Will Obama Be the Leader We Need on Climate Change?


Yesterday, millions of Americans voted in record numbers for a dramatic change in our country's direction. After eight years of near-paralysis on the climate front, and in the midst of our biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the election of Barack Obama and a host of new Members of Congress -- many of whom support clean, renewable energy, green-collar jobs and caps on carbon emissions -- gives us hope that we'll finally get the bold climate leadership we've been looking for in Washington. But if this election is going to bring real change on the climate front, we'll have to hold our new leaders accountable (as we plan to do on November 18) for most of the promises they made on the campaign trail -- and get them to drop some others.

There's much to like in the climate agenda that an Obama administration would put before the new Congress. For example, Obama has called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 -- a target in line with what the Nobel Prize winning panel of scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have said we must do if we are to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. While we need to press for much more aggressive short-term targets, such as cutting emissions by at least 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, Obama's long-term target is a good start.

He has also proposed a cap-and-trade policy in which all pollution credits would be auctioned. The proceeds would go towards investments in clean, renewable energy, helping workers affected by this economic transition and helping lower-income families with their energy costs. Obama has also called for 10 percent of our electricity to come for renewable sources by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025, greater investment in energy efficiency, and the creation of five million green-collar jobs (the five1 million green-collar job proposal (PDF) is a direct embrace of 1Sky's policy platform).

Obama is also right in his cautious approach towards nuclear energy. He has warned that, before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed, including: security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation. Given all the risks nuclear power carries, and the exorbitant cost of building new plants, it isn't a realistic alternative to fossil fuels and we're glad to see the President-elect is cool to the idea.

Now that the heat of the campaign season is behind us, we hope President-elect Obama will stop pretending that so-called "clean coal" is a realistic way to reduce carbon emissions and achieve energy independence. As I've written here before, "clean coal" is nothing but a myth. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is unproven and exorbitantly expensive. At best, the technology will not be commercially available until 2030, and installing carbon capture systems will nearly double plant costs, which won't provide any relief to Americans' soaring utility bills. We need real solutions, not coal industry myths. As president, Obama should feel free to stop pandering on clean coal and focus on real solutions to our energy and climate crises.

At 1Sky, we have developed a three-pronged approach to solving the climate challenge:

  • Create five million new green jobs and pathways out of poverty focused on climate solutions and energy efficiency;

  • Reduce global warming pollution at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050;

  • Impose a moratorium on new coal plants that emit global warming pollution, and end our dependence on oil through strong standards and incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The 1Sky Solutions represent the dawning of a new era for our struggling economy. By shifting to a sustainable, low-carbon economy, we can relieve our dependence on oil, unlock the potential of green industry and usher in a new era of prosperity.

The results of yesterday's election are encouraging for our economy and our planet's future, but we'll only achieve the change we need by pressing our leaders for bold leadership to solve the climate challenge. On Tuesday, November 18, join thousands of climate activists across the country to welcome President-elect Obama and the new Congress by calling on them to make climate an immediate priority in 2009. Volunteers will also ask the President-elect to go to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in PoznaD, Poland in December, to re-engage the international community and show the world the he is ready to be a leader on climate. Sign up today, and help us make the most of this historic election.

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