The President’s Great Wakening

We are witnessing a profound shift by a President who when faced with compelling scientific evidence has changed direction. Candidate Obama was obviously ill informed about the real threat of climate change when he promised to have an “all of the above” energy policy. He even used the mythological term “clean coal” in his campaign speeches. We have forgotten that John McCain was the first Senate sponsor of climate legislation and had a better record on climate than Obama.

In his early years as President, Obama followed those promises. Consider the following actions:

** The Obama administration leased vast quantities of coal under the Powder River Basin and more BLM proposals are coming to light for even more coal leasing in the face of stated climate policies. Much of the Powder River coal will be shipped to China if special interests get their way with ports and railroad projects.

** Obama administration leased to Shell Oil portions of the Arctic Ocean for oil development in arguably the riskiest place for oil exploitation. This is especially troubling after Obama presided over the biggest oil spill in US history. This action was bewildering to say the least especially in the face of a worldwide oil glut that may take oil prices to $33/barrel.

**The Obama administration nearly issued a permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline moving dirty tar-sand oil to market until thousands of protesters marched around the White House and more than 1200 protestors were arrested, forcing President Obama to shelve the permit.

** Ironically, the auto rules that Obama adopted after the auto bail-out, are proving that the best place to drill for oil is under the hoods of our cars. Efficiency is a significant factor driving down oil demand worldwide.

**To stimulate the economy after the market crash and to encourage clean energy investments, Obama unleashed unprecedented investments in “shovel-ready” clean power projects.

** The recently issued clean power plant rules place the President on the map as the first President to take significant action to address climate change. While much of the action will need to occur at the state level, it is an important first step. (Pennsylvania must cut its emissions by twenty six to thirty percent.)

Somewhere along the way, the President clearly discovered at the science of climate change and he is making profound mid-course corrections. In a speech in Anchorage this week, the President warned that no issue would “define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other — and that’s the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”

I am pleased that President Obama is on a tour to draw attention to damage being caused by climate change and to warn Americans that we are not moving fast enough to solve climate change. His travel to the Alaskan Arctic combined with his stop in New Orleans on the ten-year anniversary of the most costly hurricane in American history are forcing elements of the media to cover something they have been reticent to talk about. Obama was right to ignore the oil-controlled Governor of Louisiana when he reminded us that Hurricane Katrina was clearly amplified by hot water in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm passed over Florida as a category 1 hurricane and then hit the overheated waters in the loop current in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and powered up to a category 5 before it struck the Gulf Coast as a massive category 3 storm.

Each year since Katrina, we are witnessing a growing list of tragedies caused by or exaggerated by global warming. Consider just some of the consequences of 2015’s droughts, ice melt and the hot water feeding strong storms:

**California and the desert South west are facing long-term threats from climate change enhanced droughts that will undermine agricultural production and threaten residential and commercial water supplies. Climate change has contributed about twenty-five percent to the current California drought and its contribution will increase year by year.

**Viet Nam’s monsoon rains dumped a half a meter of rain on Ha Long City in one day causing the worst flooding in 40 years.

**Three Category 4 hurricanes (Kilo, Ignacio, and Jimena) were moving across the overheated waters of the Pacific Ocean at the same time in a never-before-seen meteorological event. Jimena had sustained winds of up to 225 km/h.

**Unprecedented in terms of extent and magnitude of harmful algal “Red Tides” along the Pacific Coast close fisheries as warm water conditions prevail offshore in the Pacific from California to Alaska;

**Obama arrived in Alaska as the 2015 Alaska fire season surpassed the 5-million acre mark from 743 fires that burned 5,013,053.4 acres ranking in the top three fire seasons so far in 2015.

**The fire complex burning in north-central Washington is the largest in state history, beating a record established just last year.

**Fires across the West have consumed nearly six million acres already and could potentially exceed eight million acres burned. Before 2000, there was no year on record with more than eight million acres burned across the U.S. Since 2000, six of the fourteen years had more than eight million acres burned, and three years saw over 9 million acres burned.

**Greenland subjected to the rapidly warming temperatures of the Arctic is losing several hundred gigatons of ice each year— a gigaton is a billion metric tons. Tidal cities like Philadelphia need to understand that a three-foot sea level rise is already locked in and much more is possible by mid century.

**The recently released 2015 Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment report indicated that Pennsylvania has warmed 1.8°F in the past 110 years and by 2050 temperatures are expected to average 5.4°F warmer than it was in the year 2000.
Climate change is affecting us all—some much more than others– and we each must act quickly to avoid the worst consequences of climate disruptions. President Obama is setting an example in his willingness to change course. Other politicians on both sides of the isle must follow. Let’s demand that they do before it’s too late. Please support PennFuture as we seek to enact legislation to properly implement the Clean Power rules in ways that will meet the long-term needs of Pennsylvania consumers for reliable, clean and affordable energy.


About Larry Schweiger

Larry Schweiger is the Past President and Chief Executive Officer of Citizens for PennFuture. Previously, he was President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and earlier the CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Larry also served as the Executive Secretary of the Joint (House and Senate) Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He returned to the National Wildlife Federation in March 2004 with a commitment to confront the climate crisis. He is passionate about protecting nature for our children's future. Larry continues the climate work as the battle moves to the states. Previously, Larry served for eight years as President and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, where he pioneered watershed restoration and promoted ecological research, land conservation, community outreach and Fallingwater restoration. In the past, Larry was the Executive Secretary of the Joint House/Senate Conservation Committee for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs at National Wildlife Federation, and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Larry wrote a book warning about climate change impacts on nature entitled: "Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth" that won 1st Prize for the best non-fiction at the 2011 Indie Book Awards. Larry started volunteering at age 14 and is an active community leader, having served on more than 40 governing boards, commissions and committees. He currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Climate Reality; the John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; and National Wildlife Federation Action Fund. In 2012, He was honored by the Blue-Green Alliance for the Federation's leadership on the auto rules and was selected as Pennsylvania’s Environmental Professional of the Year in 2002, Pittsburgh of the Year in 2000, and he received a Conservation Service Award from the Christian Environmental Association in September 1995. Larry is married and is blessed with three daughters, two sons-in-law, and five grandsons.
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