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Environmental State of The Union: At a Crossroads


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29 January 2010, 2:31 PM
Congress must seize the historic opportunity lest others reap the rewards
Photo: Pete Souza

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama made it clear—when it comes to the environment, we are at a crossroads. There is historic opportunity for us to lead the clean energy revolution that will transform our societies or watch as others claim the technologies, jobs and environmental benefits that will be its rewards.

President Obama said: "We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change." But, it's up to Congress to claim that leadership position by passing strong legislation to reduce global warming pollution. No longer can our representatives in Congress subsidize and cater to the fossil fuel industries that force us all to be contributors to this planetary crisis. A strong new law can greatly stimulate the burgeoning renewable energy industry, while preserving and creating tools to clean up polluting industries.


For its part in seizing those opportunities, Earthjustice is working to reduce the cradle-to-grave impacts of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. We seek to eliminate mountaintop removal coal mining and to secure the first ever federal regulations for coal ash, and we are challenging dirty coal plants, old and new, to ensure they don't elbow cleaner, safer sources of energy out of the market.

Defending the Clean Air Act is a crucial part of this effort. Since 1971, the Clean Air Act has been a powerful tool to reduce harmful pollution, which is why we're challenging the attempts of industry lobbyists and their political allies to enervate the landmark law at a time when it's most needed.

And keeping with the adage "less is more," energy efficiency remains the cheapest and fastest way to reduce global warming pollution. We are using our legal advocacy to compel the Department of Energy to set strong new efficiency standards for household and commercial appliances, which could eliminate demand for dozens of new coal plants.

"[The] nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy," said Pres. Obama. "And America must be that nation." We couldn't agree more. The time to invest is now, both in strong legislation to reduce global warming pollution and continued legal advocacy using the powerful environmental laws we already have.

 

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which is why we're challenging the attempts of industry lobbyists and their political allies to enervate the landmark law at a time when it's most needed.
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I'm tired of the talk and the hand-wringing. Where are the Green police?

But, it's up to Congress to claim that leadership position by passing strong legislation to reduce global warming pollution.
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Because we have free speech and like to question authority, in America there is still an ongoing debate about climate change, whether the “experts” really know what they’re talking about and how the media presents the information. Some folks even say that the climate is cooling, not warming.

Can Mr. Joe Blow distinguish between the average temperature of the planet--determined by the average temperature of the air and the ocean--and how low the mercury in his outdoor thermometer drops at night? How can scientists convince him the earth is warming when he is out there shoveling two feet of snow?

It’s an interesting concept. Believing in global warming. Or not. Like believing in the tooth fairy. Or God. In the ongoing argument over global warming, who do we believe? And why? The subject of global warming is so complicated we can hardly understand what the scientists are saying. Then they argue and try to discredit each other.

But seeing is believing.

I've stood at the foot of a glacier in Alaska and seen the ranger point out how far the glacier has retreated since the 1930s. "It used to end there. Now it ends here. Scary!" he said.

More recently I came across two satellite photos of Arctic ice in a book by Tony Juniper, "Saving Planet Earth." The top photo was taken by observation satellites in 1972; the bottom one of the same area was taken in 2003. By comparing the two photos, you can see how much of the sea ice has already melted. Juniper writes, "Compared to 100 years ago, there is now, on average, 772,000 square miles less ice."

I figure climate change must be real if heads of state and reps from all 192 countries showed up at a United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen. They must think we are causing climate change if they spent ten days trying to forge an agreement on how to cut emissions. In fact, they must think it's urgent. If the sea keeps rising, some of the island nations will be under water, others impacted by drought and flooding, agricultural disruption, more violent cyclones and hurricanes.

In his introductory speech, the chairman said, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global sea level . . . Most of the observed increase in temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.” (GHG = greenhouse gases.) ("Anthropogenic" means produced by humans.)

A year ago a leading NASA ice scientist, Jay Zwally, said that the Arctic could be essentially ice-free within "five to less than 10 years . . . With global warming, we have woken giants."

