President Leads to Forge Climate Consensus Abroad and at Home

Last month President Obama threw himself into the deadlocked Copenhagen climate summit.  The president challenged his fellow leaders this way:

We know the fault lines because we've been imprisoned by them for years.  These international discussions have essentially taken place now for almost two decades, and we have very little to show for it other than an increased acceleration of the climate change phenomenon.  The time for talk is over.  This is the bottom line:  We can embrace this accord, take a substantial step forward, continue to refine it and build upon its foundation.  We can do that, and everyone who is in this room will be part of a historic endeavor -- one that makes life better for our children and our grandchildren.

Through open dialogue and hard bargaining with his counterparts, the president brought home the world’s first agreement for real cuts in heat-trapping carbon pollution by all of the world’s big emitters, with commitments and cooperation from both developed and developing countries, including China and India.  The first fruits of the Copenhagen agreement are being realized this week, as the world’s largest countries record the specific commitments and actions to reduce emissions that they will take.  In his State of the Union speech tonight, Obama said:  “We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change.”

Tonight President Obama threw himself into breaking the climate deadlock here at home, by calling for comprehensive climate and energy legislation.  He saluted the bill passed by the House last year and pledged to work across the aisle to advance the bipartisan effort to pass legislation in the Senate.  In much the same way that he spoke to other world leaders, the president said this:

From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious – that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.

For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:

How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China's not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany's not waiting. India's not waiting. These nations aren't standing still. These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

The president said:  “Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new.”  And here is the formula he laid out:

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world's cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year's investment in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

This is a clearly calibrated offer to work across the aisle with Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joseph Lieberman, who are working on a bill that combines firm limits on carbon pollution with steps on nuclear power, offshore oil, and other areas of energy policy.  Many in the Senate have said that the administration’s direct involvement is needed to break the gridlock.  Now they have it. 

A broad coalition of businesses, unions, faith groups, veterans, national security experts, and environmentalists are demanding comprehensive climate and energy legislation this year – to create jobs, cut pollution, and make our country more secure.  The president has joined the bipartisan effort to break the deadlock in the Senate and solve this problem.  Let’s get this done.