President Obama dedicated a whole paragraph of his second inaugural address to the issue of global climate change. In part, he said: “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.”
Many believe that this is the issue of our time. Recently, a 60-person Federal Advisory Panel released a draft climate assessment report for public review that made some fairly dire predictions. For the Midwest, the Panel predicts longer growing and shipping seasons but decreased water quality, more extreme storms, more floods and droughts, and declining lake health. The World Bank released a similar report last November with the theme “why a 4 degree C warmer world must be avoided.”
While some weak efforts at a nationwide carbon cap and trade program died quickly during the President’s last term, sides seem to be lining up to support a carbon tax or to oppose it. Those in favor, like Tom Friedman see it as a “two-fer,” both encouraging alternative energies by raising the price of traditional carbon fuels and a source of revenue for deficit reduction. Those against continue to make the arguments that “the science isn’t clear” and the typical anti-tax arguments. The public seems to want to have those in charge do something, but as usual, are not interested in paying more to avoid the problem. After last Summer, belief in climate change jumped to 70 percent. After Hurricane Sandy, I expect it’s even higher.
The President has been quietly, but steadfastly, working to push toward a carbon-less energy system. We shall see if his February 12 State of the Union outlines the energy “Manhattan Project” his supporters have been calling for and if February brings an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The next 45 days may tell the tale of whether his inaugural paragraph was serious or just words.