in Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) and “When I look every day, the big oil company’s building is right out there next to me, and it’s quite a reminder that we should have mutually beneficial relationships with the oil industry” as quoted in Roll Call. She supports opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR, commonly pronounced “AN-war”) for drilling, a move generally opposed by environmentalists as well as Congress. Expressing her frustation, she stated to IBD, “But these lands [ANWR] are locked up by Congress, and we are not allowed to drill to the degree America needs the development…”; to Lawrence Kudlow on CNBC, “Very, very disappointed in Congress though [for not voting on drilling in ANWR]”; and so on. Both Senators Obama and McCain opposing drilling in ANWR, and she has attacked Senator McCain for this stance: “I have not talked him into ANWR yet…I think we need McCain in that White House despite, still, the close-mindedness on ANWR” (Lawrence Kudlow, CNBC).

Nor has Alaska, under Mrs. Palin’s governorship, promoted environmental issues. In Massachussets v. Environmental Protection Agency, when twelve states as well as several cities and environmental organizations sued the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, Alaska argued against them. (In a split decision, the Supreme Court largely agreed with Massachussets et al; see my previous post.)

Earlier this year, the Interior Department listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Somewhat bizzarrely, Governor Palin claims that polar bears are not threatened (“In fact, the number of polar bears has risen dramatically over the past 30 years” she states). She opposed the ESA listing and Alaska now plans to sue the Interior Department. Similarly, Governor Palin is opposing plans to list beluga whales as endangered, as it could damage Alaska’s economy.

Eight years of disregard for science and for the environment is enough; I don’t think I want to see someone like this in high office, certainly not in a position where she could become president. If anyone has any examples of Governor Palin promoting science or the environment, please let me know.

Mind Map: Solving Global Warming

I came across this neat mind map with a cool way of visualizing various strategies to combat global warming:

Mind map for solving global warming
Source: Live the Solution. See full-size version.

This mind map was created by Sharon Genovese, founder of an anti–global warming group called “Live the Solution”. The mind map, as well as several others, are featured in her free e-book Global Warming: A Mind Mapper’s Guide to the Science and Solutions (PDF, 5 MB / 103 pages).

Earth Hour 2008: Turn off the lights for one hour on 29 March

Earth Hour 2008

On 31 March last year, the city of Sydney, Australia, turned off its lights for one hour. Coordinated by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia, “Earth Hour” drew participation from individuals, businesses, and major landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House. The goal of the event was to raise awareness of climate change and demonstrate simple ways to reduce energy usage.

This year, WWF is making it a planet-wide campaign. Major cities such as San Fransisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix, Toronto, Tel Aviv, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, and Christchurch are joining Sydney this year in darkening non-essential lights. And you can join in, too!

Earth Hour’s web site has suggestions on how to get involved. First, turn off your lights from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (local time) on 29 March. Also, spread the word! Involve your friends and family. Bloggers, do what you do best. You can also encourage local businesses to take part, and even work to involve your town or city.

If you are interested, please sign up and pledge your support!

More on the Environmental Costs of Eating Meat

Livestock’s high energy costs
See full-sized image or accompanying article. Credit: Bill Marsh/New York Times.

An article in the New York Times last week further explores the costs that consuming animals has on the environment. (Please see also my previous post, “Vegetarianism vs. Meat-Eating and Global Warming”.)

Here’s a short excerpt:

…But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation. To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. …

The only way we can make environmentally friendly changes is to be informed of the impacts those choices will have. This thought-provoking article helps to show just how our food choices can drain resources and contribute to pollution in varying amounts.

So if you’re thinking about purchasing a more fuel-efficient car or trying to think of what else you could do to help the planet, cutting back on meat is another option. In addition to the obvious health benefits and improvements in animal welfare, you can now add conservation of water, ameliorating climate change, and numerous other factors to reasons to reduce your consumption of meat.

(Thanks to my sister for sharing this article with me.)

Minnesota Joins Sixteen States to Sue the EPA

I was pleased to read Minnesota Public Radio’s report that Minnesota will join the sixteen-state coalition suing the Environmental Protection Agency.

Background: Despite its role to protect the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency had previously refused to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles, stating among other reasons that they did not have the authority. (See my previous post.) Twelve states and thirteen environmental groups sued, and the Supreme Court ruled that yes, the states had the right to sue the EPA; yes, the EPA does have the authority to regulate these emission; and perhaps the EPA can decide not to regulate them, but must reconsider. Meanwhile, California had requested a waiver to set more strict tailpipe emissions standards than those of the federal government. In December 2007, the EPA denied this request. This has prompted the now seventeen states suing the EPA.

It is incredible that the EPA has resisted taking action and now is actively impeding attempts to combat climate change. As Ansel Adams said, “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment” (attributed). But at least our state governments are taking action, even as the Bush administration does its best to stymie progress.