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Found 12 results

  1. Last week left a bittersweet taste in the mouths of environmentalists. On Jan. 25 the Obama administration proposed new protections for large portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which, if approved, would be a huge win. Two days later, however, the administration released its new five-year offshore drilling plan, which opened up more of the Atlantic coast and the Arctic Ocean to dirty fossil fuel development - and potential disaster. The new protections for the refuge, at least, would mark a historical achievement. According to the U.S. Department of Interior, which is recommending the protections, the measures could become one of the largest conservation efforts "since Congress passed the visionary Wilderness Act over 50 years ago." The Department's recommendation is that millions more acres of the refuge, including the Coastal Plain, be declared "wilderness." What that means is it will enjoy the highest level of protection possible for public lands. Mining, drilling, road development, and the construction of permanent structures - all of these things will be prohibited, effectively preserving the area and its ecosystem. The issue, however, is that only Congress has the power to make a "wilderness" designation, and given the fact that the Senate just approved the Keystone XL pipeline on Jan. 29, sending it to President Obama's desk for a likely veto, the likelihood of their cooperation on this matter is doubtful. The President, however, challenged Congress to move on the issue. "I'm going to be calling on Congress to take it a step further," he said from Air Force One during a trip to India. "Designating ANWR as a 'wilderness' so that we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations." "Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife," said Interior secretary Sally Jewell. "Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the ANWR is one of our nation's crown jewels, and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come." Republicans seized the chance to attack the development, with Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, saying he and others will "defeat their lawless attempt to designate ANWR as a wilderness, as well as their ultimate goal of making Alaska one big national park." He claimed it was an example of Obama "thumbing his nose at the citizens and [putting] Alaska and America's energy security in serious jeopardy." But the pro-corporate need not have worried; on Jan. 27, the Obama administration catered to them with the release of its proposed 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The draft plan includes 14 potential lease sales, 10 of which are in the Gulf of Mexico, which is still nursing wounds left by the remnants of the infamous 2010 BP Oil Spill. Three areas off the coast of Alaska (the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and the Cook Inlet) would also be sold for oil exploration, after Shell's numerous efforts to infiltrate the area in the face of impassioned opposition from environmental groups. The final area to be sold would include parts of the Atlantic including coastal parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. This plan is "risky wherever we do it," said Bob Deans, spokesperson for the National Resources Defense Council. "Oil travels a long way. It doesn't respect boundaries." In a press release issued by the council, executive director Peter Lehner added, "This takes us in exactly the wrong direction. It will expose the Eastern Seaboard, much of the Atlantic, and most of the Arctic to the hazards of offshore drilling. It ignores the lessons of the disastrous BP blowout, the growing dangers of climate change, and the promise of a clean energy future." This plan "would put our beaches, wetlands, and all they support at grave and needless risk, imperil coastal communities and economies, and anchor our future to the diry fossil fuels of the past." So the glimmer of hope offered by the proposal for ANWR protections was rather tempered, most activists feel, by the dark news that came two days afterward. For many, this surely feels like a classic case of 'two steps forward and three steps back.' Noting that the plan puts the Alaskan areas in particular at serious risk, Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist with Greenpeace USA, concluded, "Alaska native communities depend on the ocean for their livelihood, not to mention the whales, walruses, seals, birds, and fish that make up one of the few remaining pristine ecosystems on the planet. Crude oil is something that simply can't be put back in the bottle once it has been spilled. The only way to win is not to drill."
