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While there is a vast chasm between rhetoric and reality, however, it's hard to not be optimistic that President Obama made specific mention of actively working towards solutions to deal with the very real fact of climate change in his inaugural address.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Mr. Obama said on Monday at the start of eight sentences on the subject, more than he devoted to any other specific area. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
Laying out an agenda to deal with climate change may be the single most important legacy that the Obama presidency could have. It's hard to look at the devastating hurricanes in both the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard, the fires in the West, earthquakes due to fracking, droughts in the Midwest and not come to the obvious conclusion that we're facing some very real threats that will magnify exponentially the longer we avoid dealing with it. Chris Hayes:
[W]hen it comes to domestic and economic policy the president isn’t really the most pressing issue. If you were to start listing the obstacles to climate progress in order you’d start with the major fossil fuel companies themselves, you’d then go to the conservative noise machine that has converted climate change into a culture war issue, another example of out of touch elites trying to tell you what to do, and then the House Republican caucus, which almost unanimously committed to the most depraved kind of denialism, then Senate Republicans who managed to kill the last big climate bill and then Democrats from coal country and other regions that depend on fossil fuel extraction, then Democrats who say they care about climate change but wouldn’t go along with the kind of reform of the filibuster that would make a Senate climate bill a reality and only after that would you get to President Barack Obama.
For this reason, it’s somewhat perverse to focus discussions of climate policy exclusively on Barack Obama. But Barack Obama is also the most powerful person in the world who says he’s committed to averting climate disaster, and with acknowledging that comes some responsibilities. It turns out that even short of congressional action there are a number of extremely significant things the executive branch could do to reduce emissions, develop alternatives and move us closer to the radical, generative transformation of our industrial life we must have very soon. The environmental protection agency actually has the legal authority to begin regulating carbon under the Clean Air Act–no need for congressional approval. The executive branch is such a massive purchaser of energy, vehicles and equipment, it could use that purchasing power to create new, vibrant markets for clean energy.
And the White House currently has the authority to block the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pipe extremely carbon intensive tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. If that pipeline is built, it means a huge new source of emissions into the foreseeable future. The cliche about second presidential terms, one with, I think, a good deal of truth to it, is that in a second term, a president’s attention turns to leaving a legacy. I am almost certain that 50 or 100 years from now, the only issue that will really matter to people is what we did about the climate.