The Common Good

Obama’s Climate Action Plan Paves a Road Ahead

Yesterday was a momentous day for the creation care movement: after years of inaction from Congress, President Obama announced a major, comprehensive plan of action on climate change. President Obama’s new “Climate Action Plan,” which he laid out in a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, addresses the country’s largest source of climate pollution — carbon dioxide from power plants — as well as boosting energy efficiency standards, renewable energy production on public lands, and resilience for cities, towns and roads.

President Obama’s speech was in many ways surprising. He has mentioned climate change from time to time in speeches throughout his presidency, and spoke forcefully on the subject in his Inauguration address in January. But this time he put forth a concrete plan of action, having waited long enough for Congress to pass climate legislation. If the measures in his Climate Action Plan are successful, it will mean real pollution reduction, real adaptation to the impacts of climate change, and a real shift in the right direction.

The President highlighted three motivating factors in stepping up our national efforts to address climate change: what is already known about the real dangers of climate change, a faith in the power of American innovation and ingenuity, and a responsibility to future generations to be stewards of God’s creation.

The central part of the plan will require power plants to limit their carbon dioxide emissions. Coal-fired power plants account for more than one-third of U.S. carbon pollution, so the President’s plan is correct to focus on this critical source of the problem. The rule will not be finalized until 2015, but it has the potential to significantly lower the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Also included in the plan are programs that promote clean energy innovation and renewable energy production. The President brought up the U.S.’ potential to invent and improve clean energy sources. His plan will also speed the permitting process for wind, solar, and geothermal energy production on America’s rich system of public lands.

Obama also said that climate change will be a factor in the decisions the federal government makes about building new facilities, roads and bridges. With severe storms like Hurricane Sandy, coastal flooding and wildfires already on the rise, this program will make communities more resilient in the face of the worst effects of climate change.

Finally, while it was not part of the Climate Action Plan, President Obama surprised many Americans by raising the still-pending issue of the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama did not give a yes or no to the project, but he did say that Keystone would have to pass a specific test:

“Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

What the President said yesterday, and the commitments he took on for our nation, took real courage.  It took courage to stand up to special interests that want more dirty energy at any cost. It took courage to make creation care a priority, with a plan for action before it is too late. And it took courage to name his deeply personal motivation, one that politicians might scoff at: a duty to future generations.

President Obama spoke of looking his future grandchildren in the eye, and answering for what he did to stop the progress of climate change. He closed by asking Americans for their support.

“Make yourselves heard on this issue,” he said.

This is a victory, but it is not the end of the journey to a secure future for creation. That will take all of us working together to make our voices heard so that our leaders will act.

Liz Schmitt is Creation Care Campaign Associate and Janelle Tupper is Campaigns Assistant at Sojourners.

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