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President Obama we need leadership to fight climate change

Posted Nov. 20, 2012 / Posted by: Ben Schreiber

Last week it sounded a lot like the conservative think thank American Enterprise Institute cares more about addressing climate change then President Barack Obama. It certainly seems more willing to find solutions.

AEI hosted a symposium on a carbon tax co-sponsored by the Brookings Institute, International Monetary Fund, and Resources for the Future. This well-attended event added to the momentum building behind a carbon tax as a common sense solution to both our fiscal predicament and the looming climate crisis. Additional momentum came from the Washington Post editorializing in favor of a carbon tax, and the New York Times running an op-ed supporting a carbon tax, as well as Reuters, Bloomberg and the Associated Press speculating about the potential for a carbon tax.

All of the chatter about a carbon tax is beginning because making polluters bear the costs of their pollution makes sense today, just like it did last year when we were calling for one. The human costs of climate events like Superstorm Sandy have been broadcast on newspapers and televisions across the country and it is becoming clear that the economic damages have also been severe.

Yet, even after the destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy, President Obama remains unwilling to take the steps necessary to fight climate change.  After ducking the issue of climate change throughout his re-election campaign, the President’s sounded less than committed to fighting climate change in his first press conference after the election.

On one hand, the president acknowledged that there is a problem:

What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago. We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago. We do know that there have been extraordinarily -- there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe.

And I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we've got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.

He even acknowledged that his administration hasn’t done enough to address it:

Now, in my first term, we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. That will have an impact. That will take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere. We doubled the production of clean energy, which promises to reduce the utilization of fossil fuels for power generation. And we continue to invest in potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere.  But we haven't done as much as we need to.

And then, he said he is not willing to spend political capital on a solution:

There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices.  And understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody is going to go for that.  I won't go for that.

The president concluded by telling those of us concerned about climate change to stop talking about climate change and go back to focusing on green jobs:

If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that's something that the American people would support.

Excuse me, Mr. President, but we’ve followed you down that path before and the result was four years of inaction.  We cannot solve climate change by not talking about it, or pretending that green jobs -- without limits and real costs for emitting greenhouse gases -- are going to be enough.  In the wake of Superstorm Sandy we need the president of the United States, a president who was just elected in part as a result of climate change, to lead on the issue. Addressing climate change will require tough political choices, and it will take bold leadership, but isn’t that why you ran for president in the first place?

In fact, the president does not need Congress to act on climate change: there are steps that Obama could take right now if he were serious. He should start by fully utilizing EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions from existing coal plants instead of bottling up regulations. President Obama should follow that up by denying approval for the Keystone XL pipeline and sending a clear signal that we are not willing to take the dirtiest oil in the world.  And of course, calling for a carbon tax as part of a deficit reduction plan would help begin the important debate in this country about how to start making climate polluters pay.

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