President Obama’s inaugural address is being accounted for as one of his most progressive statements (certainly to a national audience) as President of the United States. Engaging in ‘climate spotting’, the paragraphs directly discussing Climate Change make it a true centerpiece of this (relatively) short inaugural address.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. (Applause.) Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
Sadly, as readers know, those who “still deny the overwhelming judgment of science” include the Republican Majority of the House of Representatives (along with, sigh, the Republicans on various science-related committees in the House and Senate). Recognizing this and the “political reality” that serious climate-change legislation is dead on arrival in the House, the question turns to:
What can President Obama do in the face of Republican obstructionism and science denialism?
Several days ago, the New York Times’ Andy Revkin explored the question: “[What can President Obama] do to foster progress on environmental issues and the nation’s, and world’s, energy and climate challenges“? And, Revkin suggested that #ObamaEnv to be used as a discussion tool for other options. Looking at Revkin — and beyond — the answer re #ObamaEnv in the Second Administration begins with ‘many things …’
After the fold are a number of measures that could occur with Presidential action — a swipe of a pen, as it were …
- The President must build on yesterday and use the Bully Pulpit to foster a ‘national conversation’ on climate change. While Presidential speeches do not ‘sway’ the nation, analysis shows that leadership discussion of an issue (climate change not excepted) can lead to greater public (and political) understanding of the necessity and urgency of action. The President must make the (truthful and honest) case — forcefully, day after day, venue after venue — that catastrophic climate chaos is not just ‘as serious and real’ a threat to ourselves and our children as assault weapons but much more serious and devastating a national security, life, economic, and … threat. He show that he understands how serious a threat this is to his — and our — daughters’ future.
- As part of the Bully Pulpit, the President should begin to leverage the ‘power of the White House invitation’. Perhaps a bi-weekly movie night with, for example, a ‘family’ event with both Republican and Democratic members of Congress and their families invited to see Chasing Ice, How to Boil a Frog, and such (with some of Peter Sinclair’s work thrown into the mix…) with members of the National Academies of Science with President Obama, the First Lady, and their daughters there sharing popcorn, beer and sodas. Could there be a better use of the White House screening room?
- The President — and other senior members of the Administration — should meet regularly with those knowledgable about climate science issues for substantive private and public discussions. Newsworthy events like the release of a major and rather terrifying (draft) climate analysis should not be buried in a Friday news dump but should be discussed in the WH briefing room and by the President in his Saturday address. Engagement by the President with such expert knowledge will heighten these people and issues within The Village and thus the national media discussion.
- There is no senior White House advisor specifically on Climate Change since the departure of Carol Browner. While it might provide a red flag move for Glenn Beck attacks, it is past time to have a “Climate Czar” back in the White House.
- Convince Lisa Jackson to stay at the Environmental Protection Agency. Lisa Jackson has announced her intent to leave the Administration. The President should reconsider his acceptance of her resignation. There is essentially no chance that someone as articulate, passionate, and knowledgeable about climate change (and other environmental / science) issues will make it past Senate confirmation. With Administrator Jackson, the President can make the case that he will be unleashing not just her but others throughout the Administration to undertake serious action on climate change and that he will be leading the charge leveraging the Bully Pulpit on climate change.
- Include climate change and energy issues within the discussion / consideration for every single second-term Administration appointee.
- “Free the Science Three“: In addition to Lisa Jackson, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has announced her departure. Secretary of Energy Steve Chu is expected to do so shortly. What is notable, to me, is that Lubchenco, Chu, and Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren were an amazing three-piece set of appointments early in the Obama Administration that gave substantive reason for real optimism for Presidential attention to mobilizing the nation to address climate change. These three (Lubchenco, Chu, Holden) share a powerful set of characteristics: All three were well-respected scientists in their field who made mid-career decisions that they needed to learn how to communicate critical science issues to non-scientists, that they needed to learn about/engage in ‘management’ and not just remain in the laboratory, and that Climate Change represented a ‘clear and present danger’ — and that their understanding of this demanded that they engage in the policy process to help foster change toward policies to mitigate climate change risks. For the past four years, however, these three have been mainly ‘mute’ when it comes to forceful public discussion of climate change. The ‘mutes’ should be removed from Administration members, like these, who have the capacity for clarity and power in their discussion of climate change science and policy responses.
- Leverage science and law to shut down polluting coal plants and speed the (already fast) diminishing role of coal in the nation’s electrical system. “Implement the EPA’s existing Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which places limits on mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and other toxic emissions associated with coal.” And, beyond this, regulate CO2 emissions from existing power plants (as the law requires) rather than simply new ones. Note that these two steps, alone, could have a significant near-term impact on reducing US carbon dioxide emissions and could pay for themselves just through the health care benefits alone.
You could pension off all the 80,000 workers in the coal industry for a tiny fraction of the medical bills due to burning coal,” says Burton Richter, a Nobel laureate in physics.
- Study — and make public — fracking more seriously, including methane leakage within the natural gas system. Target — at a minimum — reducing the amount of leaked and flared natural gas at extraction and in the distribution system.
- Place climate mitigation, adaptation, and general disaster resiliency front and center for Federal efforts to “rebuild” and re disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy. Use this as stepping stone for future ‘post’ disaster investments to reduce future disaster costs/risks.
- Seriously examine “ethanol” as to whether it advances any legitimate climate agenda.
- End subsidies for construction in climate disruption threatened areas and make climate change analysis a mandated part of government analysis of projects.
- Put a requirement in Federal contracting (perhaps starting w/firms at over $100 million/year of business with USG) for contractors to have energy/resource efficiency programs like those required of Federal agencies. Require performance against plans part of contracting decisions. (Note that government contractors, such as the National Defense Industries Association (NDIA) (pdf) (see issue #4), have actually made calls for such moves.)
- Direct the Department of Education to focus seriously on the educational value and financial/other benefits from Green Schooling — including making this a core (if not central) part of “Race to the Top”.
- Require all Fed rooftop construction/repairs to be (with explained exceptions) white (cool) / green (growing) / power producing. Make this, associated the above contracting requirement, a requirement for Federal contractors, GSA-leased buildings, roofs built/repaired with Federal money.
- Incorporate the real social cost of carbon in Federal decisions like leasing of coal fields (by, for example, requiring lease revenue to be above the social cost of carbon and other environmental remediation costs from mining/burning the coal) and in Export-Import (ExIm) Bank loan support decisions.
- Reject the Keystone XL pipeline as counter to national interest — on multiple grounds, not least of which is climate change impacts.
- Direct that the US representatives to the World Bank work to reduce coal and other polluting World Bank investment.
- Make the OMB/OIRA (Office of Management and Budget, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) use fully burdened cost/benefit analysis for decision-making on Federal regulations and other programs.
- Execute the mandate to use Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel (FBCF) in Department of Defense procurement programs.
- Take actions related to “the conversation”
- Put solar on the WH roof (and have the President & family flip the switch).
- Continue “National Service Days” but have the President engage in an energy efficiency project and putting solar on the roof (e.g., energy barnstorming events).
- Direct that the winners of the Solar Decathlon be brought to Washington, DC, (preferably the houses and not just the team members …) and have the President have dinner with the winning team within their house. (Photo to the right is from a dinner event in the 2009 North House. In the front of the photo is the Department of Energy’s Richard King, who has directed the Solar Decathlon since (I believe) the inception. Having dinner in this house, with the sun setting over the Washington Monument, speaking with Solar Decathlon team members was truly an inspiring evening of the type that might inspire Administration officials …)
Above are just a few symbolic and substantive moves that should be part of the #ObamaEnv agenda in the second term.
For your viewing pleasure: