Climate change finally finds its way onto the executive agenda

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Climate change is finally an issue on President Barack Obama’s agenda. But is that enough? And furthermore, is it on your agenda?

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said during his inaugural speech on Jan. 21.

The New York Times reported he followed with 8 more sentences on the topic, certainly indicative of the level of priority on the executive agenda.

He also mentioned the issue of a changing climate on election night during the Nov. 7 acceptance speech.

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” Obama said.

Twice on national television during the first two big speeches of his second term must mean business. Politically, he is in a good position to address the issue of climate change from a number of different legislative angles, such as energy reform and emission reduction.

Since Obama is in his second term, he is secure and therefore does not have to worry about reelection or the contentious nature of the subject that leads some to label the issue of a changing climate as ‘environmental extremism.’

The problem is current policy and proposed legislation is not extreme enough to truly tackle climate change, an ongoing issue that will continue to occur whether or not lawmakers and citizens decide to take preventative measures.

And part of the trouble comes with the nature of climate change itself. Though we are already seeing some of the effects such as melting glaciers and more extreme weather events, it can be tough to project and understand exactly how rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will affect ‘our children and future generations.’ Planning for the future is always difficult, and this is a case in which the impacts are most certainly catastrophic but not exactly concrete.

For example, lawmakers are discussing increasing use and production of natural gas as an alternative to coal as a way to mitigate climate change. This approach is mediocre at best. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, a finite resource that will run out, and the production process is costly and inefficient. This is not a solution, rather a temporary and ineffective plug to reduce the amount of coal we use for energy production.

It would be more effective to draft a comprehensive energy plan dictating where and how the country will extract resources for energy use. Renewables, like solar and wind, have the potential to become much more efficient and require much less carbon than coal or natural gas. Investing in that sort of industry, rather than rerouting funds merely for a different flavor of fossil fuel—from coal to natural gas—would be the best plan of action.

Change and progress may be slow and even unwelcome at times, but there comes a point after 3 years of drought and breaking the record for the number of 100-degree days every year that would make even the most staunch climate change skeptic in Texas realize that, welcome or not, change is quite literally in the air.

We are well past that point. Not only is it time for the government to pass progressive legislation to combat and mitigate the effects of a changing climate, but also for citizens to take responsibility for their actions and impact.

Like Obama said, “Failure to do so will betray our children and future generations.”