Imagine this …
Twenty minutes into the 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama turns to look to Speaker Boehner.
After a long pause, begins to speak forcefully about the nation’s need to take climate change science seriously.
The President tells the American people that he has been meeting with scientists and energy experts for the past two months privately.
That these experts have made a forceful case that the climate situation is far more serious than he had realized.
The President explains that they have convinced him not just of the seriousness of the situation but that we still have the opportunity to turn this existential threat into opportunity.
The President speaks to this point, extemporaneously, for over ten minutes — this was not included in the prepared remarks.
This is the President speaking – not a speechwriter not the collective wisdom of political appointees from across the Administration, but President Obama who evokes his daughters, with tears, in his remarks about the need to protect our grandchildren, our children, and even ourselves.
Before the President is done speaking, the White House sends out a eleven executive orders (on such things as mandates for energy efficiency in all government rented buildings, to setting up a working group (with schedule) for developing an energy policy roadmap to a clean-energy (zero carbon emissions) future, to contracting rules to incorporate energy efficiency standards on all government contractors, to enforceable telecommuting rules to reduce ‘white collar’ days in the office across the Federal government to …) that build on Federal energy and climate-related progress during the first term invisible to most Americans. And, at the same time, the EPA releases multiple directives (such as energy standards for federal buildings and for mercury standards on coal facilities) that had been held up within the Office of Management and Budget.
The Republican response to the State of the Union is left flat-footed in the face of this wholesale shift in Obama’s approach.
And, the SOTU evening is not a single strike event.
Personnel announcements in the following days show a major revamping of the policy process, from within agencies up through the OMB, strengthening the roles and responsibilities of those advocating ‘fully burdened cost and benefit analysis’ when it comes to energy and environmental issues with reduced power for those who worked within traditional stove-piped analytical structures.
The President takes the case to the American people.
- He sits, in the front row, in meetings where leading scientists discuss climate change issues.
- He climbs on top of a Wal-Mart, with Wal-Mart’s executive team, to give a speech as to the value streams that derive from cool roofing, day-lighting, and other practices used in Wal-Mart stores to (quite profitably) drive down energy use. (Well, he also speaks about the need to treat workers fairly and to buy American there, even though the main subject is building energy efficiency.)
- He visits the US Marine Corps’ ExFob, learning from Corporals how solar panels in the field made them more effective with an understanding how Energy Smart practices improve military capabilities.
- He visits universities, where he learns that investments in energy efficiency are outperforming (by a factor of two) traditional investments making money for the endowment fund and he sits with student leaders explaining why they are battling to get the university to divest from fossil-fuel related investments.
Whenever he can, the President asks Americans:
Are you doing your part to create an Energy Smart America?
The Administration initiatives, themselves, add nearly ten percent to the expected reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.
And, in every state of the Union, accelerating a change seen with 2012’s extreme weather events, public opinion polling shows an increasing understanding of the linkages between human activities and climate change – overwhelmingly in Democratic and Independent respondents, but notably within Republican ranks.
Voices of Republicans, like former Representative Bob Inglis, who acknowledge climate change science and advocate for action to address contributing factors are becoming increasingly mainstream again. With almost each passing day, climate science is becoming ‘a given’ while the debate focus turns to ‘what are the best ways to address the issue’: tax policy, government investments, regulatory environment, etc …
The President’s leadership, combined with Executive Branch action and the changing tone/substance of the U.S. political debate, open the door to Chinese willingness to take more aggressive actions to reduce carbon emissions growth in their energy sector. The U.S.-PRC cooperation opens the door for serious climate talks by the end of 2013, as the world community moves from mouthing words about preventing a 2C increase in global temperatures to putting in place policies that viably could do this.
When the ball fell to signal the end of 2012, the situation looked bleak when it came to explosive C4: the risks of catastrophic climate change. A year later, as the countdown to 2014 finished, hope for a prosperous climate-friendly future dominated the discussion about the coming year.
President-Elect Obama, in 2008, sounded like a climate hawk. His political advisors, however, talked him to making climate change a secondary issue and to avoid serious Oval Office discussion of climate change issues. Significant Democratic Party constituencies disagree(d) with that path (especially, of course, environmental organizations), scientific opinion has become stronger about climate change, and extreme weather events hit the United States hard in 2012. President Obama stated, recently, that he was going to start an education campaign on climate issues and build public support for serious action. This scenario is predicated on the President living up to this statement.
Note that the template for such action exists with the Presidential Climate Action Project’s recommendations.