On Obama’s Climate Action Plan: Q&A with Al Jazeera English


Are Obama’s proposals a step in the right direction for America? What about the critics in Congress? I responded to a few questions from AJE news on June 25 after the President’s speech outlining his Climate Action Plan.

Text of a live interview on AJE’s world news:

AJE (following their story covering Obama’s speech on his Climate Action Plan): These measures, these proposals by Obama are of course nowhere near the restrictions in Europe, in Scandinavian countries, but is it a step in the right direction for America, in your opinion?

RP: Oh yes. Really, this is the first time that any American president has given a major address on the climate change problem to the American people, and characterized it and talked seriously about what needs to be done. So although it’s taken him a long time to get to it, credit to Obama for that.

The details of the plan – there’s quite a bit in there, both on the clean energy and cutting carbon pollution side and on the side of preparedness for the disruptive impacts of climate change, which are already being experienced. In terms of what’s politically practical now, of course it falls far short of being commensurate with the scope and urgency of the problem. I do think it’s a step in the right direction.

AJE: He says the U.S. administration will continue to promote the safe and secure use of nuclear power worldwide. So presumably the greens won’t be too happy with this.

RP: None of the major U.S. environmental organizations supports nuclear power. But there’s no indication that it’s the most economical alternative for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, compared to natural gas, renewable energy alternatives such as wind and solar power, and energy efficiency improvements. The nuclear waste problem still doesn’t have a solution, the safety issues still need to be resolved. So, we’ll see. I don’t anticipate any big increase in nuclear in the U.S. any time in the near future because the other alternatives are already coming in so quickly.

AJE: Obama has been very short on specifics and you have the Republicans saying that this plan will raise costs and destroy American jobs. What’s your thought on this? Are they right?

RP: That’s the standard rhetoric. We’ve been hearing that for a long time. Really, any time the U.S. has moved ahead with stronger regulation of environmental pollutants there is always the complaint from the regulated side, or the right wing, that it’s bad for the economy. Now, there are a lot of things to discuss about who pays what, and how much, and so forth. But that’s just a stock response from people who, for the most part, have been in denial about the reality of the climate change problem and unwilling to engage in a serious way on climate policy.

One reason Obama is relying on executive action within the White House and the federal agencies is because Congress is just impossible right now. There is an obstructionist right wing in Congress that will block any constructive action in this regard. So it’s a big work-around to deal with that. There’s quite a bit in the plan on what can be done without having to get the cooperation of the obstructionists in Congress.

AJE: Certainly a lot of hurdles ahead.

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Earlier posts:

Obama’s climate action plan: The devil is in the follow-through

“The US disconnect over climate change”

Cities taking initiative on climate change preparedness

Also see the good discussion on Al Jazeera English “Inside Story Americas” from June 25:

Saving the planet? As Obama has outlined his new climate plan, we ask if he will be able to fulfill his promise of a greener future. Is this the moment environmentalists have been waiting for? Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist and contributor to the Guardian newspaper; and Daniel Kessler, a media campaigner, who works with 350.org to build a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.

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