“I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that 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 is not going to protect you from the coming storm. Ultimately we will be judges as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from here … push back on misinformation, speak up for the facts, broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future, convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution … invest, divest … remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.”
This particular speech by President Barack Obama could be used as an example of how to give a policy speech that includes specific initiatives, will rile the opposition, must inspire the base, and makes great use of the bully pulpit.
President Obama started his speech by underscoring the extra heat caused by global warming: he took off his jacket and invited everyone else to do the same. He noted, rightly, that what we do now about climate will have profound impacts on the younger generation and beyond. He then made reference to the famous Apollo photograph of the Earth, which reminded us that we live on a tiny blue dot. He noted that the basic idea of greenhouse gasses as a thing was not new back when that photograph was taken, and that the idea that our planet’s climate is changing is good science, reviewed and developed over decades. He spent a fair amount of time discussing the effects of climate change on life, livelihood, health and economy, and made a strong statement on indirect costs of climate change.
He discussed what has been done so far by his administration regarding climate and energy policy, but acknowledged that there was more to do. He noted that he had already asked Congress to come up with a plan, and reiterated this request. Which they have not done.
The President said we should use less dirty energy, use more clean energy, waste less energy. He made the specific proposal that we make use of the Clean Air Act, which as he noted passed the Senate unanimously and the house with only one dissenting vote, and signed into law by a Republican president; we will incorporate regulation on “Carbon Pollution” (That’s what we will be calling it from now on) in the existing regulation. New and existing power plants will now be regulated vis-a-vis CO2 output.
He noted that naysayers would claim that all sorts of bad things would happen with these new regulatory applications, but noted that this had been said before whenever major pollution-stemming actions were proposed, and these doomsday scenarios never happened. President Obama made specific reference to earlier uses of the clean air act, removing lead from gasoline, cancer-causing compounds in plastics, and automobile fuel standards. In short, he said we should not bet against American industry or workers, or falsely believe that we must choose between the health of future generations and business.
On the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Obama quickly reviewed the current process and noted that in order to build it it would have to be “in our national interest” and our national interest would only be served if the project’s net effects did not increase carbon pollution. This seems a good indicator that the pipeline won’t be built, because it would have such effects. We shall see.
President Obama wants to use Natural Gas as a “Transition fuel.” That’s OK, but it may increase the use of Fracking, so again, we’ll see. President Obama noted that over the last four years we’ve doubled the amount of energy we produce with solar and wind power, and that costs have reduced for these technology and that this has created jobs. He noted that 75% of the jobs created by these industries are in Republican districts despite national-level Republican opposition to creating these jobs. The President proposed greenlighting the development of renewable energy technology on public lands sufficient to power 60 million homes by 2020. That seems like a lot, which is good.
He note that he has directed the Department of Defense to install major renewable energy production technology.
One of the most interesting aspects of the new policy is President Obama’s call for Congress to end tax breaks for carbon-polluting industries and invest instead in clean energy. This will require changing the composition of Congress, which can happen during the next midterm election.
The President is calling for new efficiency standards in vehicles, homes, business, and industry. He also called for the federal government to expand its use of renewable energy to 20% over the next seven years. I wonder if this will mean putting solar panels back on the White House!
He then spoke about mitigation. This is what we do because we’ve already messed up the planet too much to avoid severe negative effects. He talked about building better storm-proofing for homes, power grids, coastlines, etc. His proposals include both executive action and budget items that will require Congressional action. So again, the composition of Congress is important.
Internationally, the President discussed various aspects of development that will have strong impacts on climate in the near and medium future, and the increased vulnerably of developing nations to climate change effects. He called for an end to public financing of inefficient or polluting coal plants in developing countries, and global free trade in clean energy technologies.
It is notable that the leader of the free world frequently referred to the basic habitability of the planet a number of times.
He talked about international agreements and the importance of developing an ambitious and inclusive, yet flexible, international plan.
When he completed announcing his plan there was spontaneous extensive and thunderous applause.
President Obama then took up the bully pulpit, encouraging businesses, engineers, etc. to get on board. He then said that those in power (like himself) need to be “…less concerned with the judgement of special interests and well connected donors and more concerned with the judgement of prosperity” because future generations will have to live with the consequences of our decisions. He noted (for the second or third time in the speech) that climate change and related concerns were not always, in the past, a partisan issue. He put in a strong plug for his EPA head nominee, Gina McCarthy, whose appointment is being held up by Senate Republicans for no good reason. This also elicited thunderous applause.
The coolest part of his speech was when he said this:
I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. [spontaneous thunderous applause, laughter, hooting] Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it is not going to protect you from the coming storm. Ultimately we will be judges as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from here.
He also encouraged people to bring this issue to their own social and professional circles as a matter of discussion. He said “…push back on misinformation, speak up for the facts, broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future, convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution … invest, divest … remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.”
The speech was substantive, effective, impressive, and inspiring. It may have been the best speech President Obama has ever given, and he’s given some darn good ones.
Now, let’s get to work.
If you saw the speech on TV you should know that, depending on which network you watched, various parts were cut out or interrupted. Here is the uncut version:
The President and his people produced the Largest Infographic Ever Seen, so large that it can be seen from the International Space Station when it flies over, on the new climate change policies. Here it is.
The White House has produced a number of infographics that outline the plan, which you can see here