Obama’s Climate Words Are Nice. His Climate Deeds Are Even Nicer.

Obama has probably done more than anyone in the history of the planet to reduce carbon emissions.

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Larry Downing / REUTERS

U.S. President Barack Obama at Georgetown University in Washington, June 25, 2013.

I’ve often said the most important thing to know about President Obama, who has a reputation as a words guy, is that he’s really a deeds guy. And I’ve mocked environmentalists who obsessed over Obama’s paltry climate change rhetoric, while ignoring his remarkable climate change actions.

Especially one particular environmentalist who’s terrific at climate words, but didn’t produce much in the way of climate deeds when he held a rather prominent position in the Clinton-Gore administration.

Well, points for consistency, I guess. Obama delivered a stirring speech about climate on Wednesday, and environmentalists who had criticized his “climate silence” seemed thrilled. Including his most prominent environmental critic, who called it “the best by any president ever.” To join in that spirit of consistency, let me say that this speech doesn’t matter any more than his lack of speeches mattered. What matters is action.

(VIDEO: Obama Outlines New Climate Change Plan)

That’s good, because Obama has probably done more than anyone in the history of the planet to reduce carbon emissions. He doubled fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, which by 2025 should erase an entire year worth of U.S. emissions. He enacted a series of new efficiency standards for dishwashers, refrigerators and other appliances, which by 2030 should save enough electricity to power every American single-family home for two years. He approved 45 renewable electricity projects on federal land, producing 10 gigawatts of clean power; his predecessors approved a grand total of zero. And his 2009 stimulus bill launched a clean energy revolution, with $90 billion worth of unprecedented investments in wind, solar and geothermal power; advanced biofuels; electric vehicles; a smarter grid; cleaner coal; efficiency in every imaginable form; high-concept research into low-emissions technologies; green manufacturing; and much more.

The president’s speech at Georgetown mostly suggest that he intends to do more of the same. More efficiency standards. More advanced biofuels. Another 10 gigawatts worth of renewable projects on public land. More electric vehicles. In Obama’s first term, federal agencies reduced their emissions by 15 percent, the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road; in his second term he wants the federal government using more renewables and financing more efficiency projects.

There were two newsworthy announcements in the speech, one perfectly predictable, one a bit ambiguous. The president formally ordered the EPA to draft rules restricting carbon emissions at new and existing power plants. The agency had already categorized carbon as a pollutant, and was already working on regulations for new plants, so this isn’t a surprise. But it’s still a big deal. Dirty coal plants still produce 30 percent of our emissions, even though many of them are closing now that natural gas, wind, and solar are getting cheap. A lot more of them will close once they’re not allowed to be dirty.

(MORE: Carbon Regulations and Keystone Silence: Previewing Obama’s Climate Speech)

Obama also said he wouldn’t approve the Keystone XL pipeline if it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” which obviously depends on the meaning of “significantly.” The White House had leaked before the speech that he’d promise to reject Keystone if it increased emissions at all, which would have doomed the pipeline. I’ve said that if Obama approves Keystone, he’ll deserve all the grief he gets from climate activists, despite all he’s done in the past.

But I don’t think his words mean much on this. We’ll see what he does.

Nothing Obama proposed on Wednesday—not even the carbon regulations—would be commensurate with the scope of the problem. As he said, the twelve hottest years on record were all in the last fifteen years; he also pointed out that my hometown of Miami Beach is spending millions to hold back rising seas. We still need a price on carbon. We still need international treaties to slash emissions. We still need to help clean new technologies compete with incumbent fossil fuels.

But Congress isn’t going to do any of that as long as Republicans control the House and can block legislation in the Senate. The Kyoto treaty didn’t get a single vote on Capitol Hill, even though a climate activist was vice president at the time. So people who care about the climate should be happy that the guy currently occupying the Oval Office has been a deeds guy, cutting emissions on his own. There’s no reason to think that will change over the next few years, whether he talks about it or not.