And how about that newsflash on the internet in November 2009 as close to a hundred icebergs, some over a mile wide, floated toward New Zealand, threatening ships in the sea lanes?

At http://www.livescience.com/topic/icebergs you can watch an aerial survey of the breakup of the ice shelf in Antarctica. Live Science says, "Eighty-four percent of Antarctic glaciers have retreated over the past 50 years in response to a warmer climate. The work was based on 2,000 aerial photos, some taken in the 1940s, and satellite images. The climate in the region has warmed by more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5 Celsius) in the last 50 years, the scientists said."

If you really want to know, it's out there. Start with Wikipedia. Google GHG.

Frankly, I'm not sure anything concerning 'energy' is going to be passed. Pres. Obama has not had much luck so far in getting any of his programs passed.

What, if anything, are we doing with the nuclear waste from our facilities so far? Dumping it at sea? Burying it? Shipping it to another country?
What difference will the discovery & use of Shale Gas make in our energy future?

Is any of our information or any of our studies up to date?
Before we start promoting something - where exactly are we 'energy-wise'?

Global Warming is the hot issue of today’s scenario. President Barack Obama is fully aware that US plays an important part in leading to this drastic change in climate. So, he believes that they should start the new clean energy revolution to reduce the effects of global warming. A strong law has to be passed by the Congress to rejuvenate the renewable sources of energy. We should use cleaner, safer sources of energy. The country which uses the clean energy will be the global leader.

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How can Earthjustice quote Obama's State of the Union as if it has credibility? Long before his speech, Obama proved himself to be a dissembling, duplicitous blowhard. The NoHopenhagen disaster, the support for nuclear power, the use of depleted uranium weapons on the citizenry of Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan have left no doubt that Obama and his consenting Congress are enemies of the earth and all its populations.

Besides what seems to be general lack of concern for making a so-called 'global economy' (the multinationals) accountable for adversely affecting native cultures is an unwillingness of the world to cooperate in helping to stop the extreme climate change patterns that have been occurring in certain parts of the world which are mainly brought about as a result of burning fossil fuels in the developed or developing countries. It's the reason for the severe droughts in Australia and Africa in recent years which have caused the migration of millions of people trying to escape the miserable conditions as a result of man-made global warming. It's a "double whammy" that could become a global catastrophe unlike any that has ever been experienced before, should the Earth's atmosphere and ocean temperatures continue to rise. Furthermore, the world population, especially in the industrialized areas of the world, can only be sustained by the Earth's natural resources if the natural resources are not stressed to the point in which the demand begins to outstrip the yield. When that critical juncture has been reached, then our planet will have entered into a very unpleasant situation which will likely require that measures be taken to correct those things which are severely threatening the health of our planet and putting plant and animal species at risk. For the vast majority of people, hunger, thirst, and disease will likely become even more frequent experiences should we procrastinate about these very pressing issues that are confronting us. Moreover, the world population can not exceed a number that would put an excessive burden on our planet's natural resources and it's ability to sustain life. We must turn away from our fossil fueled addictive ways. These are very urgent and important issues that must be resolved. If we care deeply enough about Earth, then we should demand that the oil corporations begin to immediately phase out fossil fuel and replace it with, biofuel, solar cells, and whatever else is eco-friendly and sustainable. Earth needs our loving care, but if we continue to neglect this beautiful planet, then how can we expect Her to continue take care of us? It would be very foollish and childish for us to expect that.

Hey Shaun,

Very well written and thought out. It's always refreshing to hear from someone who is well informed and wants to help heal the Earth. I agree completely with everything you said.

Phaedra Greenwood

Primarily collect garbage. Second do not throw away garbage. All humankind cooperate. A leader is necessary for the human. For example, there is the man who makes a ship with PET bottle of the plastic. His name is David de Rothchild. "Captain David" proposes that he protects the sea. It is to protect a living entity of the earth to protect the sea.

