22 January 2013 — Yes, the US is in still in major recovery mode from the financial crisis.
Yes, climate denying Republicans will first pick themselves off the floor and then scream blue murder.
Yes, the oil companies and gas-seam bandits will join with the gun lobby and oppose it.
But in the end, it was “Yes we can”. At last.
US President Barack Obama has done what every sane person on the planet hoped he would find the courage to do.
He’s made climate change centre stage of his second term.
And what the US president says, no matter what political party he’s from, matters. It might be a really tough ask to get major legislation through a House of Representatives dominated by his opponents, but at least there’s now a voice at the top to those hopeful that it’s not too late for change on climate action.
In Australian he has immense support that clearly goes across all political inclinations: the vast majority of people polled in August last year supported an Obama win last year; only 5 per cent wanted his opponent Mitt Romney to win.
In Australia therefore, you can expect the front and centring of climate change in the US will have impact.
The rampant destruction of climate and sustainability measures in places such as in Queensland will look increasingly loony.
Anti-climate rogue politicians – elected in a landslide or not – are going to start looking as endangered as the orangutans.
In classic American style, Obama has invoked a religious duty to preserve the planet. That’s won’t wash so well in Oz, but for the US, it’s a rich seam to mine.
The news is bitter sweet, because it would be wonderful if we didn’t need it.
The reality is it’s long overdue.
Here are the nuggets in President Obama’s speech:
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” he said.
“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.
“That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
Following is a round up of the early reaction from around the globe:
The New York Times:
Democrats said it would be a “deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition.”
Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne:
“While domestic action to cut the pollution driving global warming is critical in the USA as it is in Australia, the proof of President Obama’s commitment will be in what the US does in the global negotiations process this year and next.”
“In 2005, when the Kyoto Protocol was ratified, a special two-track negotiating process was established specifically to keep the USA and Australia in the tent long enough for the political situation to change.
“As President Obama has said, and as the Greens have argued and delivered with policies such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, we cannot afford to be left behind in the clean technology race. It may turn out that China’s drive to renewable energy is what leads the world to tackle global warming.
“All this points to just how out of touch Tony Abbott is. I once again call on the Coalition to take its head out of the sand, stop opposing clean technology and pricing pollution, and come on board with what the community and the science demands.”
The Financial Times:
Here are three reasons why the US president should risk vituperation – and even ridicule – by aiming high. First, kids will lie down with leopards before Washington turns bipartisan again. No matter what Mr Obama does – whether it is a plan to subsidise hula hoops or a long walk in the woods with Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei – he will be opposed by a majority of Republicans. He should risk his capital on something game-changing.
Second, the reality of global warming is starker today than four years ago – in most respects, alarmingly so. The last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out in 2007. Subsequent temperature rises, the speed of the retreat of summer Arctic ice coverage and the increase in extreme weather events makes clear that its forecasts were conservative rather than alarmist.
In spite of La Niña, the weather phenomenon that cools temperatures in the Pacific, 12 of the 14 hottest years on record since 1880 have been in this century. Each of the past 36 years has exceeded the 20th century average.
Moreover, the link in the US public’s mind between global warming and harsh weather events, such as the record drought last summer that devastated crops in the Midwest and south, is now firmly established. It is a part of everyday conversation.
Even ExxonMobil, the energy company that used to spend lavish sums on rubbishing global warming, now concedes it is both happening and man-made.
The pool of climate-change deniers has shrunk
faster than the polar caps.
Third, the politics of carbon pricing is not as lunatic as it sounds. In contrast to cap and trade, which requires a large regulatory bureaucracy that would always be prone to manipulation, the carbon tax reflects conservative principles. A simple levy on emissions would ensure that the polluter pays rather than dumping costs on the taxpayer. It would rely on the wisdom of markets, rather than industrial policy. And it would be an efficient way to switch the burden from consumption to investment. In theory, conservatives should approve.
It would also be the fiscally conservative thing to do. The clean-up costs for last year’s superstorm Sandy come to US $60 billion, which is the same as the entire annual revenues Mr Obama secured last month by raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans.
