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Time for Action: Why the President Needs to Say No to Keystone XL

350.org writes that Obama must deny the federal permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

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As Halloween approached last year, climate activists like myself were down in the dumps. For the first time since 1988, climate change had gone completely unmentioned in the presidential debates. Despite 2012 being the warmest year on record, breaking over 17,000 temperature records across the country, it looked like nothing was going to break through the 'climate silence' that had come to dominate our political system.
Then came Hurricane Sandy. Suddenly, in the most devastating of ways, climate change was back on the agenda. Mayor Bloomberg made his unexpected endorsement, BusinessWeek ran a cover saying in big black letters “It’s Global Warming, Stupid,” and low and behold, three months later during his inaugural address, President Obama finally used his rhetorical skills to make the case for climate action.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” boomed the President to thunderous applause from tens of thousands of people gathered on the Mall. For a guy who had all but failed to mention global warming during two years of on-and-off campaigning, Obama suddenly sounded like the climate champion we had been waiting for.
But if we’ve learned anything from the last four years, it’s that talk comes cheap. This term, climate activists aren’t going to be satisfied with a few nods to green jobs and promises to put solar panels on the White House (although, it would be nice if the administration actually got around to fulfilling that commitment). This time, we need to see some action.
That starts with a clear to-do left over from last term: denying the necessary federal permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The fight over Keystone XL has fired up the climate movement more than any other cause of the last few years. And with good reason: according to our nation’s top climate scientist, NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, fully developing the Canadian tar sands would mean “essentially game over” for the climate. As 350.org founder Bill McKibben has said, “Keystone XL is the fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet.”
Defusing that bomb is going to take real work. The fossil fuel industry’s influence in Washington was on full display a few weeks ago when 53 senators signed a letter supporting Keystone XL—as it turned out, they’d taken $551,000 from the industry, 340 percent more than the pipeline’s opponents. Getting President Obama to stand up to this Goliath is going to take putting a lot of 'Davids' in the streets.
Which is why here at 350.org we’re partnering with our allies at the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Hip Hop Caucus, CREDO Mobile, and many, many (many) others to organize “Forward on Climate” the largest climate rally in US history, on February 17, to push President Obama to show his climate leadership and say no to the Keystone XL pipeline. If you can make it to Washington, DC, come: this is going to be a historic event. If you can’t, be sure to track down a solidarity event in your city.
Saying no to Keystone XL is smart politics for the President. If he does the right thing and denies the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama will surely piss off the fossil fuel industry, but last time I checked the Koch Brothers weren’t exactly “on-side” to begin with. On the flip-side, he’ll provide a huge jolt of momentum to the environmental movement and young people across the country who are clamoring for climate action. The President will need the movement to be fully mobilized if he’s serious about living up to his inaugural rhetoric.
Once he gets the public fired-up and ready to go on climate, there are lots of things the President can accomplish, from strengthening pollution controls, to investing in renewables, to clearly and compellingly making the case for a price on carbon. Now’s the time to strike: according to recent polling from Yale, public support for climate action is at an all time high. But it all starts with saying no to Keystone XL.
It’s great to see President Obama ending the climate silence. Now it’s time to walk the talk.
Join the Forward on Climate Rally on February 17. \n
This month, challenge a neighbor to GOOD's energy smackdown. Find a neighbor with a household of roughly the same square footage and see who can trim their power bill the most. Throughout February, we'll share ideas and resources for shrinking your household carbon footprint, so join the conversation at good.is/energy. \n
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Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister, did not want to tax carbon. But over the weekend, about a year into her first term, she announced the terms of a carbon-pricing program. Starting next year, carbon will cost $23 per metric ton in Australia.

In the United States, to utter the phrase “carbon tax” is to invite political death, and Gillard’s plan is the sort of policy that U.S. politicians have all but given up on. But it’s not much more popular in Australia: right now about three-fifths of voters oppose the tax. Unlike President Obama, however, Gillard took a deep breath and bet that her powers of persuasion and political acumen could win over her constituents. The result is a forward-looking policy that shows what a little political courage can do to fight climate change. The president and Congress would do well to follow her lead.

Australia is not an obvious place to push for a carbon tax. It has a wealth of coal, and 80 percent of its electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. Its total emissions rank it among the world's worst carbon polluters, and it produces more carbon per capita than even the United States. In 2009, its parliament twice rejected carbon trading schemes. As in the United States, Australia’s mining, travel, and farming industries have pushed back against the plan, and conservatives are warning that the carbon tax will kill jobs and drive up prices for consumers. In the face of this political reality, Gillard has drawn up a plan that puts her country on track to create a carbon market second only in size to the European Union’s. She has also lined up the votes necessary to ensure the plan’s success: the main planks of her policy are certain to pass.

Climate campaigners in Australia have been quick to say that this policy is not perfect. It subsidizes the costs that the most polluting industries will face. It will rely on the imperfect answer of carbon off-sets to meet its initial goals. But it’s going to force Australia to grapple with the real costs of its coal-heavy electricity system. It’s going to support clean energy development with $10 billion of financing that the government can loan to cutting-edge firms or use to buy equity shares in creative companies. (For some perspective, the United States only invested $300 million for energy investment next year.) The deal also puts $200 million into a clean technology innovation program, and $946 million into a biodiversity program to guard Australia’s natural resources.

Gillard’s change of heart on the carbon tax grew from political realities: her party needed to ally with the Greens in order to govern. But if she can convince Australians to embrace these climate-friendly measures (or at the very least get them to admit that putting a price on carbon isn’t the end of the world), she will have done a great service to leaders around the world by proving that supporting carbon pricing is not the policy of a political fool but of a visionary leader.

Photo via the U.S. House of Representatives

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