Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Response to President Obama's "Climate Change Plan"

President Barack Obama speaking about his vision to reduce carbon pollution

Last week, President Obama addressed the country in a speech on climate change at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He announced a comprehensive "Climate Action Plan" that includes several excellent provisions for the future, though it is not perfect. The PC(USA) General Assembly has taken a prophetic stance on these issues by calling on all levels of society to actively engage in responsible stewardship of the environment and by “support[ing] comprehensive, mandatory, and aggressive emissions reductions”[i] aimed at reducing and mitigating the proven and catastrophic effects of climate change. Here are some of the highlights from President Obama's plan:       

  • Limit carbon pollution from existing power plants. According to the EPA, burning fossil fuels for electricity production is the number one domestic pollution source. While there are existing limits on mercury and other toxins, carbon pollution is currently unregulated. These regulations would be a huge step toward cutting harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Mandate that the federal government  "consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020," especially from wind and solar sources. The federal government is the largest energy user in the country, and this would almost triple its renewable energy quota. Another aspect of the plan is to double the amount of renewable electricity produced on public lands, though the plan does not mention how it will protect vulnerable populations and make sure that this renewable energy is created responsible.

  • Strengthen fuel economy standards for heavy duty vehicles after 2018 when the 2014-2018 standards expire. 

  • Refuse construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline if it is found to "significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness supports the President's climate plan as a crucial step toward both caring for the environment and the poor and oppressed who are most often exploited by environmental injustice. A strong commitment to cutting carbon emissions, developing clean and renewable energy sources, and preventing environmental damage are concerns that we as people of faith and conscience support. 

But even as we celebrate some long-hoped-for leadership on this issue, we still reserve some concerns about President Obama’s plan.  The encouragement of nuclear power development, increased dependence upon natural gas, and the promotion of food-based bio-fuels are parts of the plan that will have negative environmental consequences for our country.

Nevertheless, it is imperative that we, as a nation, begin to reduce our carbon emissions and take active steps to address climate change.  Indeed, our 218th General Assembly wrote, “as citizens of the United States, which has historically produced more greenhouse gases than any other country, and which is currently responsible for over a fifth of the world’s annual emissions, we implore our nation to accept its moral responsibility to address global warming.”

 climate change effects on city

As President Obama pleaded in his speech, “What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up and speak up and compel us to do what this moment demands. Understand, this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends."

Having conversations about these issues is the first step. Next, please contact your Representative and Senators to urge them to support these measures and demand Congressional action on climate change.

[i] “The Power to Change: U.S. Energy Policy and Global Warming,” approved by the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2008,