21 january 2015

from USA Today, January 21, 2015

And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

2014 was the planet's warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn't make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act. Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

That's why, over the past six years, we've done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That's why we've set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that's why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world's two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we've got.


Comment in The Real News on Obama's speech by Robert Pollin and Chris Williams (Climate Change Crisis Buried in the State of the Union )

SHARMINI PERIES (Executive Producer TRNN): Bob, let me start with you by getting your reaction to President Obama's State of the Union in relation to the environment.

POLLIN: There really wasn't much there, Sharmini, which was disappointing, in the sense that the area of climate is, one, maybe the most prominent one in which President Obama has previously said, look, I'm going to go ahead with my agenda and I'm going to use my executive authority to proceed with it regardless of what the Republican Congress wants. He didn't really go into that at all. It was more vague generalities, including around the issue of the agreement with China.

I think it's fair to say that the fact that the U.S. is saying they're going to cut emissions and they've got China to say they're going to stabilize emissions and start cutting is broadly favorable. It's a lot better than not doing it. But the U.S. and China, who represent 40 percent of all global emissions, they have to make massive cuts. I mean absolute cuts, not reductions in the rate of increase. They have to make absolute cuts in the range of 40 to 50 percent over the next 20 years in order for the globe to have a chance of achieving climate stabilization. That's how serious it is. And if we get everything that Obama has previously said he's going to do, we would miss the target by about 40 percent, so that it was disappointing, in that Obama did not come out much more aggressively and say, I'm going to proceed with my agenda and I'm going to push my agenda further because if I don't do that, the world is never going to achieve our climate reduction, emissions stabilization. So in that sense it was not really much there.

PERIES: Chris, what jumped out at you in terms of the president's State of Union last night?

WILLIAMS: I agree that he didn't really say anything new. And on the one hand, there don't need to be any new laws to regulate carbon dioxide. The 2007 EPA v. Massachusetts rulings, pre-court ruling, illustrates that the president and the EPA has the right to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. And so we don't need any new laws.

But really, I mean, it's kind of surprising that--I'm surprised that he can even keep a straight face when he talks, because, on the one hand, he's saying that climate change is the biggest threat to human civilization. On the other hand, he doesn't talk about it. So at the same time as what he does talk about, he mentions an expansion of energy production in the United States. Energy production has almost doubled in the last six years, specifically production of fossil fuels from tracking for oil and gas. And he's also touting new trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will absolutely totally undermine any ability for national economies to say, no, we don't want to go down this path, because it's based on damaging the environment. They'll be taken to court. And so it offers unrestricted access; the new trade deals that he was talking about offer unrestricted access to corporations to continue plundering the planet to the cost of the environment, and ultimately, obviously, every living thing on the planet.

So there was nothing new in what he was saying, and where he did mention climate change as a huge problem, he then undermined his own argument by saying, well, we're going to carry on producing fossil fuels, we're going to initiate new trade deals. And I'm, frankly, quite concerned about the fact that the two biggest polluters on the planet are starting to set the agenda for supposedly ameliorating some aspects of their emissions, but not actually talking about reducing them.

What we need is absolute and massive reductions starting immediately, not some time off in the far future when we've stabilized, as opposed to actually reduced, because we know that stabilization will come on top of increases in the meantime.

Chris Williams is a long-time environmental activist and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. He is chair of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute and adjunct professor at Pace University, in the Department of Chemistry and Physical Science

Robert Pollin is professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is the founding co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). His research centers on macroeconomics, conditions for low-wage workers in the US and globally, the analysis of financial markets, and the economics of building a clean-energy economy in the US

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