The Huffington Post:
President Barack Obama pledged in his inaugural address Monday to respond to the threat of climate change, saying the “failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
By singling out climate change for several lines of his speech, he is taking on an issue that he acknowledges was often overlooked during his first term and setting up a confrontation with congressional Republicans who have opposed legislative efforts to curb global warming.
Environmental groups hailed Obama’s new focus on climate change but said the president’s words will soon be tested as he decides whether to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.
“Starting with rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, the president must make fighting global warming a central priority,” Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, said Monday.
Alt and other environmental leaders said they are counting on Obama to set tough limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and to continue federal investments in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
Obama tried and failed in his first term to get a climate change bill through Congress. Some Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists have pushed for a tax on carbon pollution, but White House officials say they have no plan to propose one.
Scott Segal, an energy lobbyist who represents utilities and natural gas drillers, said Obama “missed the opportunity to remind listeners that climate change is an international phenomenon” that will require international solutions.
The language and reaffirmation of climate science won praise from environmental groups. “This is a call to action against the climate chaos that is sweeping our nation and threatening our future. Now it’s time to act,” Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
However, campaigners pressed Obama for more. Unlike Obama’s first four years, when even a glancing mention of climate was seen as an achievement, environmental groups pushed the president for specifics.
“Today’s address is an important first step for using the power of the presidency to spur a practical national conversation on climate change. The importance of the president regularly raising his voice on this issue cannot be overstated,” said Lou Leonard, who heads climate change for the World Wildlife Fund.
But his statement added: “A sustained national conversation isn’t enough. The president should lay out the steps he can and will take to clean up our energy system, help communities prepare for climate disruption and encourage the rest of the world to ramp up action.”
The BlueGreen Alliance, while praising Obama for elevating the topic, also called on Obama to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate existing power plants.
Campaigners have limited hopes for Obama’s second term, because of Republicans’ control of the house of representatives.
But they have been looking to Obama to speak out about the importance of climate change, urging him to adopt it as a legacy issue.
With memories fresh of superstorm Sandy and record-breaking temperatures, Mr Obama has already indicated that climate change would be one of his second term priorities along with reforming the immigration system and tightening gun rules.
But climate legislation faces opposition from many Republicans who contest scientists’ view that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are causing climate change and argue that curbing industrial emissions would be too costly.
In a recent opinion article in The Washington Times, Republican Representatives David McKinley and Morgan Griffith accused the administration of “destroying a way of life” in towns that mine coal, the most carbon-intensive major energy source.
Alden Meyer, a veteran watcher of the climate change debate at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called Mr Obama’s speech a “clarion call” but acknowledged the difficulties of passing legislation in Congress.
Mr Meyer said it was more likely that Mr Obama would pursue his first-term strategy of taking executive measures, such as tightening emission standards from power plants.
“I don’t think given the current divide in the Congress that there is much prospect of action on an economy-wide climate bill in the next year or two, but I think that could shift by the latter part of the president’s second term, because clearly public awareness is increasing,” Mr Meyer said.
“This is an issue like immigration or gay rights that they
can’t afford to be on the wrong side of history on,“
Mr Meyer said of lawmakers.
A plan backed by Mr Obama to start a “cap-and-trade” plan with the first nationwide restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions failed in 2010 in the Senate, even with the president’s Democratic Party in control.
The European Union has cap-and-trade systems in place and some experts attribute the lack of US legislation for the slow pace of global talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, with China insisting on clearer commitments.
While the idea is in its infancy, a growing number of US experts have discussed imposing a direct carbon tax similar to one in Australia, which would allow the United States both to reduce emissions and close its yawning debt.
A draft government report recently warned that without action, the United States could face growing storms, fires, droughts, floods and disease and a temperature rise of up to 5.6 degrees Celsius later this century.
Following is the full text of President Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech
Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens: Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
For more than 200 years, we have.
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.
But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.
This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.
We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.
We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.
For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, we must act knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.
They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope.
You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.
You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.
Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.
Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.