  2. After Shell proved, through blunders and its infamous reputation, that it is not fit to drill in the Arctic, Aug. 17 brought news that the Obama administration had granted them approval to do just that. The troubling development came just days after President Obama announced he would visit Alaska to discuss the impact of climate change on the region. Now, as the oil corporation further destroys the already-disrupted Arctic sea ice, the problem of global warming can only grow worse. The move is especially bewildering for many, as the president has declared Alaska to be "the frontlines of our fight against climate change." For a place of such importance, it hardly seems like an opportune time for the administration to greenlight a venture that will wreak environmental havoc, but that is what has come to pass. Even so, the approval has not gone unnoticed by activists. Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel said, "When Obama visits the Arctic this month, he must face the communities he is sacrificing to Shell's profits." Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard added, "The president cannot have it both ways. Announcing a tour of Alaska to highlight climate change days before giving Shell the final approval to drill is deeply hypocritical." In an official report, however, Greenpeace seemed to suggest that the brunt of the blame does not lie with Obama, but rather, with the greed-driven company that seeks to ravage the Arctic. They noted that the president "has used his executive power to show climate leadership before. Earlier this year, he vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline in response to a nationwide public outcry, demanding the U.S. no longer champion policies and projects that accelerate climate change. "The world is watching Shell right now. [They have] a history of ineffective equipment. In 2012, one of Shell's Arctic rigs ran aground and became stuck in Dutch Harbor. The technology does not exist to effectively clean up an oil spill in the icy and unpredictable waters. This is a disaster waiting to happen." The imbalanced and contradictory approach the Obama administration seems to be taking in regard to environmental matters is confusing. That has grown more so with today's news that the EPA, which was responsible for the recent mishap resulting in a large mine waste spill, has proposed new regulations aimed at cutting methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent (from 2012 levels) over the next ten years. The rules would apply to new or modified sources of oil and natural gas and require energy companies to find and fix leaks and take careful steps to limit emissions. And yet, experts seem to point out that this is not quite cause for celebration. Up in the Arctic, when Shell starts breaking up ice in its exploration for oil, more methane will be released into the atmosphere - enough, perhaps, to render the curbing of emissions from other manmade activities a moot point. Merritt Turetsky, a biology professor at the University of Guelph, Ontario, remarked, "Permafrost carbon feedback is one of the important and likely consequences of climate change, and it is certain to trigger additional warming. Even if we ceased all human emissions, ice would continue to thaw and release carbon into the atmosphere." Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, "Granting Shell the permit to drill in the Arctic was the wrong decision, and the fight is far from over. The people will continue to call on President Obama to protect the Arctic and our environment." And the opposition to Shell's drilling is composed of more than just environmental activists. Hillary Clinton released a statement on the matter in the form of a tweet, saying, "The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it's not worth the risk of drilling." Brune added, "She's exactly right. Everything we know about dangerous oil drilling in the Arctic indicates it imperils a national treasure and is guaranteed to make our climate crisis worse. Allowing Shell to use unproven technology in the Arctic is a recipe for disaster and toxic to any climate action legacy."
  3. From the vantage point of a few days out, the Paris climate summit looks set for success - at least by the metrics we've learned to use for these types of meetings. The main target for COP21, which is set to open on November 30, is to garner solid commitments aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and setting a strict bar to keep global warming from passing the 2°C mark. At first glance, this sounds a lot like the goals of previous climate meetings that ended up going nowhere. The 2009 Copenhagen meeting of 115 world leaders, for instance, was at first seen as a big opportunity to reverse climate change. Even before it ended though, the summit was widely panned as a failure. Most of its major goals for reducing CO2 emissions had to be dropped before a final communiqué could even be signed. But Paris could be different. For the first time, leaders from the advanced capitalist countries and those of the emerging economies seem to be on the same page when it comes to the urgency of slowing climate change. Governments are declaring - in advance - their commitment to legally-binding targets and timelines for emissions reduction. That's a real advance compared to previous climate talks where there were only vague recognitions of climate change and pledges to do more. If governments stick to their commitments and follow through with real reductions, then Paris will be worth marking down as progress. Reasons for optimism So why are things shaping up so differently for COP21? A number of major political and economic developments portend a significant shift from what happened at Copenhagen. After several years of wavering, President Obama forcefully rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in early November. By shutting down the plan to build a 1,700 mile pipeline to pump Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta down to Texas Gulf coast refineries, Obama helped set the stage for the discussions that will take place at COP21. On the day of his decision, Obama declared, "If we're going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground." He continued, "America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action on climate change...approving that project would have undercut that global leadership, and that is the biggest risk we face: not acting." Secretary of State John Kerry's comments at the time made it even clearer that the Administration had the upcoming Paris summit on its mind when making the decision. "The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves," he said. "Denying the Keystone XL pipeline is one of those tough choices." The symbolic importance of Keystone should not be underestimated. Stopping the pipeline was the biggest victory that the environmental movement has achieved in the U.S. in many years. It was proof that organized action could have an impact on policy debates. But even more than that, it has sent the most powerful signal possible to other governments that America takes climate change seriously and is prepared to act. By pulling the plug on a pipeline that would have carried some of the world's dirtiest oil to market, Obama demonstrated that the U.S. is willing to be a serious partner in international efforts to tackle global warming. Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both praised the President's decision. Political developments in Canada have also contributed to a changed atmosphere for the Paris talks. The new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was sworn in just days before Obama announced his decision. Though ostensibly a supporter of the Keystone pipeline, Trudeau was publicly against his predecessor Stephen Harper's aggressive lobbying on behalf of the TransCanada Corporation that planned to build it. Trudeau put up no real resistance to Obama's decision. After Harper's loss, the changing of the guard in Canada has been swift. Trudeau moved the environment portfolio out of the Ministry of Natural Resources, which under Harper had prioritized tar sands exploration. Instead, he created a new Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The new foreign minister, Stephane Dion, previously led the Liberal Party on a "Green Shift" platform in 2008 and recently declared that climate change is the "worst threat we are facing this century." The scuttling of Keystone has also gone a long way, especially among developing countries, to begin reversing the image of the U.S. as one who preaches but does not practice. It was preceded by the historic U.S.-China clean energy agreement last year, in which both countries agreed to move toward more renewables. The fact that the world's two biggest polluters have already hammered out an understanding before they arrive in Paris bodes well for a positive outcome. China has long argued that the U.S. had its industrialization heyday and yet continues to produce more emissions per capita than any other nation. The new trend of cooperation between Obama and President Xi signals that the U.S. may be recognizing Chinese criticisms. Taking on the role of leader among developing economies, China has set a target of 20percent clean energy by 2030 and announced a few weeks back that it was implementing a national cap and trade carbon market beginning in 2017. In Britain, meanwhile, the Conservative government of David Cameron has declared its intention to shut down its last coal-fired power plants by 2025. The country which pioneered the fossil-fueled Industrial Revolution of early capitalism is now on board with the changing international climate discussion. The divisions in big oil Where is the credit due for the major turnarounds on the climate issue by these leading governments? Recognition first of all goes out to the environmental and labor movements who have come together to push for stronger climate policies, as well as to the activists and governments of poor and developing countries who are already feeling the effects of climate change. It is also necessary, however, to look at how divisions among the major energy companies are producing cracks in the coalition opposed to climate action. At a gathering of the world's top oil executives - the OPEC International Energy Seminar - in Vienna earlier this summer, major divisions over how to respond to COP21 and the growing commitment to environmental action were revealed. While world oil prices are down over the last several months, no one believes that oil and coal will not continue to be major parts of the world's energy mix. This means that although the market outlook for producers of the dirtiest oil, like TransCanada, may be dimming, all the companies agreed that they will of course continue to invest heavily in their respective sectors. Where the façade of unity begins to break down, however, is on the issue of long-term prospects. The major European oil companies - Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total, Eni, BG Group, and Statoil - released a joint statement at the meeting calling for the development of a global carbon pricing system. The CEO of Shell, Ben van Beurden, told the meeting that the global energy system is experiencing "a transition from the traditional model based on oil and coal to a progressively cleaner, less carbon-intensive model." With an eye toward long-term profitability and market opportunity, these companies are already beginning to think about a post-fossil fuel future. The head of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, took a completely opposite stance. In a strongly-worded warning to his fellow executives, Tillerson said that carbon pricing would destroy economic growth. He declared, "It is very important for governments that make those choices to live with the economic consequences." The imperatives of the short-term thinking inherent to the obsession with quarterly reports and shareholder returns seem to be motivating Exxon Mobil's perspective. The model of a carbon pricing market being debated by these oil executives is a complicated one that has all kinds of shortcomings of its own, not least of which is its in-built inequalities for developing and developed economies. This is not the most important thing to take note of at the OPEC Executives conference though. The most important thing to pay attention to is the fact that big oil is divided and this leaves an opening for progressives to pressure their governments. It has been said that powerful enemies can be vanquished, but only by the most "thorough, careful, attentive, skillful, and obligatory use" of any, even the smallest, of rifts among that enemy. These divisions among big oil are ones that need further attention and study. Stumbling blocks remain While there is reason to be optimistic about the Paris summit, it will not be smooth sailing. The recent terrorist attacks in the French capital have greatly altered the terrain in which the talks will take place. The recent downing of a Russian military plane by Turkish forces further threatens to overshadow the environmental focus that governments had earlier put so much of their efforts into. The heavy focus on security also means that the atmosphere surrounding the conference will probably be very different than anticipated. The dynamics of debate outside of the meeting hall look to be radically changed as French President Francois Hollande has banned demonstrations and public protests by environmental groups. How this will affect the wide range of civil society parallel conferences and events that were planned to take place alongside COP21 is uncertain. It could mean that only the voices of governments and the most well-funded green groups will be heard. That is why it's all the more important to have progressive news coverage and analysis from on the ground in Paris. Back here in the U.S., meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate are doing all they can to sabotage the Paris talks before they even begin. On November 24, they passed two resolutions aimed at blocking EPA regulations that would impose stricter emissions targets on power plants. The President will certainly veto the resolutions, but the main political goal is to undermine Obama at the Paris talks. The Republican plan is to make it look like Obama will be unable to carry through his pledges. West Virginia GOP Senator Shelly Moore Capito admitted as much when she said foreign diplomats "will take away a message from this vote...the general support for the direction he's going is weak at best." Many of the major oil companies, like Exxon Mobil and TransCanada, will also certainly be on the job the morning after the summit concludes to try to water down and derail any commitments that threaten their profits and investment plans. Lobbyists in Washington, Ottawa, and many other capitals will be hard at work to put a check on the drive to halt climate change. COP21 has the potential to be big. Just like the lobbyists of big oil will be doing though, progressive activists and the climate justice movement will have to roll up their sleeves and get down to work if they want to make the pledges of Paris a reality.