MORE: State Dept: Build the Keystone Pipeline or Not, the Oil Sands Crude Will Flow

43 comments
j.petergunn
j.petergunn

You should make it to Time's "Person of the Year" after your Assange death wish fantasy.  What a guy. 

kolagunta
kolagunta

The human foot print on this earth considering 1k Sq.mtr per capita including his movements in a totally supine position will be 16mln sq km. This is just 4.4% of the total land area and 3.2 % of the total surface area of the earth. The pollution from this miniscule area occupied by the human race, should only cause local disturbances, and health problems. The major part of this pollution can and should be neutralized by the vast natural forces in our solar system and the universe at large. Hence climate changes being experienced since a decade should be attributed to the happenings in the solar system, like flares, asteroids and other happenings in the universe. This is a cyclic phenomenon and we need to bear with it till a more conducive planetary positions. This belief is also borne by the fact that the present volatility in climate has been predicted by astrologers of yore. It is also true that those astrologers have not considered pollution contributed by humans. Hence all our attempts to control human pollution may not bring in any changethis reversal is to optimize usage . In spite generated. This percentage is only increasing by the day. We are also wasting other resources like human resource in this activity.

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

Metallurgical Coal from the United States is being sold to the Chinese and shipped overseas as fast as it can be dug out of the ground. It's one of the main components for their economy. For those who don't know, Metallurgical Coal is used in the steel making process. Steam Coal is used to run power plants, and it not in great demand because of the restrictions the EPA has placed on coal fired power plants. Most of the coal fired power plants are in the process or have already switched to natural gas, because it's cheaper, and for right now, more abundant. Once all the coal fired power plants convert to natural gas, you better know your gas bill will skyrocket because of supply and demand, be prepared.. Once the EPA starts cracking down harder on natural gas production, we will all be in the dark. Mean while, China is building coal power plants by the dozens, and there is no end in sight. Our economy is imploding from the inside out, and we are being run by dreamers and schemers. Coal built this nation, it wasn't windmills and solar panels. The skylines in cities nation wide are from the direct result of coal. Steel production is vital to our economy, to our security, to our future, and you can't make steel with windmills and solar panels. Climate Change is more about stopping our economy than helping our environment. Anytime you create a new "tax", it's passed on to the consumer, and if you don't believe that, then you're an idiot. Recycling is another myth being peddled by the schemers. If you take a product that has been produced, and recycle it, then you are using double the energy to reproduce it into something else. Also, the next time you set out your bottles, can, plastic, and newspaper; think about that huge corporation that is getting your property for free, and turning into huge profits. It pays big to be green, doesn't it?

MikeKelter
MikeKelter

It's too funny that Obama brought up the issue of the "flat earth society" in Tuesday's speech on global warming.  Obama might actually discover that he has more in common with Flat Earthers at a Beer Summit than he has with an Average Americans.

In an e-mail to Salon Magazine, Flat Earth Society President David Shenton stated that, in addition to believing in a flat earth, he believes in Global Warming.
The link is posted here:  http://www.salon.com/2013/06/25/flat_earth_society_believes_in_climate_change/



Mikey1109
Mikey1109

Great, we all know the libs are great at spreading the misery. So far with this  president my health insurance premium is going up dramatically, gas prices sure haven't gone down any and now my electricity rates will double or triple and I'll lose more discretionary income. All thanks to a hoax and a bunch of extreme save the planet goofballs.

JaniceR88
JaniceR88

During the taping of his interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, Al Gore said because of the apocalyptic horrors of global warming he'd become a priest and was building an ark. Looks like he managed to scare Obama into implementing global warming initiatives as quick as possible before we all die agonizing deaths. http://www.thedailyrash.com/al-gore-becomes-a-priest-plans-to-build-ark

rock0267
rock0267

NOT good news for those of us already living paycheck to paycheck. How are WE supposed to afford to live now that our energy bills will be tripling (just what Obama wanted back in 2008)?

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

This Nike Greenwald has hid head way up Obama's Culo........his praises are making juices run down his legs.......how much are they paying this guy to lie about GLOBAL WARMING......THEN GLOBAL COOLING......THEN CLIMATE CHANGE.....

IDIOTS,,,,,,,THE PLANET EARTH HAS BEEN DOING THIS NATURALLY ALL IT'S LIFE......WITHOUT......THESE ENVIRONMENTAL WACKOS INTRFERENCE LIKE OBAMA AND HIS ILKS!.

