Anticipating President Obama: A U.S. Climate Action Plan?

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 3:34 PM GMT on June 25, 2013

Anticipating President Obama: A U.S. Climate Action Plan?

Today President Obama is planning a major speech that will reintroduce climate change as a spoken-of issue into U.S. politics. There has been a lot of pre-speech publicity, for example Youtube and the speech will be broadcast live, currently scheduled at 1:55 PM Eastern. There has already been some information released including The President’s Climate Action Plan and a shorter Fact Sheet.

I will take The President’s Climate Action Plan as a logical outline for the speech. There are three major bullets in the outline:

Cut Carbon Pollution in America

Prepare the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change

Lead International Efforts to Combat Global Climate Change and Prepare for its Impacts

The outline covers mitigation, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation, anticipating and responding to the impacts of climate change. Looking more deeply into the plan, President Obama is resetting some of the political battles that have proved and will be most contentious, for example, reduction of subsidies for fossil fuels (conservative support), and public sector financing of clean energy. This will queue up the issues of the Keystone Pipeline, which will remain a complex and difficult decision for the near future. The Keystone Pipeline will be viewed as a measure of the seriousness of Administration’s commitment.

Prior to the speech, I think the most important aspect of the speech is re-introducing the language of climate change into the political process (earlier blog on language barriers). To continue to avoid the words climate, climate change and adaptation is damaging to our country’s credibility, economic well being, technological development, our environment and our future. If we do not take a leadership position, I suspect that by 2020 we will be put into a distinct policy disadvantage as emerging use of renewables in other large economies become both economical and influential in the development of trade policy. We are living in a world where the words “climate” and “climate change” are scrubbed from documents and legislative targets in disruptive and destructive ongoing political tribalism. Though a single speech will not end this tribalism, it will start to break down the language barriers, especially as the impacts of weather, climate, climate variability and climate change become more apparent to more and more people.

The last long piece I wrote on policy was just prior to the 2012 election. I reproduce some of this below in anticipation of examining the speech after it is delivered.

Excerpts from Election eve: Climate Science and the 2012 Election – Redux (2)

Originally posted November 4, 2012

Climate change was thrown prominently into the headlines, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City endorsed President Obama, citing at the top of the list Hurricane Sandy and the need to address climate change. Though to my knowledge New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has not made any recent statements about climate change, his tour of the hurricane damage with President Obama has ignited a number of anti-climate change pieces and suggestions that the governor has strayed from the conservative mantra. Hurricane Sandy has put climate change into the headlines, and perhaps made it a small issue for the election, but it is not back as a substantive political issue.

If we look back over the past 4 years, then there are a couple of moments when climate change did appear overtly on the political agenda. Most prominently was in 2009 when the House or Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey, American Clean Energy and Security Act. (my blog at the time) The bill did not go very far in the political process. It was part of the run up to the 2009 United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen. The other significant policy posturing prior to COP15 was U.S. EPA’s decision to regulate carbon dioxide. The threat of regulation is often a policy motivator in the U.S. Ultimately; however, any EPA action was burdened by strong bipartisan opposition to any action that would imperil the role of fossil fuels in the economic recovery.

After COP15 I felt that the U.S. had lost any leadership potential that it might have had on the global stage of climate policy. I also felt that we were squandering technological and economic advantage. I made a prediction prior to COP15: “I imagine that the machinations of legislation and lobbying will push climate change legislation close enough to the mid-term election that it will languish next to health care and Afghanistan and the economy. I think that there will be climate legislation, but I bet that it will be early in year 4 of the Obama administration, with its passage dependent on what Obama’s re-election looks like.”

So that prediction was wrong. What I did not anticipate was the sweeping change in the mid-term election that amplified the political attack on climate change, as well as an attack in general on the use of scientific information in policy and regulation. This attack on the use of knowledge in policy, which is complemented by assaults on very small parts of the U.S. federal budget in the name of budget cutting, only amplifies my concern that the U.S. is placing itself at technological, economic, and, now, research disadvantage. I would insert into the argument about, for instance, the bankruptcy of Solyndra, that our unstable policy on technological investment delayed U.S. development while foreign competitors built effective and market-friendly alternatives. We simply came to the game too late. The fragmented, up and down nature of both energy and climate policy hurt us everyday. For example, we are currently enamored of cheap natural gas and its potential to revitalize industry. This is a great local and short-term benefit. As far as climate policy, it does not serve as convincing reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, there are other environmental challenges with the acquisition of natural gas that will emerge rapidly in the next few years. Therefore, as far as energy policy, it is only short-term opportunism.

Despite the flurry of chatter of climate change as an issue that has followed Superstorm (nee Hurricane) Sandy, it is difficult to look across such a close election and see climate change emerging as a substantive issue on a national scale. To make progress on this issue requires support in the Legislative Branch. I expect that tribal partisanship will continue, and I hope that we spend our first quota of bipartisan behavior on stabilizing the federal budget, dealing with political-economic sequestration, and reconciling continuing resolutions. Thinking about voting, more than climate change in particular, the continued assault on science and the use of science-derived knowledge is, fundamentally, part of the threat to our thriving. This notion of American Exceptionalism takes on the hollow boosterism of Dust Bowl towns, which looked knowledge in the eyes and denied its existence. The world is changing in ways that we do not control, and it will not be good if we are the ones reliant on burning stuff for our way of life.


