Pres. Obama at UN Climate Summit talks the right talk… but will the US walk the right walk?


President Obama hit some right notes this morning at the UN Climate Summit in New York, conveying a sense of urgency and national responsibility for reducing US carbon emissions. He said the impacts of global climate disruption can threaten human security, safety, health, and prosperity, and acknowledged a responsibility to aid poor, vulnerable nations in adapting to the impacts and getting on a path to sustainable development.  He said there have been “too many years of inaction and denial.”  But he was silent on any specific target and timetable for US emissions reductions, a key ingredient for a meaningful climate treaty in Copenhagen.  See details for additional CSW takes on today’s Climate Summit. 

Post by Anne Polansky

  Photo Credit:  Al Jazeera

The Washington Post provided a timely transcript of President Obama’s speech. 

“No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change,” he said.

We might add, and no political party or group of corporate-funded denialist groups, however loud and boisterous, can escape these impacts, either.

In a “we are in this together” spirit, national leader after national leader stressed the dire urgency of facing the global threat head on, without further delay, to save the “pale blue dot” in the universe that “has always been our only home,” so well-articulated by the opening speaker, actor Djimon Hounsou, quoting Carl Sagan to drive home the need for humility and global solidarity.

IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri spoke to remind us of the power of scientifically-derived conclusions—arrived at by the international science community via highly credible procedures— to move nations to be concerned, and to act.

1995:  “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”

2001:  “There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities….most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

2007:  “The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the [Third Assessment Report of 2001], leading to very high confidence (defined as 90% certain) that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.”  This Fourth Assessment Report was the first of all IPCC reports to include a major section on observed impacts. 

The IPCC warnings solidified over a brief dozen years, to the point that the global community is now ignoring the deny-and-delay chatter that seems to have an influential audience mainly in the United States—and that audience, especially without a denialist President, is increasingly being marginalized.

President Obama’s warning about worrisome impacts was real and penetrating—and needs to be followed by a robust, comprehensive national framework for helping communities across the US bolster their preparedness and build in strong resiliency against the difficult realities of climate change impacts.  This needs to happen whether or not Congress can muster the political will and courage to enact a carbon cap that has teeth and an emissions trading system that works well to protect our economy. 

President Obama:

Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent droughts and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees.

The security and stability of each nation and all peoples, our prosperity, our health and our safety are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

His message was echoed by other government leaders.

The unanimous call for decisive action to shift the world away from fossil fuels to cleaner, more efficient energy sources was urgent and compelling.

The unanimous call for the more developed nations to assist poorer and more vulnerable nations—such as the people of the Maldives facing inundation as their islands are overtaken by rising seas—was just as urgent and equally as compelling.

We were several-times reminded:  the world has only 87 days to be ready to reach agreement in Copenhagen. 

It’s time for the US to get its national act together.

The proof of all of this good talk will be in the pudding. 

Much good progress is being made—we note especially initiatives being taken by China, with its massive population and even more massive environmental challenges.  If we are not careful, China could outshine us on the climate front and the economic front, in our near future, and we could be buying our clean energy technology from them instead of making and selling it ourselves. 

Today, President Obama called on everyone, regardless of political affiliation, to embark on a journey to deal with the climate threat as a matter of national security, “a journey that will require each of us to persevere through setbacks and fight for every inch of progress, even when it comes in fits and starts.” 

In the US, we need fewer fits of militant ignorance of the sort we have been witnessing recently—some of it instigated astroturf-style by the likes of the oil and coal industry trade associations and the Chamber of Commerce and fed by propaganda from “think tanks” like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heartland Institute—fewer fits, and many, many more starts, perhaps even real finishes. 

NOTE:  CSW Director Rick Piltz will be interviewed on Al Jazeera TV this evening at 8 pm to answer questions about his views on the UN Climate Summit.  Link to the Live Stream.

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