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President Barack Obama is given a tour of the Trinity Structural Towers Manufacturing Plant by Senior Vice President Mark Stiles, Wednesday, April 22, 2009, in Newton, Iowa.
President Barack Obama is given a tour of the Trinity Structural Towers Manufacturing Plant
by Senior Vice President Mark Stiles, Wednesday, April 22, 2009, in Newton, Iowa.
After a presidential campaign during which "climate change" was almost never even whispered by the candidates nor a question asked about it during their debates, the term finally made an appearance at President Obama's first post-election press conference Nov. 14 when Mark Landler popped the question. The president responded at some length, hinting that "climate change" would be paid some serious attention during his second term, starting out with an "education process."  

Unfortunately, as A Siegel illustrated in a spot-on critical essay analyzing the subtext of what Obama said, how it related to the president's first-term record on climate change and the mess that White House press secretary jay Carney made the next day of the president's comments, that education process needs to start in the White House with Obama's senior staff.

So far, "encouraging" is an optimistic assessment of Obama's reply to Landler's question. Lots of crossed fingers among environmental advocates.

At Mother Jones, Chris Mooney has done what many of those advocates will be doing over the next couple of months, laying out what Obama could accomplish even with a Congress that is brimful of climate-change deniers and policy delayers. Some bullet points:

Use the bully pulpit. Or more in line with what Obama himself has said he wished he had done a better job of in his first term: Telling the story. Mooney: "If there's one point of consensus about what Obama can and should do on the climate issue, it's simply to keep the commitment he made last Wednesday and actually talk about it. Loudly and often—and, at best, in a major policy speech that sets the agenda."

Promote climate resilience. "How can the federal government make us better prepared for this new era of costly megadisasters? Very thick booklets could be written about the matter, but for just one example, consider the FEMA-managed National Flood Insurance Program, whose purpose is to insure homeowners in vulnerable coastal and low-lying areas."

Eliminate climate change accelerants. "Methane, in particular, has a dramatic warming effect in the atmosphere—molecule for molecule, it has 72 times the punch of carbon dioxide over a 20 year time frame. But so-called fugitive methane emissions from gas drilling and other sources are largely unregulated. 'There are no state or federal rules limiting methane emissions to address climate concerns,' says Eric Pooley [author of The Climate War and deputy editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek 'There ought to be.'"

Unleash the EPA. "How stringent regulations will those regulations be? The EPA's rulemaking process requires it to deal with newer and less dirty power-plants first; it has already proposed tough new standards for those. But after that come regulations for the really big existing polluters—which is where the real emissions cuts could be made."

Restart the conversation about pricing carbon—without cutting off the EPA. "Sure we need to legislate a price on carbon, to help accelerate a shift towards clean energy sources. But ever since Massachusetts vs. EPA, it has been clear that if Congress stalled out in achieving this goal, regulatory actions on carbon emissions would proceed apace at EPA (at least so long as Democrats controlled the presidency). Now, it's questionable whether it is a good deal to accept carbon taxes or caps in a congressional deal that would wipe out or undermine EPA's considerable achievements. 'Those who are arguing that a carbon tax should displace these bedrock protections under our nation's clean air laws are seriously misguided,' [says Vickie Patton, general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund]."

One of the best things Obama can do is continue to remember what he said at a wind-industry factory in Newton, Iowa, in April 2009, and act forcefully upon those words:

Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors, or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity: The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.

America can be that nation. America must be that nation.

In the way of that "can" and that "must" are arrayed some mighty forces. They include inertia, stupidity, myopia and most of all greed. The majority of the American people believe, the polls tell us, that climate change is a serious matter and that something should be done about it. President Obama has four years to get us moving down that path. He should put on his spurs. He'll need them.

Delay is denial.

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Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Nov 19, 2012 at 02:58 PM PST.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS, DK GreenRoots, Climate Hawks, and Daily Kos.

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