Obama Is the Climate Change President
President has three events in less than a week highlighting the severity of climate change.President Obama is visiting Alaska later this month, one of three stops where he will discuss climate change and the continuing threats of global warming. Memo to anyone not paying attention: Barack Obama is all in on the climate change and clean energy issue.
While the political media is obsessed with Donald Trump â€“ and Fox News anchors are more interested in asking about border fences and “anchor babies” â€“ President Obama has not-so-quietly signaled that the climate change/clean energy issue is at the top of his list for the remainder of his term in office.
Obama intends to leave not just a legacy on the climate and clean energy issue â€“ he clearly means to change the U.S. leadership path once and for all on it. And he wants to do it in a way that permanently ends whatever lingering doubts remain on the climate science side, forcing future presidents and Congresses to act (one way or another) on the issue.
Just look at the first three significant events he tasked his growing White House team on climate and clean energy â€“ which rivals in size, scope and seniority the internal team securing the Iran nuclear deal â€“ to take on literally the moment the Obamas leave their vacation at Martha’s Vineyard.These three presidential visits, alone, should let anyone in the White House press corps know that the climate change and clean energy issue has moved up the depth chart to rival the White House focus on securing the Iran nuclear deal.
First up, he’s giving the keynote at Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s annual clean energy summit in Nevada Monday. Obama is literally heading there straight from Martha’s Vineyard.
In that keynote, Obama will almost certainly take on the issue that most threatens widespread support for the White House Clean Power Plan â€“ the notion that the EPA climate rules will harm the poor by exploding their utility bills.
Obama, rather uniquely, can speak to the domestic “energy poverty” question – and will likely do so in a way that confronts it head on.
There are a number of competing studies from the left, right and center on this question. The most objective show a very modest increase over time, but with health benefits to poor neighborhoods far outweighing those very modest cost increases.
Obama will also likely focus on the accelerating conversation about the clean energy revolution â€“ the ways in which it is upending conventional wisdom and creating tens of thousands of new jobs. In just one example, solar jobs now vastly outnumber coal jobs in America â€“ a fact that is lost in the “war on coal” political rhetoric.
Then, just three days later, Obama is heading to New Orleans on the 10 th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Obama will tour neighborhoods and meet with families still recovering from the devastation. But he will also highlight climate change’s increasing impact on storms such as this one. While Obama isn’t likely to focus on climate in New Orleans, it will serve as subtext for the trip.
Since Katrina, climate “attribution” studies have grown vastly more sophisticated at tracking the way in which climate change is now either accelerating or exacerbating impacts from extreme flooding, extreme rainfall or prolonged drought.
At the time of Katrina, that science attribution work was largely in its infancy. Now it is not. Just this past week, for instance, new science showed that climate change is responsible for about a 25 percent increase in the severity of the California drought. Warm ocean waters and extra atmospheric precipitation, these studies show, are now beginning to create bigger storms like Katrina.
Then, at the end of August, Obama will become the first American president to make Alaska an important presidential destination. He’ll visit Alaska as part of a multi-nation summit on the Arctic region.
Alaska is ground zero for climate impacts, and Obama wants to use his bully pulpit to bring some focus to that picture.
The truth is that no other part of the world has been as affected by global warming as the Arctic â€“ and Obama will focus on this during his trip.
There’s Arctic Ocean sea ice, of course. Rapid warming has caused late summer/early fall sea ice coverage to fall by about 40 percent since the 1970s. This trend accelerated after 2007.
The climate impact on glaciers is also most evident in this part of the world. Glaciers are now melting this century at about three times the observed rate as the 20 th century. This isn’t the future â€“ it’s happening right now, before our eyes.
Since rising temperatures are actually much greater in the Arctic region than in other parts of the world, the permafrost that holds stored carbon below is also starting to thaw. While most scientists don’t expect the hundreds of billions of tons of carbon stored below the permafrost to be released anytime in the near future, at least some percentage (perhaps 10 percent) is still likely to be released this century.
But one of the biggest climate impacts is occurring right now in Alaska. Record high temperatures and consistently dry conditions in the western United States created tinderbox conditions for wildfires that have consumed millions of acres. In 2015, so far, more that 6 million acres of forest have been burned by wildfires in Alaska.
[LINK: What Do Drought, Record Heat, Chilling Temperatures and Massive Snow Add Up To?]
Obama will also focus on climate change impacts to human lives and activities while he’s in Alaska â€“ its impacts on coastal communities that may need to be abandoned; on commercial activities that create greater risks of oil spills; on food security issues for communities dependent on changing wildlife populations; and on threats to infrastructure by the dramatic changes in the landscape.
A clean energy summit with the Senate minority leader; a Katrina 10 th anniversary visit; and a significant presidential visit to Alaska – these are just three big climate events that Obama has gone out of his way to focus on literally the first two weeks after his own summer vacation.
They signal, for anyone paying even modest attention, that he and senior White House staff are engaged at the highest levels on the climate and clean energy issue now and mean to make it a top priority for his remaining time in office.
It’s no longer a sideshow. It’s now the main event.