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Many lines of scientific evidence show the Earth's climate is changing. This page presents the latest information from several independent measures of observed climate change that illustrate an overwhelmingly compelling story of a planet that is undergoing global warming.

It is worth noting that increasing global temperature is only one element of observed global climate change.

Precipitation patterns are also changing; storms and other extremes are changing as well.

A number of agencies around the world have produced datasets of global-scale changes in surface temperature using different techniques to process the data and remove measurement errors that could lead to false interpretations of temperature trends.

The warming trend that is apparent in all of the independent methods of calculating global temperature change is also confirmed by other independent observations, such as the melting of mountain glaciers on every continent, reductions in the extent of snow cover, earlier blooming of plants in spring, a shorter ice season on lakes and rivers, ocean heat content, reduced arctic sea ice, and rising sea levels.

Global Climate Change Indicators
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Climatic Data Center
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 449 Comments: 139980
Dr. Rood,

Why is an event like a landfalling hurricane a reason to support climate change? Haven't hurricanes come ashore since the birth of the world's oceans? A landfall hurricane that strikes the north eastern U.S. is not as common as one striking the southern regions, but it has happened before. Suggesting a weather event, such as a hurricane striking the north east, to support man-made climate change can involve many different fallacies; hasty generalization fallacy, ignoring common cause fallacy, appeal to fear fallacy, begging the question fallacy, to name a few.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I am about halfway through 'Gone with the Wind', reading it that is. (Seems I lost a bet I didn't even realize I made, such are relationships.)

What strikes me is how similar I find the Southern Speeches to the GOP speeches about GW.

Big Oil is the King Cotton and Slavery of today. THe GOP (and the little nasties on here that I presume are paid by the GOP) are the Southern Aristocracy; making speeches, claiming patriotism, etc. and in the end causing only death and destruction for an ideal that wasn't worth fighting for.
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Statement on Uttarakhand Catastrophe by India Climate Justice.

We cannot ignore the climate crisis anymore!

25 June 2013

The India Climate Justice collective notes with deep anguish the devastating loss of life, livelihoods, and homes in Uttarakhand and beyond. The death toll is likely in the thousands, way beyond current official figures. We extend our deep condolences to the families and friends of those killed, and our support to those still fighting for survival, and to local populations whose livelihoods will take years to rebuild.

This tragedy was triggered by extreme unseasonal rains in North India, 2-3 weeks in advance of what is normal for this region. The Director of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Dehradun, said that 340 mm fell in a single day at Dehradun, a record not seen for five decades. Such extreme and unseasonal rainfall seems to us to indicate a global warming induced climate change phenomenon. Warmer air due to global warming has the capacity to hold more moisture, leading to more intense bursts of rainfall. The natural monsoon cycle in India has already been badly disrupted, and a new cycle of extreme rainfall events and prolonged droughts have been reported from all over the country in the recent past. Thus, contrary to statements by senior politicians, the Uttarakhand disaster is not natural: it is no less man-made than the other contributors to the tragedy. And if it is indeed induced by global warming, similar catastrophes could recur with increasing frequency and intensity anywhere in the country in the coming years....

Read more at Greg Laden's Blog

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting zampaz:
Thought for today: We forget about tar sands and pump fresh water from Canada and a desalinization plant on the GOM through the Keystone pipeline to deliver fresh water to the high plains.

Water is heavy. Pumping it costs money. It would be cheaper to import grain from Russia, so that's what would happen.
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Quoting barbamz:
Quoting: "If we do not take a leadership position, I suspect that by 2020 we will be put into a distinct policy disadvantage as emerging use of renewables in other large economies become both economical and influential in the development of trade policy."

Couldn't agree more. Thanks for the new entry!


I wonder, could you give some insight into the German situation regarding solar and wind and what the German people think?
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Moved from other blog.
Quoting allahgore:

Parts of Alaska looks like they will set some new record highs. With the artic ice melt last yr how come Alaska was not as hot? Is it because of the ice extent this yr?

Good question. The answer to this year's extreme seems to lie in the patterns of the Jet Stream.

Here's a video of one of my pinup girls, Prof. Jennifer Francis. (Intelligent woman are so hot, wish she'd let me watch her do some math!)
Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Prof. Jennifer Francis (2013)

Here's an article about the temps in Alaska that quotes Dr. Masters.
94 in Alaska? Weather extremes tied to jet stream
WASHINGTON (AP) %u2014 The jet stream, the river of air high above Earth that generally dictates the weather, usually rushes rapidly from west to east in a mostly straight direction.

Link to full article.

allahgore, I know that you know the climate is changing and we are both concerned with the increasing frequency extreme weather events regardless of the cause of the change. We can work together to help each other prepare our homes, neighborhoods and communities. Some of us will choose to change our lifestyles. Others will not. That's okay, we will still help each other fill sandbags or donate to those who suffer losses. People are sharing on my blog what they are doing to prepare.

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Quoting: "If we do not take a leadership position, I suspect that by 2020 we will be put into a distinct policy disadvantage as emerging use of renewables in other large economies become both economical and influential in the development of trade policy."

Couldn't agree more. Thanks for the new entry!
Member Since: October 25, 2008 Posts: 88 Comments: 9920

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Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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