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Naomi Klein: Obama Is Beginning to Sound Like a Climate Leader, When Will He Act Like One?

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As scientists warn 2015 is on pace to become the Earth's hottest year on record, President Obama has unveiled his long-awaited plan to slash carbon emissions from U.S. power plants. Under new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, U.S. power plants will be required to cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, new power plants will be required to be far cleaner, which could effectively prevent any new coal plants from opening. But does the plan go far enough? We speak to Naomi Klein, author of the best-selling book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate," which is out in paperback today.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: As scientists warn 2015 is on pace to become the Earth's hottest year on record, President Obama has unveiled his long-awaited plan to slash carbon emissions from U.S. power plants. During a speech at the White House, Obama said no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than a changing climate.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Climate change is no longer just about the future that we're predicting for our children or our grandchildren; it's about the reality that we're living with every day, right now. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. While we can't say any single weather event is entirely caused by climate change, we've seen stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons. Charleston and Miami now flood at high tide. Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart. Over the past three decades, nationwide asthma rates have more than doubled, and climate change puts those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital. As one of America's governors has said, we're the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it. And that's why I committed the United States to leading the world on this challenge, because I believe there is such a thing as being too late.

AMY GOODMAN: Under new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, U.S. power plants will be required to cut emissions by 32 percent from the 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, new power plants will be required to be far cleaner, which could effectively prevent any new coal plants from opening. President Obama defended the regulations, which are expected to be challenged in court.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now our power plants are the source of about a third of America's carbon pollution. That's more pollution than our cars, our airplanes and our homes generate combined. That pollution contributes to climate change, which degrades the air our kids breathe. But there have never been federal limits on the amount of carbon that power plants can dump into the air. Think about that. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, and we're better off for it. But existing power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air. For the sake of our kids and the health and safety of all Americans, that has to change. For the sake of the planet, that has to change.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As President Obama spoke, the impacts of extreme weather could be seen across the globe. In California, more than 9,000 firefighters are battling more than 21 active wildfires. In Japan, temperatures topped 95 degrees on Monday for a record fourth day in a row. Heat records are also being broken across the Middle East. In one Iranian city, the heat index reached 164 degrees last week. Temperatures have been regularly topping 120 degrees in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

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Meanwhile, a group of scientists, including former NASA scientist James Hansen, have warned that sea levels could rise as much as 10 feet before the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced. The rise would make cities such as London, New York and Shanghai uninhabitable.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about climate change and President Obama's plan to cut emissions, we're joined by Naomi Klein, author of the best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, which is out in paperback today. She recently spoke at a Vatican climate change summit organized by Pope Francis. Naomi Klein joins us from Washington, D.C.

Naomi, welcome. Your assessment first of President Obama's plan that he unveiled yesterday at the White House?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, good morning, Amy. It's great to be with you, and Nermeen.

So I think that what we're seeing from Obama is a really good example of what a climate leader sounds like. You know, everything he's saying is absolutely true about the level of threat, about the fact that this is not a threat for future generations, it is a threat unfolding right now around the world, including in the United States. It's a threat that is about people's daily health, with asthma levels, and also about the safety of entire cities, huge coastal cities. So he's doing a very good job of showing us what a climate leader sounds like. But I'm afraid we've got a long way to go before we see what a climate leader acts like, because there is a huge gap between what Obama is saying about this threat, about it being the greatest threat of our time, and indeed this being our last window in which we can take action to prevent truly catastrophic climate change, but the measures that have been unveiled are simply inadequate.

I mean, if we look at what kind of emission reductions this is going to deliver, we're -- you know, when you talk about emission reductions, we don't look at just one sector, just at electricity generation; you have to look at the economy as a whole. And what climate scientists are telling us is that relatively wealthy countries, like the United States, if we are going to stay within our carbon budget and give ourselves a chance of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius, which is already very dangerous but is what the United States negotiated, under Obama -- when they went to Copenhagen in 2009, they agreed to keep temperatures below two degrees warming, and, in fact, we're still on track for more like four degrees warming -- if we were to stay below two degrees, we would need to be cutting emissions by around 8 to 10 percent a year. Those are numbers from the Tyndall Centre on Climate Research in Manchester. And this plan would lower emissions in the United States by around 6 percent overall--I'm not just talking about the power sector, but overall emissions by 6 percent by 2030. So compare what we should be doing -- 8 to 10 percent a year -- with 6 percent by 2030. That's the carbon gap, and it's huge.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And so, Naomi Klein, in your view, why did President Obama choose to focus so much on the power sector and not on other equally important sectors?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look, it is an incredibly important sector, as he says. It's just that we have to do it all. And I think that this should be seen as a victory for the grassroots social movements that have been fighting dirty coal plants in their backyards, and the clean coal -- the campaign that the Sierra Club has led over years now to shut down hundreds of coal plants. So this should be claimed, I think, as a grassroots victory. This phase of the plan is better than the last draft, in some ways, in that it's less of a gift to the natural gas sector and has more supports for renewables. It also has more supports for low-income communities for energy efficiency. It's inadequate, but it's still better than the last draft. There are parts of the plan that are worse than the last draft, because of pressure from industry and from states that are very reliant on coal.

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