Rob Horowitz: Obama Steps Up on Climate Change

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


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President Obama’s recent speech pledging aggressive executive action on climate change turned out to be unfortunately timed, nearly forgotten in a dizzying array of breaking news including landmark Supreme Court decisions and a military coup in Egypt. Still, the new climate policies announced by the President, combined with his ringing call to action, signal a truly consequential and positive development on this critical issue.

Recognizing that there is little or no chance of meaningful climate change legislation passing Congress given the strong opposition of the House Republican majority, Obama’s new policy is based mainly on robust executive actions buttressed by the planned use of the bully pulpit to rally national and world opinion.

More specifically, the President will use the authority the Supreme Court has ruled he has under the existing Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions at existing power plants, the single largest source of greenhouse gases now responsible for 40% of total United States emissions. Obama’s plan also puts executive branch muscle and purchasing power behind energy efficiency standards for new buildings and appliances, leverages private and international funding for renewable sources of energy at home and abroad, announces US opposition to the building of new coal-fired power plants abroad unless they include carbon-capture technology, provides climate change adaptation assistance to states and municipalities, and commits the executive branch to further reductions in energy use.

Taken together, the components of the Obama plan will enable the United States to achieve the 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 it pledged to accomplish as part of the 2009 international Copenhagen agreement on climate change. This will go a long way towards restoring US credibility on climate change, which will give President Obama a new window to persuade China and India to take more action. China has passed the United States and is now the number one producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world and India is now third. No matter how much progress we make in the United States on this issue, the rise of global temperatures due to climate change cannot be limited without the active cooperation of the world’s other leading economic powers.

As President Obama said in his speech at Georgetown University announcing the new plan, “We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm. And ultimately, we will be judged as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from here.”

President Obama’s new plan gives the United States firm ground upon which to stand. It will now be important to answer the President's call for the rest of us to join him in building the strong public support that will be required to advance the fight against climate change over the long-term. An expanded and strengthened movement dedicated to take the actions required to combat climate change is essential to producing further reductions in greenhouse gases here at home, speaking with a sustained, strong and credible voice to the world and ensuring a livable world for our children and grancdhildren..

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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