Thursday, August 6, 2015

What President Obama's Clean Power Act Does for Climate Change May Surprise You

On Monday, August 3, 2015, President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency released final rules designed to curtail coal-based power plant emissions. Called the Clean Power Plan, the goal is to reduced carbon emissions contributing to man-made climate change. The impact of this plan will surprise a lot of Americans.

The following video is only a little over 2 minutes and worth watching:

Reaction has been about what you might expect. The Republican candidates for president and their Republican colleagues in the House and Senate have falsely attacked the plan for the usual false reasons. The Democratic candidates and in Congress largely agree that the steps proposed are necessary to deal with the unequivocal science demonstrating humans are warming the climate system.

Media reporting of the Clean Power Act shows its critical importance. Time magazine says that the President is taking the lead on this "superwicked problem."  CNN says the President "unveils major climate change proposal." To the New York Times this is a "crucial step on climate change." Other media outlets also note the unprecedented action by the White House and EPA.

Of course, there are also the denial lobbyists saturating the blogosphere with anti-Clean Power Act rhetoric. All provide opinions based on a single negative "report" produced by, you guessed it, one of the denial lobbyist organizations in their network. That's a common tactic of lobbyists - create a biased report and then get all your friends to cite your biased report as "unbiased."

Meanwhile, the response from the scientific community has generally been positive, as might be expected given that nearly every climate scientist agrees that 100+ years of published science unequivocally demonstrates a need to address man's contribution to climate change. There are some, like outspoken climate scientist James Hansen, who feel the Plan is merely a drop in the bucket and won't in itself create significant progress in dealing with our changing climate.

Hansen is probably right.

So let's assume that the Clean Power Plan is insufficient to deal with climate change. In fact, we don't need to assume it because it's fairly self-evident. More action is necessary, both in the United States and globally. So is the Plan a waste of time?

On the contrary, the Plan is both much needed and highly effective in what President Obama is trying to accomplish. By talking about man-made climate change. By taking action on man-made climate change. By making it clear that while some elected officials are taking serious the long-term ramifications of man-made climate (while just as clearly other officials - and presidential candidates - are not taking it seriously), President Obama has gotten the public more involved in the discussion.

And public engagement in the discussion is critical.

It is the public that will pressure their elected officials to address man-made climate change. The science is clear - we humans are warming the climate. The impacts of that warming are significant, they are already happening, and they will keep getting worse without action. It's up to the public to make sure their representatives openly and honestly debate policy options to deal with the unequivocal fact that we're warming the climate. Denial of the science is not honest debate, it's a dishonest violation of the public trust. If the public is uninformed about an issue, than it is the obligation of their elected representatives to help the public become informed. To not do is to sacrifice your constituents.

So while the Clean Power Plan does take significant steps to reduce carbon emissions (which, in itself, is a much needed step in the right direction), the actual Power of the Plan is the public engagement on the issue. Because of it the public will spend more time "debating" climate change, becoming informed on climate change, and demanding action on climate change. The Plan also positions the United States as a leader in the global discussions of policy to deal with the science. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have already made inroads with agreements with China, India, and others, while also leading Europe and other countries at the table for what everyone hopes will be a significant global agreement at the December climate meetings in Paris.

The Clean Power Plan is one piece of a very large puzzle. The President has been actively working to move this process forward along multiple avenues. While the Plan itself will have some effect, it's larger effect is on making it okay to take responsibility for man-made climate change, and to do something about it.

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