AP Decries Obama & Congress' Lack Of Action On Climate Change

The AP called for Obama to take bold action on climate change without the help of Congress on the same day that Skeptical Science released a report showing that climate change is accelerating.

Obama will likely take action to combat climate change, but it won't be enough according to a story in the Associated Press today. Author Dina Cappiello lays out the issue of climate change, the promises Obama has made about it, the politics of the situation and what Obama might actually do. She's spot on with every point. On a coincidental tag-team, Skeptical Science released this graph today, showing that climate change is accelerating, with the greatest effect where the fewest people would notice it: deep within the ocean:
This graph shows ocean temperatures from 1960 to 2008. The black set of lines is the top 300 meters. There's an upward trend, but not necessarily enough to make definite conclusions. The blue line shows the top 700m (so it includes the data from the first sample plus the next 400 meters down. There, we see a general upward trend with a notable spike starting around 2000. The same effect is exaggerated when we look at the entire ocean, the purple line. Skeptical Science points out that much of climate change denialism focuses on the modest increases in surface temperatures (which have also been shown to be caused by human activity) but these miss most of what is going on.

So, climate change is a serious issue, especially for people who plan on living at least several more decades, or who care about those that will. Obama tried and failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation in his first term, and then mostly ignored climate change in the run-up to his reelection effort. Apparently he saw little political mileage to be gained from such a push. With his reelection achieved, Obama gave renewed attention to climate change, devoting more time to it than any other issue in his second inauguration address, and the 2013 State of the Union:

"I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change. ... But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

As you may have noticed, Congress has lost its ability to pass much of anything through both Houses these days, even on issues that don't seem controversial. Climate change is more or less a non-starter in this Congress, but as Cappiello points out, Obama doesn't always need Congress:

In his first term, he struck a deal with automakers to double fuel economy standards. After failing to pass a climate bill through a Democratic-controlled Congress, he proposed rules to control heat-trapping pollution from future power plants.

The president's chances of going through Congress are no better the second time around.

It's worth reminding why nothing is going to make it through Congress. Cappiello:

Any policy to reduce heat-trapping pollution will inevitably target the main sources of Americans' energy: the coal burned by power plants for electricity and the oil that is refined to run automobiles.

Those industries have powerful protectors in both parties in Congress who will fight any additional regulations handed down by the administration that could contribute to Americans paying more for electricity and gas at the pump.

How powerful are those industries? According to Open Secrets, energy and natural resource interests contributed over $137 million to political campaigns (about two-thirds to Republicans) from 2011 to 2012. There is a real, measurable reward to blocking climate change legislation, and a cost, in the form of a well-funded opponent, to pushing climate change legislation that targets those industries.

A miner in Ohio drills for coal.

So, what's a president to do? Well, Obama does have some options. He could tighten regulations on coal-burning power plants, a major contributor of greenhouse gases, but this could be politically costly, as it could cost coal jobs, because coal already struggles to compete with cheap natural gas. The Keystone pipeline remains an unresolved issue: pumping tar sands oil from Canada to Texas would be better than transporting that same oil by rail, but worse than not touching that oil to begin with, at least from an environmental perspective. Lastly, there is the issue of fracking. Fracking, the common term for hydraulic fracturing, which is used together with horizontal drilling to extract natural gas from rocks within the earth, is environmentally costly, but expected to bring an economic boom to the U.S. Hard to turn that one down, and Obama has made no indication that he will.

Cappiello reaches the right conclusion here: "Obama is likely to take more steps to reduce the pollution blamed for climate change. But those actions probably will not be of the scale needed to help much in slowing the heating of the planet." The reality is that our economy relies deeply on cheap energy. The only way out may be to find clean, cheap energy that can compete with natural gas.

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