  4. World leaders gathered today in Paris for COP21, a UN summit aimed at reaching a new international climate deal that can avert the worst effects of global warming. French President François Hollande opened the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21) summit by stating that the “future of the planet, the future of life” was at stake. “The challenge of an international meeting has never been so great,” Hollande said. Delegates and leaders from 195 countries – along with members from scientific groups, the private sector, indigenous leaders, environmental activists and labour groups – will attend the important UN climate change conference that will take place between November 30 and December 11. Although, the heads of state will only be present during the beginning of the summit. During these crucial days the delegates will work towards a new international climate change agreement that can replace the Kyoto protocol, which is the world’s only legally binding climate change agreement. The Kyoto protocol initially only covered rich and developed countries who are required to cut emissions by 2020 when the treaty expires. The protocol now covers only a handful of countries, including Australia and the member states of the European Union. The United States signed but never ratified the Kyoto protocol. It’s therefore crucial that a new global climate treaty, and one which includes all nations such as China which is currently the world’s biggest polluter, is reached and agreed on in Paris. The delegates will try to reach a deal that will limit global warming to safe levels, i.e. the 2-degrees Celsius target that world leaders have endorsed. In order to keep global temperatures below 2-degrees Celsius, substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed. If no action is taken and no agreement is reached at the Paris summit, the UN has said that the world will be on track for a +3 degrees increase in global temperatures. Scientists are warning that we are already halfway to that critical point as the world has already warmed 1 degree Celsius compared to pre–Industrial Revolution temperatures. But the truth is that the 2-degrees target is not really a safe level and scientists and environmental groups – as well as several heads of state – are calling for emission reductions that will stop global temperatures to increase beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries most at risk from climate change, such as several island states and poorer developing countries, want to see a more ambitious climate agreement. But the likelihood that the rich and developed nations will agree to such reductions are highly unlikely. This question, about developed nations obligations and their historic responsibility, along with the question of economic assistance to developing nations will surely – and yet again – cause a rift between the delegates at the climate summit. Speaking at the opening ceremony today in Paris, President Barack Obama said that the US recognised its responsibility to help limit global warming. “As the leader of the world's largest economy and the second largest emitter […] the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it,” Obama said. Similar speeches from world leaders could be heard during the 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen – and that summit ended in a failure. But things are different this time around. More nations are now feeling the effects of global warming, the science on climate is clear and on point, and renewable energy technologies are improving while their costs are drastically decreasing. And this time around, the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, China and the US, are both supportive of a new climate deal. But there are still several worrying obstacles ahead. While China may be more positive of a climate change agreement this time around, the commitment from India, the world’s third biggest emitter, remains uncertain. The US and EU also has different stances on how much of the new climate agreement should be legally binding – Obama and the US government are pushing for less as a legally binding treaty would be difficult to pass in the US Senate. So far, more than 170 nations – representing 97 percent of the world’s total emissions – have submitted climate pledges to the UN ahead of the climate summit in Paris. But those pledges are currently too weak and will, according to analyses, result in a 2.7 to 3.3-degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures. Despite all of this the hopes and expectations are high on the Paris climate summit to make substantial progress in the fight against climate change. And hopefully it won’t end in a whimper this time, as it did in Copenhagen back in 2009.
  5. As President Obama visits Arctic Alaska, the first president to do so, he is speaking about the many impacts that climate change is already causing there, from rising seas to melting permafrost collapsing homes. Because the arctic is heating faster than the rest of the planet, climate change is a bigger issue for Alaska, for residents of towns close to the water, for tribes dependent on traditional fishing for their livelihood, for rapidly melting glaciers. As part of his trip, Obama gave an opening address to the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage, Alaska. He stated that the U.S. recognizes its role in creating the problem and responsibility to take part in solving it. He noted that no nation is moving fast enough, and condemned leaders who gamble by taking no action on the dire future due to climate change are "not fit to lead." Obama faces severe criticism during the trip from environmental groups who accuse him of hypocrisy, since at the same time he is calling for action to address climate change, his administration has just given final permission to Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic. During his trip, native groups and allies rallied to demand no drilling in the Arctic. Shell's plans have been confronted by many activists, the kayaktivists in Seattle to bridge danglers in Portland, both trying to stop Shell ships and rigs from being able to leave port to go to the Arctic. Groups are mounting petition campaigns and public relations efforts to organize opposition to Shell's plans (sign one petition here.) The record of the Obama administration on environmental issues, while mixed, stands in contrast to the previous, George W. Bush administration. Obama's positive steps include major support for developing renewable energy in the stimulus bill, efforts by the EPA to regulate new and existing power plant carbon emissions, increased mileage standards for cars and trucks, the agreement with China on projected reductions in emissions, and many more. Negative actions include support for major increases in fracking, in offshore oil drilling, and refusing to kill the Keystone XL pipeline (which has also not been approved). The administration faces opposition from the right, in Congress and elsewhere, for the plan of the EPA to regulate carbon emissions as pollution harmful to human health. Republicans in Congress continue efforts to defund the EPA, to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, to undercut any climate agreements, to deny the basic science of climate change, and more. Obama's current tour is part of the run-up to UN-sponsored climate negotiations to take place in December in Paris. The agreement signed between the US and China on carbon reductions has increased expectations that this conference will have more concrete results than many previous UN conferences on climate. In addition to these government-to-government negotiations, there is a growing movement to divest from fossil fuel corporations, which just had a big victory in California. A growing factor on the world stage is the efforts of Pope Francis and other important religious leaders to add a moral dimension to how the issue is framed, and to bring their not inconsiderable political capital to bear on the negotiations. Each particular battle is but one part of the longer struggle to transform our energy economy, our economy as a whole, how things are produced, packaged, and distributed. The direction of these struggles is ultimately to challenge the system, but in the meantime, we need all the allies, temporary or partial though they are, to make changes right now. These current battles lay the basis for future, more basic victories. Obama has moved U.S. policy into the column of those tackling climate change, though in an uneven and partial way. But winning smaller victories now is key to winning more later.
