Climate Change: Words and an action

by Bill Chameides | November 15th, 2012
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | Comments Off on Climate Change: Words and an action
President Obama at Press Conference (November 2012)
“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, [and] that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions,” President Obama told reporters at yesterday’s press conference. But as for action? He unfurled no road map to address the problem.

National leaders from both parties are not very sanguine about climate change policy, but state and local politicians are singing a different tune, and in one state policy is being put into action.

After a long absence from the public discourse (almost as long as a presidential term), climate change has recently reappeared. Superstorm Sandy itself seemed to conjure the term, putting weather and climate high on the minds — and agendas — of some of the state and local politicians whose towns she tore into.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has acknowledged the fact of climate change even though he bowed out of the state’s participation in a regional greenhouse gas trading system last year. The governor reports this week that the “State Strategic Plan” for land development had been sent back to the drawing board in the wake of the state’s altered coastline.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited the president’s commitment to climate change as one of the reasons he was voting for Obama earlier this month.

And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in an op-ed headlined “We will lead on climate change” wrote:

“There is no more time for debate. This is our moment to act. On Thursday, I am announcing the formation of three commissions to look at key components of managing a new, better prepared New York: how we get ready before an event, how we respond in its immediate aftermath and what changes we can make to our infrastructure that will better prepare us to face Mother Nature’s inevitable fury.”

More surprisingly, the idea of a carbon tax is back and on the lips of such unlikely entities as the folks at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which held a meeting this week to explore the idea, and Exxon Mobil, which is part of a business coalition that’s been warming to the idea.

But what about Washington?

House Speaker entrenched or retreating?

In an interview with USA Today last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said:

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ve had climate change over the last 100 years. What has initiated it, though, has sparked a debate that’s gone on now for the last 10 years. I don’t think we’re any closer to the answer than we were 10 years ago.”

The obvious interpretation of the above statements is that the good speaker, and not surprisingly given his public record (see here and here), is adopting a stance that denies the scientific consensus on the human influence on climate change. It also appears to leave little hope of any movement on the issue from the speaker and by extension his party.

But hold the phone. Speaker Boehner’s office contacted the Washington Post editorial board to explain “that the speaker was talking about the stagnation of the policy debate over the last 10 years, not the state of the science.”

Huh. So maybe not a totally closed door? Maybe it’s just a bit ajar?

The president equivocating

If there is a possible opening with the House leader, the president doesn’t seem to see it. Yesterday, in his first press conference since winning re-election, Obama indicated his high skepticism about progress on the national level in the near term even as he recognized the severity of climate change and our “obligation to future generations to do something about it.”

He touted his first-term accomplishments like the higher fuel-economy standards put in place in August, which promise to “cut greenhouse gases in half by 2025.” Kudos on that one. But he also acknowledged “we haven’t done as much as we need to,” and I’ve got no argument there.

Citing the predicament of stalemate in Washington and the tough decisions and fights ahead on the economy, he then proposed a line of action: talk.

At the press conference, the president called for

“a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out … what more can we do to make short-term progress … what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.”

(The president’s remarks on climate change run from about 43:10–47:45 in the press conference video below.)


Given the total absence of climate change from the public discourse during the election season, I guess one can look upon launching a “wide-ranging conversation” about climate change as progress.

California takes cap and trade to the auction block

While our national leaders have been dithering on (if not downright ignoring or even challenging the science of) climate change, there were some big but largely ignored goings-on in California.

Yesterday, the state held its inaugural auction of greenhouse gas pollution credits. The cap-and-trade program is a central mechanism in the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), “California’s landmark 2006 law, which called for the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020,” a reduction of 15 percent.

Results of the auction won’t be divulged until Monday, but it appears that cap and trade has a heartbeat and it’s beating in the world’s ninth largest economy, an economic powerhouse and island of climate action in the United States, which at least for now remains a sea of talk on climate at best…

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