The midterms are no excuse: Why Obama still needs to act on climate

The midterms are no excuse: Why Obama still needs to act on climate

The midterms are no excuse: Why Obama still needs to act on climate

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Last Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry took the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report as a chance to do a little pre-midterm electioneering. Drawing an implicit contrast between the Obama administration and Congressional skeptics, he said that the “hard science” on climate change could no longer be ignored for the sake of “politics and ideology.”

Considering that the “politics and ideology” of climate denial just expanded its majority in the House and took control of the Senate, this is a hard point to ignore. But just because Congress is about to get much worse doesn’t mean the Obama administration automatically gets better. Two years into Kerry’s tenure as secretary of state, and six years into the Obama presidency, it is fair to ask how well the executive branch is doing when it comes to letting science drive policy on climate change.

Pretty badly, it turns out. There have been a few high profile efforts to curb emissions, like the new Environmental Protection Agency rules regulating power plants. But on the whole the Obama administration is still ignoring the single most important thing the science is telling us: fossil fuels need to stay in the ground.

To be precise, two-thirds of all proven reserves need to never see the surface, and that will only avoid the worst effects of climate disruption. There are a lot of policy mechanisms that could help achieve this — a ban on drilling, a tax on carbon — but at the end of the day, if we aren’t talking about how to keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground, we aren’t taking the science seriously.

This is the litmus test the Obama administration keeps on failing whenever it touts an “all-of-the-above” energy policy. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and tokenistic support for wind and solar doesn’t make it okay to double-down on extreme energy.

Although “all-of-the-above” may mean slightly more investment in renewables, it is also means full speed ahead for ultra deepwater drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and giveaway federal coal leases. Taking this logic as an approach to climate change is like putting on lead shoes before learning how to swim.

This is what happens when you take policy cues from polluters. You have to remember that before it was claimed by the Obama administration, “all of the above” was pioneered by the oil lobby, the same folks who have spent millions promoting phony science to try to hide awareness of climate disruption.

From his perch at Foggy Bottom, Secretary Kerry himself has some of the same problems acting on science. For starters, the State Department is pushing a bunch of initiatives specifically designed to export the US fracking revolution around the world, a dubious environmental legacy considering shale gas is a threat to air and water, and often just as dirty as coal.

Then there’s Keystone XL, possibly the highest profile climate issue of the Obama presidency. Instead of clinging to the idea that tar sands development is going to continue regardless, Secretary Kerry should say in public what he probably already knows: that the project fails the “climate test” President Obama’s laid out and would aggravate emissions considerably.

The fact remains that building Keystone XL would be a lifeline for the now struggling Canadian tar sands industry. The slowing of investment into tar sands, alongside several major project cancellations, proves that blocking infrastructure can block development. Stopping the pipeline in its tracks would be start to keeping one of the dirtiest, least economical fuels in our energy mix in the ground.

Besides blocking the pipeline, strengthening the clean power plan to encourage more renewables and stopping the approval of export facilities for coal and natural gas are two areas where executive authority could make a huge difference to keeping fossil fuels where they belong.

So when it comes to listening to the “hard science” on climate, it turns out there is more than one species of denial. As frothing-at-the-mouth climate skepticism continues to lose credibility, President Obama and Secretary Kerry are on deck to show that the soft denial of inaction has exactly the same effect.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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