In a couple of hours, everyone in the United States with access to cable TV and Showtime can hear President Barack Obama say he favors making the energy industry absorb the real price of the carbon it introduces into earth’s atmosphere. In other words, ante up the cost of carbon emissions.
So says New York Times columnist Tom Friedman in Sunday’s paper, and he should know. He interviewed Mr. Obama several weeks ago, as the President was reviewing EPA’s new emission rules for US power plants.
Their conversation appears tonight on the final episode of Showtime’s acclaimed climate series “Years of Living Dangerously.” The journalist excerpted the talk in print in the quotes shown below.
“The baseline fact of climate change is not something we can afford to deny,” Obama says. He addresses the industry:
“You can’t keep dumping it out in the atmosphere and making everybody else pay for it.”
“If there’s one thing I would like to see, it’d be for us to be able to price the cost of carbon emissions…. [The] price of inaction—that billions and potentially trillions of dollars are going to be lost because we do not do something about it—ultimately leads us to be able to say, ‘Let’s go ahead and help the marketplace discourage this kind of activity.’”
As well as discussing how some deny climate change in the face of “bread-and-butter issues” that touch American families deeply (like increasingly serious drought and flooding), the President points out the profound national security implications, brought up by the Secretary of Defense and Joints Chiefs of Staff in the recent quadrennial defense review. (We at PlanetSave and our sister publication, CleanTechnica, discussed a military panel’s in-depth analysis of these effects several weeks ago.)
The President also admits that he views natural gas as “a blessing and a curse.” In the end he fingers methane as the chief climate culprit and states that new federal law might not be necessary to temper its effects, because the job could be done by “a series of states working together—and, hopefully, industry working together—to make sure that the extraction of natural gas is done safely.”
Here Joe Romm, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, expert witness on climate change and technologies to limit its influence, and Chief Science Advisor for “Years of Living Dangerously,” respectfully disagrees in Climate Progress:
“I and many others remain very skeptical a voluntary industry standard on fracking could work any better than voluntary standards have worked elsewhere in the energy industry.”
Mr. Obama has this to say about the essential politics of the matter:
“The person who I consider to be the greatest president of all time, Abraham Lincoln, was pretty consistent in saying, ‘With public opinion there’s nothing I cannot do, and without public opinion there’s nothing I can get done’…. So part of my job over these next two and a half years and beyond is trying to shift public opinion. And the way to shift public opinion is to really focus in on the fact that if we do nothing our kids are going to be worse off.”
Friedman ends his summary of the interview with Obama’s bottom line:
“The most important thing is to guard against cynicism. I want to make sure that everybody who’s been watching this program or listening to this interview doesn’t start concluding that, well, we’re all doomed, there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s a lot we can do about it. It’s not going to happen as fast or as smoothly or as elegantly as we like, but, if we are persistent, we will make progress.”
As my own daughter and her fellow millennials might say, “Listen up, people.”