The Juneau Empire recently had a photo of our shrinking glacier, with a note that for the year 2011-2012 the Mendenhall retreated 40 meters. It’s hard to dispute the science of climate change when your backyard barometer is a rapidly melting glacier that’s been an integral part of one’s life in Juneau. Yet, the deniers funded by carbon intensive industries have held sway over our political climate, that is, until three weeks ago.
“We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat-earth society.” With this line and a solid Climate Action Plan, President Obama has, at long last, brought the climate debate out of the closet and back to center stage. The President’s plan has three pillars: Cutting Carbon Pollution, Preparing for the Impact of Climate Change and Leading International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change. Upon these pillars, the climate plan weaves 15 concrete steps that federal agencies will take to effect a projected reduction of 3 billion metric tons of carbon by 2030. This is a small but vital step in the race to avoid irretrievable damage to Earth’s life-support ecosystems.
This last May at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii carbon emissions registered over 400 parts per million for the first time in 3 million years; indicating we are behind in this race. However, this bleak situation did not deter President Obama, “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”
As a parent motivated by the moral obligation to leave my children a planet that is not irretrievably damaged, I am most thankful for the President’s plan of action that avoids the gridlock of Congress. It is long overdue. As an investor concerned about the growing cost of inaction and its deleterious impacts on our economy, I am relieved that the President is focusing on better preparing for the impacts of a changing climate. Last year alone, weather events related to climate resulted in $110 billion in estimated damages.
As a former Board member of the Renewable Energy Alaska Program, I applaud the President’s attention to accelerating renewable energy projects on public lands. One thing Alaska has more than any other state is public lands and the potential to generate energy from world class resources of wind, tidal, geothermal and hydro. I also served as an appointee to Governor Palin’s Mitigation Advisory Group. In this capacity, I came to learn about the significant amount of methane that escapes from our pipeline operations on the North Slope. Here too, the President’s plan is inclusive by committing to upgrade pipelines and reduce methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent that carbon dioxide. As an Alaskan who knows about the many villages throughout Alaska that are vulnerable and in need of relocation, I was heartened to see a directive to find innovative ways to help our most vulnerable communities.
As I delve into the details, I find there are lots of reasons to be supportive of the President’s plan but it didn’t take long before conservatives and special interests accused the President of wanting to control our economy through regulation and thus harm job growth. However, the President was ready for this standard criticism of attempts to clean up our environment. He reminded us that the auto industry was not decimated when we passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 and that businesses did not suffer a “quiet death” when we tackled acid rain in 1990.
Harvard economist Paul Krugman concurs. In a recent New York Times column, Krugman notes, “The actual lesson of history — for example, from efforts to protect the ozone layer and reduce acid rain — is that business can generally reduce emissions much more cheaply than you think, as long as regulation is flexible to allow innovative solutions. We really can invest in new energy sources, divest from old sources, and actually make the economy stronger. ”
The President’s Climate Action Plan is a long awaited effort to be morally responsive to our children and politically responsive to an escalating crisis. There is much more to do but the big impact steps, like a carbon market based solution, necessitate Congressional action. For now, at least the President call for administrative action takes America out of the climate closet and engages us as a global leader on this most pressing challenge.
Will Alaska follow suit or remain in the closet? We once had a legislative Climate Impact Assessment Commission, a Climate sub-cabinet and two US Senators signed on to legislation to reduce carbon through a market based approach. It is past time for Alaska to re-engage.