Obama Takes the Lead on Climate Change

President Obama’s speech last week (video, transcript) on climate change was important in all kinds of ways.  The steps he’s taking may be the only way we can do enough to head off the worst effects of what we’ve been doing to the planet for the last several generations, constrained as we are by having to work around the spiteful, obstruction-minded and scientifically benighted GOP.  And, importantly, there’s good evidence to suggest they may actually get us significantly along the way towards the near-term goal of reducing carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020.

Here’s a good summary from Jonathan Chait:

Obama on Climate Change: There Is No Congress

There is a very fortunate irony about President Obama’s second term. He has to deal with a Congress barely capable of keeping the government’s lights on, let alone crafting rational laws, and totally unable to handle any number of policy crises. Yet, on the single most urgent issue facing the country (and the world), climate change, Obama doesn’t need Congress at all.

The contrast between those two facts — the awesome urgency of climate change, and Congress’s inability to tackle even the simplest problems — set the predicate for Obama’s speech today at Georgetown University unveiling his second-term climate agenda. Obama recalled that the 1971 Clean Air Act passed the Senate unanimously, with only one opposing vote in the House. It was a time when the conservative movement exerted hardly any meaningful influence over national politics. Drawing on the contrast between then and now, Obama declared himself open to any new ideas, or better ideas, than his own, but without any illusion that they might surface.

Obama’s plan consists of a long list of small measures along with one large unannounced one. The small measures include using federal land for green energy, toughening up appliance standards, and a long list of other initiatives that, taken together, add up to a significant climate response. The other half is applying the Clean Air Act to greenhouse-gas pollution (as the Supreme Court has previously required). Obama committed himself to doing that, but the details of the regulations won’t come out until next year.

It is true that, in the long run, Congress will have to act. Obama can meet environmentalists’ near-term goal of reducing carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 on his own. In the decades afterward, deeper cuts will be needed — humans have simply pumped too much carbon into the atmosphere to sustain any continuation of the old practices. Perhaps a functional Congress will one day emerge. In the meantime, the only way to understand the issue is that Congress, for all intents and purposes, does not exist.

See also,