  6. US President Barack Obama has signed an executive order to cut the federal government’s carbon pollution emissions by 40 percent by 2025. The new plan is expected to result in a reduction of 21 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions – which is equal to taking 4.2 million cars of the road for a year. Alongside of this, the share of renewable energy used by the federal government will increase to 25 percent. The plan is also expected to save taxpayers up to $18 billion in reduced energy costs. “Today’s action builds off of the strong progress the federal government has made over the past six years,” the White House writes in a statement. “Already, federal agencies have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent since the President took office, and increased the share of electricity consumed from renewable sources from 3 percent to 9 percent in 2013.” Other measures included in the plan consist of a reduction in energy use in federal buildings by 2.5 percent a year, a reduction in water intensity by 2 percent over the next decade, and a 30 percent reduction of per-mil greenhouse gas emissions from the federal vehicle fleet by 2015 – while at the same time increasing the use of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The reduction plan will be based on emission levels from 2008 and will only involve the US federal government. Although the federal government only contribute modestly to the US’s total greenhouse gas emissions, many see this as a move that’ll hopefully spur other sectors of the country into action, and especially the federal government’s supply chain. The Department of Defense currently has the largest carbon emissions of the US federal government. So far the department has reduced its emissions by 10 percent and is now aiming to install another 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on military buildings by 2025 — enough to power 750,000 homes. “Earthjustice applauds President Obama for issuing an Executive Order today that aims to make a significant cut in carbon pollution—the pollution responsible for climate change—from the government sector,” said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice’s vice president of litigation for Climate & Energy. “The President recognizes that the federal government can lead the way in expanding our use of clean, renewable energy, a key step on the path to end our nation’s unnecessary dependence on fossil fuels that harm our health and the environment.” The US government hopes that this new sustainability plan will strengthen the country’s “leadership on the international stage”, while “ensuring that we can tackle the global threat of climate change and leave behind a safer, more prosperous world.” But for that, we’ll need to see much tougher climate ambitions from the US – something which today unfortunately seems highly unlikely.
  7. President Obama used his executive authority on June 17 to create the world's largest marine sanctuary. This has huge implications for the environment, as it bans commercial fishing, mining, and oil exploration in a major portion of the Pacific Ocean. The move will bypass Republican lawmakers who have long acted as roadblocks to environmental struggles, and could protect up to 800,000 square miles of the south-central Pacific from commercial and corporate exploitation. To this end, the Obama administration also announced the development of a new task force that will combat illegal fishing operations in the Pacific. The President will also consult with scientists and conservationists before determining the precise location and geographic scope of the sanctuary. It will, however, border and vastly expand the areas around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which was established back in 2009 and placed 77,020 square miles under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Obama also sought to add more national monuments. In a continuation of his use of executive power, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, he will designate 11 new national monuments on land across the U.S., allowing a plethora of new protections for millions of acres of precious wilderness. "We can protect our oceans for future generations," said the President. "Growing up in Hawaii, I learned to appreciate the beauty and power of the ocean. And like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I'm going to use my authority as President to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests." The move came directly on the heels of a bold and direct speech by Obama during a commencement address at the University of California-Irvine on June 14. During that address, the President openly criticized the obstinance of Republicans who denied the threat of climate change and the need to defend the environment. He encouraged young voters to speak out about environmentalism and reiterated the need to get legislation passed to change things for the better. With this plan for what will be the largest protected marine area in history, it would seem that Obama is showing he has lived up to his words. The White House's new task force is part and parcel of Obama's new initiative. It will be called the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud, and will report to the National Ocean Council, which itself was established via executive order in 2010. Obama explained that illegal and unregulated fishing in the Pacific continues to "undermine the economic and environmental sustainability of fisheries and fish stocks. Global losses attributable to the black market from such fishing are estimated to be $10-23 billion annually, weakening profitability for legally caught seafood, fueling illegal trafficking operations, and undermining economic opportunity for legitimate fishermen in the U.S. and around the world." Meanwhile, anti-environment Republicans and corporate oil executives are likely seething over the development of the marine sanctuary. Thousands of square miles of what oil companies see as potential territory for offshore drilling will now be closed off to them. And in addition to defending the waters from such tampering, the area's tuna and other fish stocks will be able to recover and increase their numbers. Obama made the announcement at a State Department Our Ocean conference; amongst the attendees was actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who had been strongly pushing for such a move and had previously donated $3 million to the Oceana conservation group. He declared he would now donate an additional $7 million over the next two years to "meaningful ocean protection" and to bolster the President's move. DiCaprio called the interference of oil corporations and illegal fishing markets "the Wild West on the high seas," and called for "an end to the incessant plundering of the ocean and its vital resources." He added that this is a worldwide problem, remarking, "Since my very first dive in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia 20 years ago, to the dive I got to do in the very same location just two years ago, I've witnessed environmental devastation firsthand. What once looked like an endless underwater utopia is now riddled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones." Secretary of State John Kerry added, "Most people think the ocean is larger than life; an endless resource impossible to destroy. But people underestimate the enormous damage that we as humans are inflicting upon the ocean every day."
