How Can President Obama Cut Carbon Emissions Without a Climate Bill?


photo: Beth Rankin via flickr

With Congress still not able to get out of its own way and actually move forward any legislation with the word 'climate' in it, what options does President Obama have to make good on his oft-stated commitments to make reductions in greenhouse gas emissions? Leaving aside the EPA mandating carbon emission reductions (remember it's now officially a pollutant), over at Climate Progress, the executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project has some good suggestions: First is a great suggestion: Create a national clean energy roadmap and part of that is helping all states adopt a series of energy and climate policies outlined by the Center for Climate Strategies. These 23 sector-based policies at the state level would create 2.5 million net new jobs by 2020 while reducing emissions 27% below 1990 levels--that's well over 10% below what the President has pledged, if still not in line with scientific recommendation.

Second is Declaring a war on energy waste. It's pretty shocking to think that the US economy wastes 87% of the energy it consumes, and that in energy efficiency it ranks 22nd in the world. Or maybe it's not, considering that the US doesn't rank near the top of many indices for social welfare, only topping the charts when it comes to military spending. But I digress...

PCAP urges Obama to challenge the US to become the world's most energy-efficient industrial economy by 2035, something which could be done by improving energy efficiency at the rate of 3.1% annually.

Number three requires Congress, but avoids the dreaded C-word. It's also something which about half the staff at TreeHugger has written is a crucial but overlooked component of reducing oil consumption and sound climate policy. It's Reinventing national transportation policy.

Since transportation is responsible for such a large percentage of oil consumption and greenhouse gases, shifting federal funding from overwhelmingly supporting new road-building to supporting mass-transit (and creating more walkable/bikeable communities) is key in tackling climate change and oil dependency. It's also broadly favored in public opinion polls.

Going right along with that is Stopping fossil fuel subsidies. The way PCAP describes it is brilliant:
The oil, coal, and gas industries in the United States are like 50-year-old children still on the breast. They are mature and ridiculously wealthy; the shouldn't need taxpayers to subsidize them.

Currently the US gives 2.5 times more subsidies to fossil fuels than clean energy sources.

The IEA says phasing out over the next decade the $560 billion subsidies that fossil fuels get annually would achieve more than 30 percent of the cuts in carbon emissions necessary to keep rising atmospheric temperatures at no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Fossil fuel profits and the expense of taxpayers and a planet with a roughly comparable climate to that of today? Sounds like a bad bargain.

The last suggestion is perhaps the most under-publicized, yet potentially hugely effective, of the lot: Make ecosystem restoration a cental strategy in climate mitigation and adaptation.

Rehabilitating ecosystems which human activity has degraded is hugely helpful in reducing the impacts of storms along coastlines, increasing the ability of the landscape to absorb carbon emissions, controlling erosion, flooding, and more. To accomplish this through human machination is a far more expensive proposition than simply working with nature so that it can do it naturally, and except for the costs of getting our artifices out of the way and restoring the landscape, do it for free.

Good thoughts all around. Far less contentious than crossing the Rubicon with the EPA cutting out Congress and having a go at regulating carbon emissions itself.

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More on Global Climate Change:
Will Failure on Climate Ruin Obama's Legacy?
Big Corporation Lobby President, Congress For Climate Legislation
Report: Now 4 Climate Change Lobbyists for Every Member of Congress

Tags: Barack Obama | Congress | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions