(By Josh Marks, cross-posted at Green Forward)
When it comes to climate change action, the Obama Administration is feeling the heat. Literally. All the president needs to do is step outside the White House doors and spend some time in the Rose Garden to feel Washington’s warmest winter on record. And cities across the United States have been experiencing record high temperatures this winter. Obama’s campaign headquarters is in Chicago, where the Windy City last Wednesday hit a high of 87 degrees Fahrenheit. The next day the temperature at O’Hare Airport was 83 degrees, capping nine straight days of record-breaking or record-tying high temperatures in Chicago.
While there is a difference between daily weather changes and climate patterns over time, the “summer in March” has climatologists concerned. “Global warming boosts the probability of really extreme events, like the recent U.S. heat wave, far more than it boosts more moderate events,” climate scientists Stefan Rahmstorf and Dim Coumou wrote recently in the RealClimate blog.
But is President Obama concerned?
Progressives have been pressing President Obama to take more forceful action to reduce carbon emissions and explain to the American people the reality of man-made global warming and the clean energy and energy efficient solutions to counter climate change.
The Obama Administration appears to have made a political calculation that it would be unwise right now to rally the American people behind bold climate change action. He has disappointed progressives by calling for an “all of the above” energy strategy and then staging events like last week in Oklahoma where he announced he is fast-tracking an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. And last summer there was the broken promise that the Department of Energy would install solar panels and a solar water heater on the roof of the White House. It appears this was another political calculation in the wake of the Solyndra witch hunt from Congressional Republicans.
But while standing in front of oil rigs and installing White House solar panels make for nice political theater and photo ops, there are encouraging signs that this administration is taking aggressive action behind the scenes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are two actions the Obama Administration has taken that will play a substantial role in transforming the United States into a low carbon economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The first is the historic gas mileage standards that will nearly double the fuel economy of vehicles by 2025, when cars and light trucks will get nearly 55 miles per gallon. Thirteen major automakers signed onto the deal that will significantly reduce carbon emissions with more fuel efficient, hybrid, electric and alternative fuel vehicles. Cars and trucks account for 20 percent of carbon emissions.
The second significant decision was yesterday’s Environmental Protection Agency rules to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. For the first time, new power plants will be required to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity produced. The ruling effectively kills any new coal-fired power plants.
These two actions to reduce carbon emissions are remarkable considering the United States has still not joined the 191 other countries that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol and are thus not obligated by the international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So these climate change actions have come internally from the Obama Administration.
The hope is that if Obama is elected to a second term that he will take more aggressive action on climate change and be able to have a real conversation with the American public about the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and deal with climate change. Kari Marie Norgaard, professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of Oregon, said recently at a Planet Under Pressure news conference in London that “cultural inertia” is slowing down climate action.
“We find a profound misfit between dire scientific predictions of ongoing and future climate changes and scientific assessments of needed emissions reductions on the one hand, and weak political, social or policy response on the other,” Norgaard said. ”Climate change poses a massive threat to our present social, economic and political order. From a sociological perspective, resistance to change is to be expected. People are individually and collectively habituated to the ways we act and think. This habituation must be recognized and simultaneously addressed at the individual, cultural and societal level — how we think the world works and how we think it should work.”
If Obama is not re-elected, the future of the planet is most certainly in peril. Leading Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said this about man-made global warming last October:
“My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”