Too Vague on Carbon?

During last night's State of the Union, the President said, "if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will." Mr. Obama recognized (again, as he did in his inaugural speech) that the science supporting the threat of climate change and extreme weather events cannot be denied. Critics from both sides immediately attacked the President for what he said or did not say, turning up the heat on a "hot" issue.

Thomas Pyle, President of the Institute for Energy Research (IER) remarked, "It is telling that President Obama seemed more concerned about climate change than job creation.... For this administration, a deadly hurricane means a chance for carbon taxes."

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On the other side, Forecast the Facts campaign director Daniel Souweine said, "While we are excited to hear the President connect the dots between climate change and increasingly severe weather, accurately explaining the problem is not nearly enough. Tonight, President Obama set the lowest possible bar for action -- he did not pledge to stop the carbon-spewing Keystone XL Pipeline nor promise carbon regulations on existing power plants. In fact, he pledged no specific actions at all."

Bruce Babbitt, Clinton's Secretary of the Interior, compared the President's record to that of his predecessors, claiming that both President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton did more in terms of protecting public land to offset what was being opened for fossil fuel development. "So far under President Obama, industry has been winning the race as it obtains more and more land for oil and gas," he said. The advantage of protecting public lands, of course, is that they can help sequester carbon and thus mitigate oil development (for an explanation read "Why Planting Trees is Cool" in the latest Planet Aid Post).

One brief sentence that fell under the radar of those responding to the President concerned China: "As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we," said the President. It is true that China is pursuing clean energy sources, especially solar energy. However, China is far more black than green, having recently surpassed the United States as the leading greenhouse gas emitter. China is investing more aggressively in renewable energy, but it has also made clear that it fully expects its carbon emissions to continue to rise. China is thus not as "all-in" to clean energy as the President claims.

Rather than laud China's path, the President could have pointed out the Chinese contradiction and demanded that we as a nation do better. The United States can become the leader in green technology and energy use and simultaneously work hard to reduce its carbon footprint. Our leaders must press for change and, at the same time, we must change our own behavior toward less consumption and more efficient resource use. Planet Aid challenges every American to do something specific in reducing our collective carbon footprint. Take the Low-Carbon Challenge today.