Obama on Climate Change: Time's Up, We Need to Act

Speaking at Georgetown University today, President Obama announced his second-term plan to cut the nation's carbon dioxide emissions and reduce the threat of global warming. The New York Times called the plan "the most far-reaching effort by an American president to address what many experts consider the defining environmental and economic challenge of the 21st century."

The centerpiece of the plan is a proposal to reduce CO2 pollution from existing power plants, something the federal Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to do -- and in fact, is required to do -- under the Clean Air Act. The president also outlined proposals for more clean energy development and decreasing the nation's energy use through greater building and appliance efficiency, as well as preparing communities for the expected impacts of climate change, including stronger storms, longer droughts, increased asthma attacks, and raging wildfires. None of his proposals would require Congressional action.

In his speech, Obama laid out what he sees as the crux of the debate surrounding climate change -- chiefly, that there's no time left to debate something that both science and recent reality have established as a grave threat:

Those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don't have time to deny it. They're busy dealing with it. Firefighters are braving longer wildfire seasons, and states and federal governments have to figure out to budget for that. ... Farmers see crops wilted one year, washed away the next, and higher food prices get passed on to you, the American consumer. Mountain communities worry about what smaller snow packs will mean for tourism, and then families at the bottom of the mountains wonder what it'll mean for their drinking water. Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction -- in insurance premiums, state and local taxes, and the costs of rebuilding and disaster relief.

So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements, has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists -- including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data -- have now put that to rest. They've acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it. So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you but to your children and to your grandchildren. As a president, as a father and as an American, I am here to say we need to act. I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing.

The president also addressed his administration's review of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which needs State Department approval to proceed: "Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so would be in our nation's interests. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." (For a rundown of the carbon impacts of the pipeline, see this blog post from Danielle Droitsch of NRDC, which publishes OnEarth.)

Watch the president's address here, read the full contents of the plan here, or see a handy infographic summarizing Obama's proposals and the need for action here.

This story was originally published by OnEarth.