I am Hirohito Tida.
It is the representative of the Japan environmental safeguard association. I can lose "toxic exhaust gas appearing from an internal combustion engine" more than 90%. And I "can make water the fuel of the next generation". I can contribute to the world. I feel that the world should be one government.

I am glad to see that others heard the "more nuclear power plants, "clean coal" and off shore drilling", part of the recent-Obama State of the Union address. Extraction is never addressed in these scenarios, the final product: energy resource consumption, is always the focus. The toxic effects of coal, uranium, and natural gas extraction is felt on Native American reservations and in other rural areas as life threatening illnesses and shortened life spans.
Obama is still about the economy of consumption rather than a holistic view of how we live and the need to alter our basic materialistic way of life. As far as the speech was concerned I turned it off at the point of the mention of an expansion of fossil fuel use. Sounds like corporate big oil, big coal and more of the same to me. Dems and Republicans are essentially the same. We need a real change in the direction of this nation. Too bad Obama's cheer leading and tele-evangelistic speaking style doesn't have any real substance to it. Creating a bigger deficit to continue an over use of natural resources is like looking at the fall of every nation state that became an empire. Whose up next????

I am disappointed with President Obama's support for nuclear power, off shore drilling and so called clean coal technology. These are technologies of the past that threaten our environment. We should be concentrating on developing true green, clean forms of renewable energy like solar, wind and geothermal.
In New York, we are fighting those who want to drill for natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale which extends into the watershed areas. The chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process to extract the natural gas can seep into the ground affecting the aquifers that eventually lead into our wells, streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs. The waste water that can be recaptured is toxic. How will we dispose of it? How can the state DEC even consider allowing this type of drilling in and near watershed areas, when the potential for disaster to New York City and other communities' water supplies is possible? In other states, there have already been problems with contaminated wells and waterways with hydraulic fracturing technology.
In Massachusetts and other states, the implementation of biomass incineration power plants threatens the environment and the quality of life of residents. They are neither efficient nor carbon neutral from what I have read. There are plans afoot to allow intense logging and clearcutting on state lands in Massachusetts. Much of the material cut will fuel these biomass facilities. If demolition and construction debris is allowed to be burned, toxic chemicals including lead, arsenic and cadmium will be released into the atmosphere. These plants will be getting all kinds of subsidies from the government to operate. In effect, the taxpayers will be charged to poison their environment and destroy their public lands.
Again and again, the special interests get what they want at the expense of the taxpayers. The environmental organizations must continue to speak out for clean renewable energy alternatives!

As President Obama pointed out yesterday, we need to be able to agree on some basic facts (or how will we get anywhere?) One of them is that science is a useful, and basically honest tool. Scientists may be scapegoated, but they can tell us a lot about where we are and where we're going. I liked Trip's short article, because he zeroed in on important facts about the debate on energy, as President Obama also did. Sound investment is so important right now, and safer, renewable energy sources are the soundest ones now available to us.

I am not convinced that people and our actions are the cause of global warming. I'm not even convinced that global warming exists! Volumes could be written arguing the veracity of the issue, and what it comes down to is whom to believe.

Now, before you toss me and my opinions into the trash can of Hell, let me say this: by being good stewards of the planet, we:

1) Exercise responsibility by minimizing landfill.
2) Save money by re-using materials.
3) Become more independent on energy and power.
4) Save resources.

It's a no-brainer for those who think responsibly.

Strong commitments from Obama in his State of the Union address: firm support for green jobs and nuclear power and a push for the Senate Climate Bill. It will be interesting to see what solutions the panel finds for the hazardous waste generated by the $54-billion-nuclear reactors and how quickly tax incentives generate green jobs and whether Congress passes their Climate Bill.

Researching how to make your company, product, or next project more Green? Go to http://www.greencollareconomy.com for sustainability white papers and the largest b2b green directory on the web.

