Obama Weighs in on GOP Candidates

President Obama had the opportunity to address his take on the Republican candidates vying for the opportunity to run for President. Particularly he expressed dismay that not one of them acknowledges that climate change is real and something in need of attention. He mentions that much of the world looks to the US to be leaders on issues of science. Sadly that just isn’t the case among these GOP candidates.

US Supreme Court: No Help to Fight Climate Change

“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.”
Mahatma Gandhi

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is made up of nine individuals: one Chief Justice and eight associate justices. Five of them happen to be Republican at present.

Why does that matter? There have been some environmental regulations put in place that the Environmental Protection Agency believes would “avoid thousands of premature deaths and mean thousands fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations in 2030 and every year beyond.” The EPA has also described that these regulations “represent the most significant thing America has ever done to combat climate change.”

So it comes as no surprise to me that these beneficial regulations have been struck down for now by SCOTUS. Yesterday a number of unexpected orders were handed down to do precisely that. Proving that they’re partisan human beings after all instead of the most impartial justices in all the land, they all voted along party lines. All four Democrats voted to allow the rules to go into effect but they were outvoted by the five Republicans.

No rational explanation has been provided for this move. But what it means is that the regulations will be suspended until a federal appeals court rules on a challenge that’s been put forth against these regulations. Given how complicate this process will be, the SCOTUS orders will likely delay these rules being put into effect until after Obama leaves the White House. Tin fact, depending on the outcome of the next presidential election, they may never go into effect.

Environtmetalists had been cautiously optimistic that they would win this one, because back In 2007, a case known as Massachusetts v. EPA saw Republican Justice Anthony Kennedy vote against party lines and supporting the Clean Air Act which allowed the EPA to “regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles.” These rules were meant to deal with greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. This time Justice Kennedy went with the party.

This whole mess raises one important question: will the US ever be able to tackle climate change?

State of the Union: Obama Thinks the US Needs to Tackle Carbon

“I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”
President Obama at this week’s State of the Union address

President Obama has pledged acton on climate change since he was first election. Those who want something done think it’s been too little, those who want nothing done thinks it’s too much. Earlier this week at his annual State of the Union address, he talked in pretty broad but also bold strokes:

I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.

Land owned by the federal government has been set aside for recreation, wildlife, ranching and energy development. Since electricity is considered a public good even solar and wind farms have generated electricity on public land. Developing coal and natural gas on public land has also been something public land can be used for but clearly contradicts the measures Obama has been talking about for the last seven years.

Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard put it this way:

For far too long, the Interior Department has given away our publicly owned fossil fuels to mining and drilling companies without regard for the damage they cause to communities and our climate. We look forward to hearing more from President Obama about the steps his administration will take to keep our fossil fuels in the ground.

Mining for coal, drilling for oil, and fracking for natural gas all take place on public lands. The methane obtained from fracking on public lands creates about the same amount of climate pollution as 34 coal-fired power plants according to the Western Environmental Law Center. Methane makes up about 80 percent of natural gas and is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so even small amounts are deadly.

The Obama administration has already put a preliminary rule in place that would cover methane emissions from new oil and gas infrastructure. That’s too little, too late to include the storage well in northern Los Angeles that has already lost about 80,000 tonnes of methane since it began leaking back in October. A study on natural gas process plants that was released last year found that the facilities were leaking about eight times as much methane as the Environmental Protection Agency had previously thought.

So any measures are welcome to help tackle this immense problem. For me, it’s not enough but for Republican Congress I’m sure this is a travesty. (Anytime they think that though, it usually means we’re on the right track!)

Canada: Finally Taking Climate Change Seriously

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

From time to time, the Canadian Prime Minister meets with the provincial and territorial premiers all at the same time in one large gathering called a First Ministers meeting. Normally this happens at least every few years but in fact it hasn’t happened since January 16, 2009. That’s more than 2,500 days since the last First Ministers meeting.

Until today. All of them are gathering in Ottawa today and all I can say is it’s about time. And what’s so important for the Prime Minister to bring them all together? Climate change. The last such meeting in 2009 was to discuss the economy, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn’t very keen on group meetings like this so he never held another after that. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hopes to change that, encouraging more cooperation between the federal government and the provinces and territories.

Since the United Nations conference on climate change starts in Paris next week, Trudeau wants to go fully armed with information about how our country feels about the subject. But what Trudeau himself thinks about it has already been made clear:

I was glad to highlight that not only is Canada here to do its part but our part includes putting pressure and encouraging other countries to step up in their commitments so we can ensure that the outcome of Paris is as ambitious and as optimistic as we need it to be.

Trudeau plans to make the environment a priority for his government in stark contrast to Harper, something Obama is pleased about. Because Canada is sending representatives to Paris from all levels of government—federal, provincial, and municipal—Trudeau wants today’s meeting to set the ground work so that Canada’s message will be heard loud and clear on the world stage. Today’s agenda includes a briefing by top climate scientists this afternoon followed by a working dinner and finally a news conference this evening.

Ultimately Trudeau hopes that everyone today will be able to reach a national consensus so that Canada will be able to deliver a strong and cohesive message in Paris. Kathleen Wynne, the premier from Ontario and a political ally of the Prime Minister is optimistic about today’s meeting:

It’s very exciting for the country that we’re going to have an opportunity as premiers to sit down with the Prime Minister and work to forge some national positions and some agreement across the country on how we’re going to present ourselves to the world—particularly on this issue of climate change.

Ontario and Québec have both entered into a cap-and-trade system, putting a price on carbon and creating an economic incentive to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Given that British Columbia already has a carbon tax in place, that means Canada’s three most populated provinces are already tackling the problem in some way. A full 70 percent of Canadians will be living within a jurisdiction that has put a price on carbon.

And that’s something the world needs to hear.

"Not today, Shell!"

“Not today, Shell!”
—one of 13 protestors hanging from a Portland bridge

7:30 a.m. Pacific Time last Thursday was a key moment in the fight against Arctic drilling. That was the point in time when a Royal Dutch Shell ship turned around, abandoning its plans to head north and “drill baby, drill” at an Arctic Shell drilling site. (This was in fact its second foiled attempt to leave.) Why did it have to turn around? Because 13 Greenpeace activists had rappelled off of the St. John’s Bridge in Portland, Oregon. Along with the support of some assistants and kayakers (Or “kayaktivists” as they’ve come to be called) on the water, they prevented the ship from leaving for its destination.

The world was being kept up to date on the events as they unfolded because these protesters have been connected to social media, posting and tweeting what was happening as it happened. This Dutch company’s drilling plans for the Arctic have been controversial for a number of years and protesters have been asking President Obama to put a stop to the plans to drill in the Arctic despite recent White House approval to do so. According to Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA:

This is President Obama’s last chance to wake up and realize the disaster that could happen on his watch. There is still time for our President to cancel Shell’s lease to drill in the Arctic, living up to the climate leader we know he can be.

The protestors who are hanging from the bridge claim they will stay there until they know they’ve achieved their goal, as Shell only has a narrow period of time of minimum summer Arctic ice to begin its drilling process. As Leonard from Greenpeace put it: “The window for drilling is closing, because there’s only a certain number of weeks that there’s no ice there, so Shell is really under time pressure to get that boat up there and we’re doing everything we can to delay that.”

The protesters hanging from the bridge in hammocks were equipped with lots of food, water, and even diapers and were prepared to allow them to stay for many days. Portland’s citizens even brought them food and coffee to to show their support.

One thing is for sure: if these protestors care as much about the planet as Shell cares about its profits, there’s no stopping them.