  8. President Obama gave a de facto follow-up to his previous climate change speech on June 14, during his commencement address at the University of California-Irvine. In a bold and positive move, he called out climate change deniers, emphasized the urgency of the matter, and called on students to push the issue beyond the current partisan divide in Washington, D.C. He criticized the negative remarks made by Republicans in Congress, such as those of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who claimed that the effects of climate change, if any, were "unknowable;" and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who diverted questions on global warming and simply said he was not a scientist. "One doesn't need to be a scientist," Obama pointed out, "to act on scientific issues while in public office." The President said that when Americans were set on a course for the moon, "nobody ignored the science. I don't remember anyone saying that the moon wasn't there or that it was made of cheese. Today's Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change. They will tell you it's a hoax, or a fad. There are some who also duck the question. They say, 'Hey, look, I'm not a scientist.' And I'll translate that for you: what that really means is, 'I know that climate change is happening, but if I admit it, I'll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate change is a liberal plot, so I'm not going to admit it.'" Vox writer Ezra Klein said the speech was a diverse one in that it "was about more than just the Republican Party. It was an impassioned case for why climate action is necessary. And it was, politically, a speech that showed Obama is done trying to convince Republicans to work with him on climate change and has moved on to trying to convince the public - and in particular, the next generation of American voters." Obama is indeed clearly trying to work with young environmentalists, as evident by his remarks: "People are [too busy] thinking about politics instead of thinking about what's good for the next generation. The reason I'm telling you this is because I want to light a fire under you. As the generation getting shortchanged by inaction on this issue, I want all of you to understand you cannot accept that this is the way it has to be. You're going to have to push those in power to do what this American moment demands. You've got to educate your classmates, colleagues, family members, and fellow citizens, and tell them what's at stake. You've got to push back against the misinformation and speak out for facts." Ben Adler, Grist.org writer, pointed out that Obama's act of reaching out to the new generation is a smart move. He said, "Republicans will never embrace climate action just because most people passively support it, or because environmentalists ardently do, but young people could entice them. The millennial generation is growing in electoral strength, leaning heavily Democratic but showing signs of disappointment with the Democrats. If young voters really did show elected officials that support for climate change is a prerequisite for their votes, Republicans might eventually take notice." "I'm not a scientist either," said the President. "But we've got some really good ones at NASA. I do know that the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have since put that debate to rest." It's time, he concluded, "to invest in what helps and divest in what harms. We have to realize that climate change is no longer a distant threat. It has moved firmly into the present." This article was originally published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  9. In what could become a defining moment in environmental history, President Obama unveiled a plan on June 2 to cut carbon emissions by nearly a third within 15 years. It is the centerpiece of a larger climate action plan, and could prove to be one of the most important initiatives ever to fight climate change. "Right now," said Obama, "there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe - none. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water. But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air. It's not smart, it's not safe, and it doesn't make sense." The plan is already facing a wave of hostility from Republicans, who believe it will kill jobs. Obama dismissed this criticism, noting, "Special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy. But let's face it, that's what they always say. They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business. It didn't. Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut dramatically, and our economy kept growing." In fact, if this carbon reduction goal is met, it could produce "net climate and health benefits totaling $48-82 billion," according to the EPA. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said the new rules would be critical in moving the rest of Obama's climate action plan forward. "The EPA is delivering on a vital piece of the plan by proposing a clean power plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from plants. This is not just about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps. This is about protecting our health, our homes, our local economies, and our jobs." Pollution reduction targets will vary based on what is best for each state; for example, the Rust Belt relies heavily on coal-fired plants, but some states, like Iowa, now generate over 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources. Plans will thus be adjusted accordingly. Some activists believe the state-by-state setup could be problematic, particularly in those that heavily lean on coal. Indiana, for instance, gets 80 percent of its electricity from coal. Republican Gov. Mike Pence vowed to fight the plan, remarking, "Indiana will oppose these regulations using every means available." Obama's counselor