In the area of energy conservation, we should be promoting Van Jones's solution of training and putting to work an underrepresented workforce weatherizing substandard housing. In the area of renewable energy, we should explicitly oppose nuclear (contrary to Obama's latest) and focus on photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, and wave energy. We should get ALL our electric energy from these sources, and, via electric cars, our automotive energy; (notice that batteries for EVs can effectively be storage devices for fluctuating solar energy.) Development of these resources is vastly more exportable to less developed countries (than nuclear, for example) and could affordably encourage their development in carbon-neutral ways. Leave the coal in the ground. (Mountaintop Removal is the single worst assault on the environment, followed closely by tar sands.) We should not support "cap and trade" solutions -- they are a giveaway to Wall Street that encourages scams, not real greenhouse gas reductions -- go for "cap and (carbon) tax" instead. We should be advocating a shift from capital-intensive to labor-intensive solutions in these days of structural unemployment.

Yes! We can do this! We the people need to speak up for the earth, and ourselves, and not allow these greedy industries (coal, petro, nuclear, transportation) to continue to poison our world. The fact of the matter is, is that there has been no accountability within the industries that pollute. These industries and the people who run them, clinging to a buck (no matter who or what is poisoned in the process), need to be held accountable. They should be made to feel ashamed of all the destruction they have caused in the past, and not by any means allowed to continue to pollute to the detriment of our children's health, and the health of our planet. With regards to those who cling to profits made directly from polluting and destroying the natural environment upon which we all depend, who are we, as citizens of the USA and the world, to stand by and let them corrode the integrity of the future by virtue of their selfish, greedy polluting ways? While there will be transition to the new green power sources, this transition could have begun decades ago. Why do we stand by in the shadows, not saying anything, as corporations continue to rape the earth and pillage our children's future? We cannot allow these corporations to drag their feet, nor our elected representatives, any longer, especially in the name of a "transitory period" from one energy source to another (polluting to green). Get your act together, America! This is public and global health we are talking about here! Speak out! Write letters! Shout from the roof-tops! March! I am tired of your apathy! Yeah you! We can do this, and Obama is ready to help! He needs public support so what are we waiting for? Today is only yesterday's tomorrow!

the only thing that will save the envornment is a worldwide depression an opinion i published in 1974 in my local paper

Thanks for all you folks do to help preserve a livable climate for our kids and grandkids/

As someone who has been involved in the climate movement for a while, I have a suggestion:
Let's all agree to work together on ONE BIG action each year. How about on EARTH DAY?

Studys have shown that cooperation can enhance success. I think it would help if we would all focus our collective voices together on SHOUTING out to President Obama that we want him to prioritize this problem, and not do what the fossil-fuel-funded folks who lobby Congress want.

NASA's Dr. Jim Hansen, who has become more actively concerned about the lack of government action to stem climate change, suggests a revenue-neutral "carbon fee and 100% citizen dividend" system that makes a lot of sense to everyone except the fossil fuel interests and the Wall Street bankers who would not get a cut of the money. (You can read more by Googling this idea, or by reading his new book, "Storms of my Grandchildren.")

As for Earth Day, a massive campign to write, fax, call, e-mail, visit, and otherwise send a message to the President on April 22nd, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, would be great.
We need him to do two things: 1) See to it that misinformed Americans become informed about climate change and the risks and opportunities that it offers, and 2) Do what the huge majority of our scientists say is necessary in order to preserve a livable climate for our kids and grandkids.

The results of these actions will be to stimulate the economy while also helping to assure The United States of America a leading role in the future of the world's new green-energy economy.

Obama, if I heard correctly, wants new nuclear generators built, new "clean" coal burners, and expanded off-shore oil/gas extraction. Also, ramped up militarization (and the waste). Why not address these possibilities, and their effects?

