The Courage to Act: Obama on Climate Leadership

“The question is not whether we need to act. Science has now put that to rest. The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. As a president, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act. I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.” Barack Obama 6/25/13

I’ve just finished listening to President Barack Obama deliver the most important speech of his presidency. I should note that the network and cable news channels tuned out after just a few minutes – there’s a spy on the loose somewhere in Moscow. But 350.org streamed it live, and I watched.

President Obama at Georgetown University. Courtesy Alexei Laushkin

President Obama at Georgetown University. Courtesy Alexei Laushkin

I have to say, I’m stunned. I didn’t believe I would hear an American president deliver such a message. But he did. In the coming days and weeks, you’ll hear all kinds of pronouncements – condemning or praising – about the plan he outlined. But let me just give you a series of unedited snippets from my notes.

  • Scientists have known since the 1800s that greenhouse gases trap heat.  This is 18th century science, and it’s settled.
  • The 12 warmest [global] years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. 2012 was the warmest year in our [US] history.  Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s. We know no single weather event is caused by climate change… but all weather events are affected by a warming planet.
  • Those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don’t have time to deny it. Our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind. Americans across the country are already paying the cost of inaction.
  • The question is not whether we need to act. Science has now put that to rest. The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. As a president, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act. I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.
  • This is a challenge that does not pause for partisan gridlock. This used to be a bipartisan issue. The idea of setting higher pollution standards is not new. It’s just time for Washington to catch up to the rest of our country, and that’s what we intend to do.
  • About 40% of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants. There are no limits on the amount of carbon they can pump into our air. That’s not right, it’s not safe, and it needs to stop. Today, for the sake of our children, I’m directing the EPA to put an end on the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants.
  • Some of the same doomsayers were saying new pollution standards would decimate the auto industry. Guess what? It didn’t happen. When we phased out CFCs it didn’t kill off air conditioners or refrigerators or deodorant.  The problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it shows a lack of faith in our ingenuity. Critics seem to think our businesses can’t innovate. Don’t bet against American industry. Don’t bet against American workers.
  • We can’t just drill our way out of our energy problem. A low carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come.  I want America to build that engine, that future, right here in the US.
  • Countries like China and Germany are going all in on clean energy. I want to win that race, but we can’t win it if we’re not in it. We compete in business with them but we also share a planet.
  • Allowing the Keystone Pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so will be in our nation’s interest. Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the impact of climate pollution.
  • Some Republicans dismiss clean energy jobs, but they need to call home. 75% of all wind jobs are in Republican districts.
  • Over past 4 years, we’ve doubled electricity generated from zero-carbon wind and solar power. That means jobs. My plan calls for us to double it again.
  • The Department of Defense will install 3 gigawatts of power on its bases, enough to offset 3 million tons of coal every year. Your federal government will consume 20% of its energy in renewables in seven years.
  • My budget calls on Congress to end tax breaks for big oil companies, and invest in clean energy for our future.
  • The planet will slowly keep warming for some time to come. In the meantime, we’re going to need to get prepared. We’ve got to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure to protect ourselves from stronger storms.
  • Using less dirty energy; transitioning to cleaner sources of energy; wasting less energy – this is where we need to go.
  • No nation can solve this challenge alone. That’s why the third part of our plan calls on America to lead. Developing nations are going to have to take action alongside us. They are often most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We all must shoulder the responsibility to keep the planet habitable, or we’re going to pay the consequences.
  • I’m calling for an end to public financing of new coal plants overseas. Developing countries don’t have to repeat the same mistakes we made.
  • And those who lead us: They will have to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests, and more concerned with the judgment of posterity. You, your children, and your children’s children will have to live with the consequences of our decisions.
  • It wasn’t that long ago that Republicans led on these issues. Nixon started the EPA. George W. Bush said human actions are changing the atmosphere. Senator McCain introduced cap and trade.
  • I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies this challenge is real. 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 won’t protect you from the coming storm.
  • I’m convinced this is a fight America can and will lead in the 21st century. One day our children and children’s children will ask us did we do everything we can to solve these challenges. We need citizens that will stand up and speak up for this moment. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts.

Okay, it was a great speech. And this president has been criticized from time to time on less-than-robust action following great speeches. But this time, Obama has put himself out on a limb. The Koch brothers are going to hammer him on pretty tough words about the Keystone XL pipeline. The coal industry will pull out all stops to kill his carbon standards on existing power plants. Big oil companies will fight him to the death over losing their subsidies. Isolationists will denounce his call for international agreements to fight climate disruptions. Even environmentalists will complain about his implicit support for natural gas hydro-fracking.

Maybe it’s time for you and me to stand up and say what we think. Maybe it’s time to begin to seriously pray for the protection of God’s creation. And then, maybe you’ll join us in writing your congressional representatives and the President.

Because on one thing, he’s almost certainly right: One day, our children, and their children, will almost certainly ask: “What did you do to solve the climate challenge?”

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

4 thoughts on “The Courage to Act: Obama on Climate Leadership

  1. Pingback: Hearing the rally cry | The Alternative Mainstream

  2. Peter Harkema

    Thanks John. We’re in Denali National Park where it is 88 today. Great speech and now we need to support him. Hope to talk soon.

    Pete

    Reply
  3. Pingback: The Climate-Chaos Tax | BelovedPlanet

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