John Podesta addressed the concerns, stating, "While I am sure there will be holdouts amongst the states, most utilities will also want to work with their regulators to ensure successful implementation." He acknowledged that Republicans will "find various ways to try and stop us from using the authority we have under the Clean Air Act. All I would say is that those have zero percent chance of working, and we're committed to moving forward." Greenpeace applauded the ruling, remarking, "The plan shows that President Obama is serious about pushing the power sector away from coal and toward renewable energy, and that commitment couldn't come any sooner. Global warming is already affecting the lives of Americans in every single corner of our country, and things will get dramatically worse if we don't switch from coal, gas, and oil to renewables like wind and solar." In a separate statement, Greenpeace Climate and Energy Campaign director Gabe Wisniewski warned that the opposition would come not just from right-wing politicians, but industries and lobbyists like the American Legislative Exchange Council. While that pushback is to be expected, he added, it makes little sense, as "the most successful and innovative businesses in the country are sprinting to adopt renewable energy." "The President promised he would act to tackle the climate crisis and protect the health of our children and grandchildren, and he is keeping his word," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "These aren't just the first-ever protections to clean up carbon pollution from power plants, they also represent the largest single step any president has ever taken to fight climate disruption." EcoWatch founder and CEO Stefanie Spear said June 2 was "a really historic day for our country. These guidelines will help foster clean energy and efficiency while cleaning up the nation's air. We really need to show how renewables do work. We can power our country from wind, from solar, from other renewable sources, and energy efficiency has a vital role in all of this." Sheryl Carter, co-director of the National Resources Defense Council's energy program, added, "Energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest, and cleanest way to cut carbon emissions, and it benefits local communities enormously by putting people to work and lowering bills. We are already seeing clear examples of efficiency in action, with huge job and money-savings benefits based on real-world experience by states. This analysis shows that carbon standards that use efficiency as a key strategy will expand these benefits to a much bigger scale. We need to do this now." This article was originally published in People's World by Blake Deppe.
  10. Today the Obama administration announced its plan to cut 30 percent of carbon emissions from power plants by 2030. The new emission standards are historic and are called the strongest action taken by the U.S. so far to curb the effects of climate change. It’s also the first time ever that an American president wants to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that the Clean Power Plan would ensure a healthier environment, spur innovation and strengthen the economy and create jobs. “Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life,” McCarthy said. “By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids.” Coal lobbyist say the plan will create an energy crisis and force hundreds of coal plants to close. But experts say that investments in renewable energy, an industry that already employs 6.5 million people globally, will “explode” as a result of Obama’s new proposal. “If you’re working in the solar or wind industry, you should feel very happy right now. Those are the industries growing faster than the rest of economy,” Mike Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said to Al Jazeera America. “It’s clear that those are going to be the industries to work in, invest in and watch. They’re about to explode in terms of growth.” If the proposal goes through, it could lead to a transformation of the whole energy economy in America, as well as playing a vital role in international climate negotiations – successfully putting pressure on China and India to also limit their use of coal. The new proposal, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mainly targets the country’s 600 coal plants and would result in a 30 percent reduction by 2030 from carbon levels recorded in 2005. The 2005 baseline is politically important as it makes the target much easier to hit. Carbon emissions were much lower at this time than only a few years back. In 2013, the emissions were 10 percent lower compared to only eight years prior. Setting a baseline much further back would have made a bigger impact on climate change – but it would also make the proposal harder to sell. Despite this, the reactions from environmental groups are generally positive but they stress that Obama, and the plan, can do much more. “The new rule shows that the Obama administration is serious about taking action on climate change, but the Administration could and should strengthen it considerably,” Greenpeace director Gabe Wisniewski said in a statement. But the plan might not come into effect until 2017 or 2018 – long after Obama has left office. First, the plan is open for public comment until June next year. After that, all 50 states will participate in a regulatory process where they will determine how to reduce their emissions. The 30 percent target is for all of U.S., this means that targets for individual states varies depending on their current usage of coal. The state of Ohio will have a target of 28 percent, while Kentucky and Wyoming only have to cut emissions by 18 and 19 percent respectively. The proposal could potentially also be in jeopardy if the Republicans were to form an administration before it becomes law.
