2015 State of Union Provides New Hope for Protecting Wildlife From Climate Change

Last year, after the President’s State of the Union Address, I wrote a blog expressing cautious optimism about his agenda on climate change.  I talked about my two young kids, who I’ve been teaching to ski, with the hope that when they grow up we’ll have made progress combatting climate change and winters will still be around.

A year later, my kids are now cruising down the slopes with confidence and my hopes are much less cautious.  After a year and an even stronger State of the Union Address from the President, like my kids on the slopes, I’m feeling much more confident we are turning a corner in the fight against climate change.  This is good news for wildlife and our children.

Here are some reasons why.

Moose and other wildlife need winters to survive.
Photo credit: Philippe Henry

The Moral Call for Climate Action

President Obama issued his strongest call for climate action yet.  Here’s what he said:

And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century. … The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

And he touted real progress:

That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. … And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.

Dirty Power Plants

In his 2014 speech, the President promised historic action to reduce emissions from dirty power plants, the source of about 40% of the nation’s carbon pollution emissions.  In June, we got them when the Environmental Protection Agency issued its Clean Power Plan, the first ever proposed regulations to govern carbon pollution from power plants.  EPA is considering comments and will issue final rules in the summer.

school solar panelsschool solar panels

Solar power is part of the solution to combating climate change.
Solar power is part of the solution to combating climate change.
While the rules leave some room for improvement – something we hope EPA will do before finalizing – they provide an excellent start by giving states flexible options to cut carbon pollution by using measures cleaner renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and teaming with other states to create regional mechanisms to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Once implemented, the Clean Power Plan can help spur the needed transition to a clean energy economy.

Keystone XL

Unlike last year, when he stayed silent about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, this year President Obama said:

21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure — modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.

Today, the chances for rejection of this dirty tar sands pipeline have never been better.  Not only is the case stronger than ever that Keystone XL would exacerbate the problem of climate change and fail the President’s test for determining whether the pipeline serves the national interest, but the President has repeatedly made statements indicating that he understands the pipeline is all risk and no reward.

Fort McMurray, Alberta -- the epicenter of tar sands production (photo: Kris Krug)
Fort McMurray, Alberta — the epicenter of tar sands production (Photo credit: Kris Krug)
Also, for the first time, the President has affirmatively said he will veto any Congressional attempt to approve Keystone XL.

The facts are in and Keystone XL is bad for wildlife, bad for the climate, and bad for the lands and waters it will threaten with a tar sands spill.  2015 stands be the year where, for the first time, a President said no to a major energy infrastructure project because the climate implications were too high.  It won’t be the last time.

What the President Didn’t Say

In what marks a positive change, the President did not say we were pursuing an all-of-the-above energy strategy.  With scientists telling us that we need to leave most of the world’s remaining fossil fuels in the ground, we can’t afford an all-of-the-above approach to energy.  To protect wildlife and our children’s future, we need a best of the above approach.  The President’s retreat from “all-of-the-above” is step forward.

Natural Gas

While the President didn’t mention natural gas specifically, EPA recently announced that it would be pursuing first time regulation of new and modified sources of methane pollution from oil and gas production to reduce emissions by 40-45%.  These rules would complement an effort by the Bureau of Land Management to reduce methane waste on public lands – a valuable public commodity companies are literally letting escape or be burnt into atmosphere.

These measures to control methane are critical to broader efforts to reduce pollution, and necessary to meet the target President Obama set in a groundbreaking agreement with China – a 26-28% greenhouse gas reduction by 2025.  Existing sources of oil and gas production must also be tackled, but EPA’s announcement is another big step towards reducing our carbon pollution emissions and cleaning up public lands wildlife and people value.

It is perhaps not coincidental that this invigorated effort to tackle climate change comes after the largest climate rally ever.

2014 appears to have been a turning point for climate action.  Denial is no longer an option.  People are demanding action.  The road ahead is long and the climb is steep.  But we’re getting started and the reasons for hope keep growing.

Take ActionTake action at this pivotal moment! Urge President Obama to lead the defense of our air, lands and waters for wildlife.