Ray Pierrehumbert writes about President Obama's speech in Slate
One should be grateful for a president who is willing to stand up and declare—as President Obama did in his speech Tuesday announcing his long-awaited climate action plan—that global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions is a serious problem requiring serious measures, and that “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” After all, as presidents go, we could have done much worse. President Obama is working under serious constraints in the form of a completely uncooperative Congress, and insofar as there is no real substitute for congressional action, there are limits to what he can be expected to do. One can always hope, but anybody hoping for a miracle in the unveiling of Obama's plan will be severely disappointed.concluding that
So, the decarbonization measures in Obama's plan are good and constructive steps. They include a number of other sensible ideas beyond what I have already discussed, such as worldwide efforts to eliminate perverse subsidies for fossil fuels, substantial reduction of financing of foreign coal-fired power plants, and measures to increase the use of renewables and to improve energy efficiency. But all these measures still don't add up to anything like what is really needed, and nobody should succumb to the illusion that they do. The good news, however, is that Obama has brought the dialogue around to the nature of the solutions to the decarbonization problem. The solutions are many and various, mostly boring and prosaic—and not frightening. They are not precisely painless and risk-free, but neither are they the sort of challenges that Americans have shied away from in the past. President Obama has made a start on leading the nation and world down this path. Where he actually leads, and how much following he picks up, will make all the difference.In reply (well, sort of) President Obama continues in his Saturday radio talk (text below)
Ray, and Obama are correct. There is much work to be done first to shift the Overton window, the center of discourse, so that it no longer offers a picture window view of the Flat Earth Society rallies. Unfortunately, the US has come to the point where such shifting is a necessity for any action on the challenges of climate change.
Here is Obama's talk
Hi everybody. A few days ago, I unveiled a new national plan to confront the growing threat of a changing climate.
Decades of carefully reviewed science tells us our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on the world we leave to our children. Already, we know that the 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15, and that last year was the warmest in American history. And while we know no single weather event is caused solely by climate change, we also know that in a world that’s getting warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by it – more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes.
Those who already feel the effects of a changing climate don’t have time to deny it – they’re busy dealing with it. The firefighters who brave longer wildfire seasons. The farmers who see crops wilted one year, and washed away the next. Western families worried about water that’s drying up.
The cost of these events can be measured in lost lives and livelihoods, lost homes and businesses, and hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief. And Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction in higher food costs, insurance premiums, and the tab for rebuilding.
The question is not whether we need to act. The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.
The national Climate Action Plan I unveiled will cut carbon pollution, protect our country from the impacts of climate change, and lead the world in a coordinated assault on a changing climate.
To reduce carbon pollution, I’ve directed the Environmental Protection Agency to work with states and businesses to set new standards that put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants. We’ll use more clean energy and waste less energy throughout our economy.
To prepare Americans for the impacts of climate change we can’t stop, we’ll work with communities to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure to protect our homes and businesses, and withstand more powerful storms.
And America will lead global efforts to combat the threat of a changing climate by encouraging developing nations to transition to cleaner sources of energy, and by engaging our international partners in this fight – for while we compete for business, we also share a planet. And we must all shoulder the responsibility for its future together.
This is the fight America can and will lead in the 21st century. But it will require all of us, as citizens, to do our part. We’ll need scientists to design new fuels, and farmers to grow them. We’ll need engineers to devise new technologies, and businesses to make and sell them. We’ll need workers to man assembly lines that hum with high-tech, zero-carbon components, and builders to hammer into place the foundations for a new clean energy age. We’ll need to give special care to people and communities unsettled by this transition. And those of us in positions of responsibility will need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of our children.
If you agree with me, I’ll need you to act. Educate your classmates and colleagues, your family and friends. Speak up in your communities. Remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that there is no contradiction between a sound environment and a strong economy – and that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.
We will be judged – as a people, as a society, and as a country – on where we go from here. The plan I have put forward to reduce carbon pollution and protect our country from the effects of climate change is the path we need to take. And if we remember what’s at stake – the world we leave to our children – I’m convinced that this is a challenge that we will meet.
Thank you, and have a great weekend.