If anyone believes that the Oil, Coal and Chemical(including Plastics) industries are going to trade in their Trillions of Dollars($) worth of sub-surface inventories, recovery equipment, refining and processing facilities, marketing outlets, jobs, etc., for some windmills on a hill, they must be as crazy as the oil and coal industries specious ad campaigns indicate they think we are.
As “Change is the only Constant”, “Climate Change” is, and will continue to be, a problem. However, thanks to the many ersatz experts in the republican party, we have let it advance too far. It is far too late to stop “Climate Change”, but possibly not too late to slow it. As “Climate Change” and “Pollution” are concomitant, let us FOCUS on the latter, which even the most mentally impaired republican politician cannot dispute the existence of. That which we can See and Smell -and will soon be able to taste as it erupts out of our spigots!" POLLUTION, which the “Special Interest” Polluters want to Distract us away from with their unsupported objections to the validity of "Climate Change".
We will never correct climate change by mandating the necessary reductions in greenhouse gases. Because the oil, coal and chemical industries won’t let their republican stooges in congress and the senate allow us to do so. No more than the insatiable GREED of the Insurance Lobby's republican stooges in the congress and the senate -like Lieberman, would allow us to have a "Public Option".
Here, my friends, is a case of REAL and burgeoning Pollution: I.e., Corporate Control of America through their payed-for-stooges(Bribed) in the congress and the senate! This, of course, having been made that much greater by the recent, and absolutely insane, decision of the supreme(?) court!
It is not likely that we can ever correct “Climate Change” due to the GREED and unabated lies of "Special Interests" which have allowed it to advance beyond our control. Continued allusions to other forms of energy, e.g., wind, bio-fuels, solar, to replace the Multi-Trillion$ oil and coal industries, are nothing more than further Distractions to keep the mentally impaired in a: “Hey, everything is really Oke!, frame of mind!
Pollutants are already firmly in place and growing by the hour. Each new dumping by Corporate Special Interests is adding exponentially to our growing world-wide environmental decline. Pesticides, insecticides, petroleum, coal ash, plastics -we’re being buried in them and our Oceans are swimming in them, chemical and radioactive wastes, by-products and end-products of all the above -and God knows what else, continue to move inexorably into our streams and our rivers. Thence into our oceans. This in addition to their being forced further downward into our water tables, our well waters and our aquifers, by rains and floods. This is by far their most dangerous aspect
It is only a question of time until the old saw: "Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.", becomes a reality! Along with: “Air, air everywhere, but all too thick to breath!”
As a Scientist, I know that all of the above, “Climate Change” and “Pollution”, are already in place and too late to Reverse. However, we still may have a chance to slow them both.
As a Realist, I also know that to accomplish this, our national debt could reach beyond calculation and unemployment numbers would increase to the point of chaos.
The prevailing feeling, however, seems to be: “That it is better to die on the job than to die while looking for a job that doesn’t exist”. Or, more succinctly, “Better No Planet at all than a Planet of the Unemployed."
The alternative is, of course: Keep dumping to keep the “Special Interests” happy, keep our debt down, keep people working, keep polluting and wait for the inevitable, devastating results.
I don't think we will be kept in suspense too long!
Tom Nass
5th Marine Division - WWII

We also would do REALLY well to IGNORE the people who say "I don't believe in global warming". WHO CARES IF THEY DO! Keep at helping the planet...eyes forward, never looking back to see what the other guy thinks. These same people will come around when there's enough people who DO believe. They are not risk takers. They wait to see what 90% of the group is doing so that they have a so called "safe" choice. When 60% of the population DOES understand Climate Change, that's a very good start to transformation.

Don't get hooked into arguing with these people...it's a really good way to distract from the primary goal of improvement & change...

Keep showing & talking about the amazing things that have already been done and don't worry if they get on the bus or not!