THIS IS ABOUT ENSLAVING YOU......THE ILL INFORMED.....THE UNDER EDUCATED CRETIN AND IMBECILES.

GLOBAL WARMING HAS BEEN ADMITTED TO BE A HOWX BY IT'S FOUNDER.....BUT ONCE A BIG LIE IS OUT THERE.....THE IDIOTS AND ILL INFORMED .....LISTEN.

Valentine, WORLD HISTORIAN, COMEDIAN....LOL

KenCurrie
KenCurrie

Nice to know that Time is still drinking Hansen and Mann's kool aid.

blakeNaustin
blakeNaustin

Wrong.  Obama cares about increased government control over the private sector.  He is a Marxist.

RudyHaugeneder
RudyHaugeneder

Bah. The Guardian headline said all there is to say about Obama and the environment:  "Obama's fracked-up climate strategy will guarantee global warming disaster".

Nothing more need be said.

MarkGoldes
MarkGoldes

CHEAP GREEN ENERGY is on its way!

Obama's plan might speed more conventional renewables toward greater market penetration.

See www.aesopinstitute.org for surprising, unconventional examples of breakthrough technologies.

These can completely change the ballgame - and supersede fossil and radioactive fuels faster than might be readily believed.

tom.litton
tom.litton

I'm for a carbon tax.  

There is tons of evidence that links carbon to global warming and global warming to droughts, floods, raising seas, stronger storms etc.   There is enough evidence to act on it.  The military acts on far less information. 

Those consequences have specific costs to tax payers:  Securing levys, rebuilding after storms, reimbursing farmers, etc.  These costs are linked to carbon emissions.   Why should i pay just as much as others regardless of how much i pollute?  How is that fair?  Why not make the people that cause the expense pay for it?    Isn't that the responsible thing to do?

jmac
jmac

Obama:   "Now is not the time for a meeting of the flat earth society."

Republicans, Senator Inhofe, he's talking to you.  Get with the program.  Time to come out of the dinosaur age and enter the next century.   Who knows, maybe one day I'll actually be able to pull the lever for you again.   

Mayberry
Mayberry

Once again Obama declares he's going to save the world with windmills and solar panels and China and India are in the process of building 500 coal -fired  power plants

paulejb
paulejb

If Obama really wanted to reduce carbon emissions he could stop making asinine speeches.

krw1943
krw1943

Hey Grunwald, what does the Great Impostor have on you?

JohnShockley
JohnShockley

This article is crap and this liberals commi agenda is crap

KevinLee1
KevinLee1

HEY MIKE,  What a "suck up" piece of journalism. Obozo should have converted the nations infrastructure and transportation system to run on natural gas. Would have cut CO emissions by 50%, reduced energy costs and stimulated the manufacturing base. " Done more than anyone in the history of the planet to reduce carbon emissions"?

Pgrewe1800
Pgrewe1800

Sorry Mr. Obama but the world has not been waiting for the US to "take the lead"on climate change. Please drop the arrogance.

JimHousman
JimHousman

It is really sad to see this virulent hatred mixed with such certainty, ignorance of science and common decency.   Sad, but not suprising. 

JimHousman
JimHousman

Marxist?  What planet have you been hiding on?

rock0267
rock0267

uh, you DO realize that energy companies won't be paying any carbon tax at all right? Every penny will be funneled to their customers just as any tax or business expense. You aren't very smart, are you?

manlyman
manlyman

Simple. If you fall for this crap you're an idiot and should be slapped just for being stupid. Those who believe this hoax, or peddle this hoax are insane nutjobs and liars, the two main requirements for being a liberal.

Think_again
Think_again

@jmac 

Don't hold your breath waiting for Inhofe — the C02 will kill you. But on the other hand, maybe we can hope that the GOP will begin to read the writing on the wall.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@Mayberry So because India and China aren't doing everything possible to help the climate, that means we should just follow in their footsteps, you think?

