U.S. Must Be Climate Change Leader

Policy Prescriptions for President Obama's Second Term

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By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 05, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.
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Every day this week, the Forward is publishing pieces from opinion leaders in different fields about their prescription for policy in President Obama’s second term.

A sense of urgency over climate change has gripped the world’s scientists, as once-in-a-century superstorms, droughts, floods and shortages of food and water have become commonplace. Lately the alarm has spread to the business and economic communities. As the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Economic Forum and even global insurance giant Munich Re have all reported in the past few months, the cost of slowing carbon emission is now dwarfed by the cost of ignoring it. Global action is needed to avert global catastrophe.

True, America is no longer the world’s biggest carbon polluter. China has overtaken us, despite much lower per-capita emissions, because of its massive population. But China won’t act unless America does. The Chinese have made that clear. As politicians from both parties regularly remind us, the world needs American leadership.

We need a Manhattan Project for alternative, non-carbon energy sources. We need to speed construction and retrofitting of energy-efficient housing. We need to scale up the adoption of smart-grid technology for electricity transmission. We need to put carbon-capture technology on old, high-emitting power plants. We need a crash program to replace coal with cleaner energy sources.

And because fully practical alternative fuels are still years away, we must proceed — cautiously but resolutely — toward more interim exploitation of two risky technologies that we know reduce emissions dramatically right now: nuclear energy and natural gas. Yes, that means fracking.

Read the Forward’s package, Dear Mr. President, policy Prescriptions for the Second Term.

Moreover, with climate change arriving faster than even pessimists predicted, we urgently need billions of dollars to fund adaptive measures: sea walls, flood-protected power and sewage plants and, alas, much more.

Most of all, we need the American public on board. The president must use his bully pulpit to ignite a national conversation and keep it going. Make climate change a major theme of the inaugural address. Lay out a plan.

In a few months, address a joint session of Congress on the topic. In the spring, convene a White House Climate Conference, on the scale of the 1966 White House Conference on Civil Rights. Invite scientists, business leaders, religious leaders, social scientists and celebrities. Then, next winter, take it to Davos. Let the world know America is back in the saddle.

J.J. Goldberg is the Forward’s editor-at-large.


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