Agreed! I had a roommate 2 years ago that thought I was a wuss, because I recycle all my recyclable materials. Some people pollute on purpose because they think they are being "rebellious" or bad-ass. They should think again, of they are capable of thought at all. A lot of these "global warming is a farce" people just argue for argument's sake, wasting your time. A lot of them are probably paid off to post comments on the internet, or perhaps they are just deluded by media propaganda. The blind leadeth the blind. Remember, people can be fickle. It was only a short time ago when rock n' roll was frowned upon by the status quo. Did rockers just throw their hands up in disgust and convert to jazz or classical? No. Renewable energy, and I am talking solar, wind etc.; non-coal, non-fossil fuel, non- nuclear.... ACTUAL green renewable energy is the new rock and roll, and the same fuddy-duddy's are writhing in their own madness, because they can't evolve. They won't change until change has already occurred. Keep your momentum going and don't second guess yourself. Obama rules! World Peace!

Agreed! I had a roommate 2 years ago that thought I was a wuss, because I recycle all my recyclable materials. Some people pollute on purpose because they think they are being "rebellious" or bad-ass. They should think again, of they are capable of thought at all. A lot of these "global warming is a farce" people just argue for argument's sake, wasting your time. A lot of them are probably paid off to post comments on the internet, or perhaps they are just deluded by media propaganda. The blind leadeth the blind. Remember, people can be fickle. It was only a short time ago when rock n' roll was frowned upon by the status quo. Did rockers just throw their hands up in disgust and convert to jazz or classical? No. Renewable energy, and I am talking solar, wind etc.; non-coal, non-fossil fuel, non- nuclear.... ACTUAL green renewable energy is the new rock and roll, and the same fuddy-duddy's are writhing in their own madness, because they can't evolve. They won't change until change has already occurred. Keep your momentum going and don't second guess yourself. Obama rules! World Peace!

Boy, it seems every blog I visit descends into absolute polarized madness...glad that's not the case here... LOL.

Thanks for the upbeat view of Obama's position. I think it's accurate. As a person dedicated to protecting the planet for over 30 yr. a positive view is a must in order to stick with the goals & views in mind. Most enviros have a negative view of the prez, and while I can understand (and relate), it won't keep the "dogs of cynicism" from tearing away all we have worked so hard to achieve. Being a dedcated environmentalist is NOT for the faint of heart...it is a long, slow, & painful process to get people to change. It IS disconcerting to win protection for the Arctic circle only to have to win it again another 3 times, and end up with Obama allowing off shore drilling after all...
I DO find that those who are new to the task of saving the planet talk more than they act, and feel a bit puffed up in being "so holy green". If we can't get better at convincing those who disagree with us that there is a better way...we have blown to bits our chance of ever having meaningful change...a world we want to live in. You are part of the problem...not the solution!

Obama isn't perfect, but he's damn better than the last 8 yr. as far as the planet is concerned. In a perfect world we could wink and it would all be done and wrapped up in a pretty package...hey...yeah sure...that's how we got this far! Fairy tales! Drag out your history books and see how long it took to effect change in Civil Rights and you'll have an idea of what's ahead for us all. Research Ralph Nader's contribution to society (and the planet) and you'll see what a truly THANKLESS task it is to help those who are too wrapped up in themselves to notice.

This isn't about politics. This isn't about being "green" or the latest fashionable term. This is about saving this planet...most likely for those who will be here when you're gone. Got kids or grandkids? That's the point...the other one being the right thing to do. THAT is the point!

thank you for your long term commitment for the environment and I agree that those who "speak green" do not always walk their talk . If we each stop to consider our choices and make ones that are compatible with a healthy life and a healthy planet what (as Louis Armstrong sang it) "A wonderful world it would be". The two catch phrases of the Environmental movement: "reduce, reuse and recycle" and "Think globally and act locally" are not just empty messages but can have a huge impact on the present and the future of humankind. No matter where the climate debate takes one, it seems to me that, given the choice of polluting or reduced polluting, the moral ethic would cause you to choose the latter. For me and my family we will continue to live as compatibly with the environment as is possible, we have incorporated solar technology in our home (no more utility bills is a blessing), we will reduce reuse and recycle and we will act locally and globally in protection of the environment.

I do not understand how offshore drilling is going to help the environment. Haven't enough concessions been made in the name of collaboration?

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