No one ever claimed that the US could solve the problem alone.  But we can start doing our part.  And besides the very real lessened CO2 in the atmosphere from that action, doing so will also accomplish two useful things.  First, it will provide a real, large-scale test for cleaner technologies, making them cheaper in the future for places like India and China.  Second, it will provide evidence that a large, modern, healthy economy like the US CAN, in fact, weather the switch over to cleaner technologies, which will give countries like India and China evidence that making the change in the future won't doom them economically.

Think_again
Think_again

@JohnShockley 

What does communism have to do with it?

by the way, there's no holding back the rising ocean. In 20 years or less, Miami will be gone.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@KevinLee1 How, precisely, would Obama have accomplished this magical task, given the fact that 2/3 of Congress opposes it, that energy plants have ~40 year lifespans, and that many of the energy companies are private companies?

You're asking for miracles.  It's no surprise Obama hasn't given them to you. 

Think_again
Think_again

@KevinLee1 

So who has done that, and who has seriously been talking about doing anything of the kind? Sorry Obama doesn't measure up to your utopian fantasies of a president who makes everyone's wishes come true (somehow keeping the significant contingent which thinks this is all "liberal commi [sic] agenda crap" happy along with those who would like us to do better).

Any suggestions for getting congress and the GOP on board? Otherwise, recognize from the start that Obama has already done more than you or anyone else has for the big picture, and give constructive support for him and his successor to do more.

Think_again
Think_again

@Pgrewe1800 

He's appealing to American hubris; americans get petulant if they're not being treated as 'exceptional.' We like to complain about having to 'lead,' but we unfailingly sit on our hands if we don't feel like we're being looked to as leaders. It's the nature of the beast. 

yogi
yogi

They wont read it so long as its written in oil and coal dust.

Think_again
Think_again

@JenniferBonin @Mayberry 

It's amazing how pompous and shortsighted the arguments are for doing nothing. Both India and China (particularly Beijing) are choking on their own air. Wouldn't it be smart to turn things around and take the lead in selling useful technology to them (other than weapons)?

tom.litton
tom.litton

@JenniferBonin @Mayberry Not to mention if we build and deploy the infrastructure first, then we can turn around and sell it to them later.  Otherwise it will be the other way around. 

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@Think_again @JohnShockley Actually, there are parts of Miami (the old parts) which are built up pretty high.  But yes, I take your point.

The fact is, people like @JohnShockley are simply fools who have done no research and are only interested in spewing out propaganda that makes them feel superior.  His "commie" comment demonstrated that, even more than the rest of his rant.  Ignore him.

krw1943
krw1943

@Think_again @JohnShockley  in spite of bad science an autocratic, even tyrannical, ruler is declaring what the country will do about coal, just for example. This is "commi-like." On the other point: Miami will still be here in 20 years. If New Orleans is still here, Miami will be too. Are you in grade school? When you graduate and move on with your life, Google it, Miami will still be there. 



Think_again
Think_again

@JenniferBonin @KevinLee1 

Not to mention that 'natural gas' is a 'cure' that carries its own problems — such as the likelihood of an exponential growth of 'fracking' to extract natural gas, and all of the environmental problems associated with that (like where to put the contaminated water).

Snarky criticism is easy, KevinLee; solutions are not. Your suggestion is only part of a balanced solution, not a magical one-shot cure that Obama has somehow failed to see or act upon. 

How much fracking are you willing to tolerate in your back yard?

Think_again
Think_again

@JenniferBonin @Think_again @JohnShockley 

Yes, not every part of Miami is at risk. But of all the coastal cities in the US, Miami is considered (by those measuring the rise of ocean levels, and regarding their measurements as facts that reasonably suggest trends for the future) to be the city that will be most profoundly affected by the rise in ocean levels. Seawalls will not change that.

Think_again
Think_again

@krw1943 @Think_again @JohnShockley 

I guess we need to step back and have you define exactly what you think communism is, and what you consider the line between leadership and 'tyrannical' rule is. Because I think your 'definition,' such as it may exist somewhere in your cranium, is largely emotional.

Given the nature of the flooding already happening in Miami, I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Your schoolyard taunts really mean nothing. 

Tell me, do you own real estate there? Where are insurance rates going? That ought to give you a clue.