“We will respond to the threat of climate change” – Looking ahead from the Inaugural Address

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President Obama took a major step in the right direction when he made responding to global climate disruption a central commitment in his second Inaugural Address yesterday. There are many opportunities for sustained communication and action during his second term. As the President noted, ideas and values are not self-executing -- so, two immediate government accountability questions: how will he follow up in his State of the Union address, and will his administration block the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline?

The relevant text from the Inaugural Address:

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.  That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

This is excellent.  We would have added words about the importance of climate change preparedness, i.e., proactive steps to limit the damage from "the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms." This will be the necessary complement to the sustainable energy transition as part of an integrated climate policy. Obama can make a strong case on this and put opposition on the defensive. He can emphasize the importance of helping the disadvantaged cope with the impacts of weather and climate extremes – taking care of each other as part of taking care of the planet. As the Evangelical Climate Initiative’s “Evangelical Call for Action” concludes:  “[W]hile we must reduce our global warming pollution to help mitigate the impacts of climate change, as a society and as individuals we must also help the poor adapt to the significant harm that global warming will cause.”

The New York Times reported on January 21:

Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage

By RICHARD W. STEVENSON and JOHN M. BRODER

WASHINGTON — President Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address, setting in motion what Democrats say will be a deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition. ...

The central place he gave to the subject seemed to answer the question of whether he considered it a realistic second-term priority. He devoted scant attention to it in the campaign and has delivered a mixed message about its importance since the election. ...

Mr. Obama’s path on global warming is a case study in his evolving sense of the limits of his power and his increased willingness to work around intense conservative opposition rather than seek compromise. …

Mr. Obama’s aides are planning those steps in conjunction with a campaign to build public support and head off political opposition in a way the administration did not the last time around. …

He is also expected to highlight his plans in his State of the Union address next month and in his budget plan soon afterward. ...

The President will give his State of the Union address to Congress and the nation on February 12. Last year he did not mention climate change in his address. It is essential that he make a strong statement this time -- to signal a commitment to sustained use of the presidency to communicate on this problem, to begin to identify steps he plans to take using his executive authority, and to challenge Congress to get past its current problems of climate policy silence and climate science denialism.

Recall his 2010 State of the Union address. Comprehensive climate change legislation was under consideration in the Senate after having passed the House, the Copenhagen Accords had been signed the previous month, the Environmental Protection Agency had announced its Endangerment Finding on greenhouse gases, and the climate science community was under vitriolic attack by the denial machine. Obama talked about clean energy, then started to back into global warming and climate science ("I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change...."), only to immediately run away from it when Republican members of Congress reacted audibly. A terrible performance by the President, discussed at length in our post on January 28, 2010: Obama 2010 State of the Union evasive and inadequate on climate change and climate science.  This year the President needs to stand up for climate science and stand up to Congress on climate change.

Then there is the matter of a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. We have posted numerous times on this, most recently on January 15: Scientists call on President to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. That post includes a number of additional links.

On February 17, five days after the State of the Union, expect to see (and perhaps join in) a large demonstration on the National Mall in Washington, DC, against the pipeline. From 350.org (Join The #ForwardOnClimate Rally On 2/17!):

At Noon on Sunday, February 17, thousands of Americans will head to Washington, D.C. to make Forward on Climate the largest climate rally in history. Join this historic event to make your voice heard and help the president start his second term with strong climate action.

The first step to putting our country on the path to addressing the climate crisis is for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. His legacy as president will rest squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate crisis.

Details

When: February 17th, Noon

Where: The National Mall, Washington D.C.

Who: 350.org, The Sierra Club and the Hip-Hop Caucus

Why: To tell Barack Obama it's time to lead in the fight against climate change, beginning with the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

We're still looking in to where the best location will be, but we've confirmed a Noon start time on the 17th.

We have been anticipating the administration will approve the pipeline (Lisa Jackson EPA resignation a refusal to support Obama Keystone XL pipeline decision?), while supporting the opposition to it and the campaign to block it. Where Obama comes down on the question of the pipeline permit will be an early and essential indication of just what it means to Obama when he says:

"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. ...The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it."

Also see:

A Siegel for Climate Hawks, Daily Kos: #ObamaEnv: Inaugural Address as Launchpad for Second Term Climate Action

Joe Romm, Climate Progress: White House: ‘We Are Going To Achieve The President’s Goal Of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 17 Percent By 2020′

Peter Sinclair, Climate Denial Crock of the Week: Why I Believe Obama on Climate

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