  11. President Obama issued an executive order on Dec. 5, calling for an increase in solar, wind, and other renewable energy for federal agencies, to 20 percent by 2020. That's three times the amount that the agencies are currently using. The usage is expected to go up by 10 percent by 2015, at least 15 percent between 2016 and 2017, and 17.5 percent between 2018 and 2019. Obama declared, "In order to create a clean energy economy that will increase our nation's prosperity, promote energy security, combat climate change, protect the interests of taxpayers, and safeguard the health of our environment, the federal government must lead by example." This statement is in line with other positive environmental moves the president has made on the federal level, both during this year and in 2012. These include implementing a mercury reduction measure called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, enacted by the EPA; cutting carbon output, which could decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40 percent; and developing a climate change response plan that aspires to double renewable energy usage for the nation as a whole. Federal agencies have already reduced their total greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent since Obama began his campaign to phase out their reliance on fossil fuels. That figure is, according to EcoWatch, the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) commended the president for his bold step forward on this matter. SEIA president Rhone Resch remarked, "From an environmental perspective, few things threaten our nation's future prosperity and way of life more than climate change. That's why it's so important for the federal government to lead by example. We applaud President Obama for standing firm and following through on a key commitment he made as part of his Climate Action Plan. "Moving forward, we also encourage the administration to develop a modern procurement process that allows solar to compete evenly with fossil fuels. Federal agencies should have the authority to adopt long-term power purchase agreements in order to maximize savings for U.S. taxpayers." The solar movement is indeed catching on in the U.S., with New Jersey, California, and Arizona being the top states to implement the technology. Conversely, there are more solar companies in the state of New Jersey than tanning salons. Arizona, meanwhile, installed more "utility-scale solar" technology than any other state in 2012, according to SEIA. And Maryland and Massachusetts saw sharp declines in the cost of solar installation during 2011 and 2012. Given these developments, it would seem logical that federal agencies should follow suit. The push to move the Obama administration on to a clean energy path began, at least partially, last year, when the Pentagon committed to establishing three gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations by 2025. That's enough to power 750,000 homes. The president's executive order, however, gives the overall clean energy push some much needed thrust. This article was first published in People's World by Blake Deppe. The photo shows President Obama speaking to the Airman of Nellis Air Force Base Nev. during a visit to Las Vegas. The president spoke about issues concerning world energy and the importance of solar power. Photo Credit: Nellis Air Force Base (cc).
  12. President Obama made an important speech on climate change on June 25. He announced several policies to be implemented using his executive authority. Al Gore said it was the "best presidential address on climate" ever. The speech and the steps Obama announced are very positive for a number of reasons. First and possibly most importantly, he argued for the necessity of tackling climate change, declaring that "we don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society." His advocacy of action to address climate change is one piece of convincing even more millions of people that we don't have time to waste. This helps turn the agenda away from the deniers and procrastinators, from the oil and coal company executives and owners who want to continue making excess profits while they still can. Obama called on the people of our country to demand action by political leaders at all levels - to invest in renewable energy, to divest from fossil fuel companies, to force politicians to promote sensible climate change laws as a condition of winning the support of voters. He called on citizens to "make their voice heard." The steps he announced, from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases from new and existing power plants, to setting a goal of 10 gigawatts of renewables produced on public lands by the end of this year, are worthwhile in their own right. While these actions do not and can not accomplish as much as major congressional legislation, they do move the U.S. as a country from the obstacle to the solution side of the ledger. Obama, while punting the final decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline down the road, set the crucial precedent that permits should be denied unless there is proof that the pipeline won't increase carbon dioxide emissions. This is an application of the precautionary principle, a variation of the medical admonition to "first do no harm." We should applaud the fact that Obama, after mentioning climate change in both his inaugural address and in this year's State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress, is following up with real action. If he moves forward on his determination to make progress on these environmental issues in his second term, it will be yet another historical accomplishment of his administration. Some have already derided his directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as merely telling the agency to perform its job, including following court decisions requiring the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. However, given the already furious Republican opposition to any action by the EPA, Obama's public reaffirmation is another positive step. While not exactly a "new" policy, it does engage in the battle already ongoing over EPA regulations. These steps build on the environmental accomplishments of Obama's first term, increasing fuel economy standards significantly and investing in renewable energy, using the stimulus to support a more robust renewable energy industry and to invest in research. While appreciating the positive nature of his speech and the policies he announced, it is clear that these actions still fall far short of what scientific knowledge calls for. Climate change does not just threaten even more extreme weather events like last year's Hurricane Sandy; it imperils many natural systems on which developed human existence depend. Much more is required, and congressional Republicans and coal-state Democrats are playing an obstructionist role, preventing the more far-reaching action that humanity needs. While Obama's proposals may be the maximum that is currently politically possible in the U.S., what is really required is a massive effort on many fronts - changing transportation, agriculture, military policy and production; regulating pollution-producing industries; research in many areas of energy, climate, weather, production; retrofitting existing buildings with much more substantial insulation; instituting new building code requirements and federal procurement policies - to mention a few areas where major progress is needed. The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline continues, and the next battle in the Senate will be over the confirmation of Gina McCarthy as new EPA administrator. Already, Republican senators are placing a hold on her nomination and threatening to filibuster any vote on her confirmation. These are just two of many battles to come. This article was first published in People's World by Marc Brodine.