I always make a point of reading the State of the Union address. When the president is given a platform to cast a vision for the world’s most powerful country, it’s worth paying attention. I won’t comment on the whole speech, but this time I was pleased to see whole paragraphs about climate change. The issue has been notably absent from the political agenda in the last couple of years, presumably to avoid spooking the electorate. With the next four years in the bag, it’s time to start talking about it again:
For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.
This is good stuff, pointing out the impossibility of attributing individual events to climate change, but making a definitive statement about the science overall. The ‘overwhelming judgement of science’ is indeed that this is happening, and it can’t be ignored. Actions mentioned include sustainable energy and and cap and trade mechanism for carbon emissions:
I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. 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.
Then there’s this, a rather interesting idea:
Much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.
The best possible use for fossil fuels is to use our current revenues from them to pay for the transition beyond them, so this is a smart idea. It’s also a nice bit of commons thinking, recognising that oil and gas can be a shared resource. And shifting transport “off oil for good” is bold thinking.
It’s not all good. I’m not sure how “cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits” will help the climate agenda. Gas maybe, if it is replacing coal, but not the oil. That’s better left in the ground. And ultimately, Obama’s assertion that “we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth” may prove incorrect too. There are certainly plenty of growth opportunities in clean energy, retrofitting and all manner of green developments, but the long term absolute decoupling of economic growth and carbon emissions looks very unlikely. Unless I missed it, there was no mention of international agreement on climate change either. If the US is going to get serious about the climate, it has to engage internationally too.
For now though, I’m happy to settle with America talking about the climate again, and we will watch this space.