By January of next year, Barack Obama will have been president for four years. We’ll know by then whether or not he’ll be president for an additional four years.
Election years are frequently a time of taking stock – talking about where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, how far we have yet to go. When a subject becomes taboo, as climate change very nearly has, the matter of taking stock becomes infinitely more difficult.
How do we assess the president’s performance in the matter of climate change, when he himself scarcely ever talks about it?
Truth or dare
Goodness knows climate change deniers — aka Republicans – are capable of spouting climate claptrap at an astonishing rate.
As we’ve gradually gotten acquainted with the man we elected President, it becomes less and less surprising that he refuses to engage in one round after another of Truth or Dare with his political opponents. It’s not only not his style to do so, it shouldn’t have to be; when 97% of American climatologists support the conclusion that global warming is happening right now, who, precisely, is there left to argue with? Chuckleheads like James Inhofe?
Still, the question remains: what has the President done these last four years to improve the environment and slow global warming?
Since it’s a question very much worth answering, I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth, the White House site. There, below a link called Issues, is a lengthy list. “Energy & Environment” was the item on the list I decided would be most helpful.
The good news, I discovered, is that the Obama Administration has plenty to brag about — if only they would.
But until the day arrives when people can speak in good faith about the ecological disaster headed our way, knowing that the exchange of ideas will be a useful one, the White House website will just have to do.
Don’t just take my word. Read and assess: here’s what’s been happening since Obama took office.
Too little, too late?
To my mind, nothing is more important than planning (as best we can) for the chaotic future that awaits us.
The Climate Change Adaptation Task Force is developing recommendations for coping with risks associated with climate change. Federal agencies are drafting adaptation plans that will help ensure smart decisions that can be gradually implemented, not hasty responses resulting from panic. Since the time for prevention has come and gone, adaptation and mitigation are now the only paths available to us. Too bad there wasn’t a Climate Change Prevention Task Force many years ago!
Green jobs training, marine habitat restoration, water quality improvements – just a few of the projects paid for by the Recovery Act. Overseen by the EPA and the Department of the Interior, a budget of almost $11 billion has been dedicated to these forward-looking programs.
The Clean Water Act has been clarified, and partnerships to improve water quality have been launched in communities across the country, leading to river and watershed restoration.
Comprehensive action has been initiated in order to protect not just the water we drink, but the waters in which we fish and swim, as well as waters used agriculturally, recreationally, and economically. Marine habitats being restored include the Gulf of Mexico, California’s Bay Delta, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and the Everglades.
Natural, clean, sustainable
Land Conservation – President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. In doing so, he inaugurated the most extensive expansion of land and water protection in more than a generation. More than two million additional acres of federal wilderness, thousands of miles of trails, and 1,000 miles of rivers were added to our nation’s protected natural heritage, meant for the enjoyment of all.
Reducing air pollution
The fuel economy standards proposed by the current administration have become law, which means that light trucks and cars must average 54 mpg by 2025. Furthermore, for the first time ever, commercial trucks must meet national emissions standards – starting in 2014.
The President didn’t stop there, however. For the first time ever, there are national limits for mercury and other toxic air pollution emitted by power plants. These limitations are predicted to prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma each year.
Supporting sustainable communities
The Partnership for Sustainable Communities was created by the President to bring together federal agencies that work on housing, transportation, and environmental protection. The Partnership’s budget through 2011 was $1.7 billion, enabling it to support resilient economies and environments in more than 550 communities and regions nationwide.
On monitoring emissions, again, an historic first: the United States is comprehensively cataloging greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) from the largest sources. This is an important first step toward measurable, transparent reductions in carbon emissions.
President Obama has also directed the Federal Government, the largest energy consumer in the country, to reduce its GHGE from direct sources by 28 percent no later than 2020. In addition, GHGE from indirect sources must be reduced by 13 percent the same year.
Finally, I would be remiss in not mentioning the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.
The Coalition exists for the purpose of reducing short-lived pollutants. While short-lived, they are still capable of causing tremendous harm, and are believed to account for 30 percent of the global warming effect.
Substances such as methane, soot, and hydro-fluorocarbons fall into this category. Realizing that reducing these substances’ presence in the atmosphere could be done inexpensively and with existing technologies, the White House decided to lead the push for major reductions. Since its introduction in February, 2012, the Coalition’s membership has increased to nearly 40 nations.
We all wish that the problem of global warming could be solved quickly, perhaps by some lord of the realm who would issue edicts and punish evil-doers.
If only it were that easy!
Ultimately, it will be up to each of us to make the necessary changes. In the meantime, a world leader of good will can make a significant difference, as I hope I have just shown.
In my opinion, given the record described here, President Obama has earned another four years in which to continue his well-informed, logical approach to whittling away at the problem of climate change. Until someone else comes forward with better ideas, he’s earned my respect – and support.
–Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice