President Obama’s recent Africa tour could be of great significance.
Last Friday, the League of Women Voters in Hawaii sent Obama back to D.C. on his last day of family vacation in his native Hawaii with a reminder that his action or inaction on addressing climate change will have a great impact on the island's future. The group ran a full-page ad in the local Honolulu Star Advertiser, urging him to take action to address climate change, especially to use existing executive authority under the Clean Air Act, to reduce emissions.
On Monday, a broad coalition of over 70 environmental, civil, health and labor groups signed and sent an open letter to President Obama, demanding he take action on climate change during his second term in office.
They referenced his September 7, 2012, speech in Chicago, when on the campaign trail, when Obama stated, "climate change is not a hoax. More drought and floods and hurricanes are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future. And we can do something about it."
Discussing the letter, Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote: "When I first started working on climate change a decade ago, we spoke in terms of distant forecasts and long-range impacts. Now we simply look out the window to see what climate change can do to our communities ... We no longer have the luxury of time. We must act now to prevent more Americans from feeling the pain of los jobs, destroyed homes and shuttered businesses."
The groups demanded that President Obama take three steps to curb carbon pollution:
1. Raise his voice. Elevate the issue of climate change and solutions in the public discourse by connecting the dots between carbon pollution and extreme weather;
2. Use his executive authority, in particular, by using the EPA's existing authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions from power plants;
3. Reject dirty fossil fuels, especially when climate science tells us that 80% of the existing fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground.
These steps, the groups delineated, can be taken without the vote of the divided Congress. The groups urged that climate change be put at the "top tier" of his agenda.
In particular the groups stated that the "Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest because it would unlock vast amounts of additional carbon that we can't afford to burn."
Environmental groups are awaiting the final decision on the Keystone Pipeline from the State Department. (The decision lies with the State Department since the project crosses the national border into Canada.) With the nomination of Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State to replace Hillary Clinton, some green groups are optimistic about the administration's commitment to climate change.
In an interview with The Progressive, Bill McKibben, Executive Director of 350.org, said, "The first thing President Obama should do is block the Keystone Pipeline. If he does, he'll have a big army of environmentalists ready to help him move forward on other fronts."
350.org and the Sierra Club are calling for a national day of action on President's Day weekend to urge President Obama to address climate change. (Day of action: Sunday, February 17; President's Day is Monday, February 18, 2013.) For more information: http://act.350.org/signup/presidentsday
Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic who covers energy policy, climate negotiations and related direct actions. Her work has appeared in Alternet, Grist, The Nation, The Progressive and the Washington Monthly, as well as Business Green, Climate Progress and TreeHugger.