The Capitol Dome is seen behind the Capitol Power Plant in Washington, Monday, June 24, 2013. The plant provides power to buildings in the Capitol Complex. President Barack Obama is running out of time to make good on his lofty vow to confront climate change head-on, and Congress is in no mood to help. The executive actions and regulations Obama announces Tuesday will take years to implement.
After months of contentious debates over gun control, immigration and political scandals, President Barack Obama is finally turning his attention to another hot topic that isn’t cooling off any time soon: climate change.
In a video released over the weekend, Obama said he will deliver a speech on Tuesday to outline a “national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change and lead global efforts to fight it.”
Obama said there is no silver bullet to solve the effects of climate change, which couldn't be more true considering the complexity of the issue. Here are some of the most debated aspects of climate change:
Global Warming - Is It Real?
NASA, the United Nations and the Environmental Protection Agency cite a large body of evidence to prove that the earth's temperature is indeed rising, and so are sea levels and the ocean's surface temperature.
“The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years,” according to NASA’s website.
A Pew survey says 69 percent of Americans, meanwhile, believe the earth is getting warmer.
Still, a group of sixteen prominent scientists jumped in the fray when they signed a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece in 2012 in support of the belief that global warming is a farce.
“The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause,” reads the article.
Economists and politicians opposed to tackling climate change say it will costs jobs and hinder GDP growth.
So the Earth is Getting Warmer, But Why?
Of the 69 percent of Americans in the Pew survey who say they global warming is real, opinions are split on what is causing the earth's temperature to rise. Four in 10 blame it on human activity like burning fossil fuels, while 27 percent say it's due to natural variations in climate pattern. Another 27 percent say there is no evidence of any warming.
What are the Outcomes of Global Warming?
Scientists already know the earth's rising temperature is changing the weather and climate. This means more rainfall, floods, droughts and heat waves. But is it also the cause of the recent spate of tornadoes and unpredictable jet streams?
"Global warming may well end up making [tornadoes] more frequent or intense, as our intuition would tell us," wrote Robert Kunzig for National Geographic. "But it might also actually suppress them—the science just isn't clear yet."
There is no evidence that tornadoes are happening more frequently and data shows that the increase is only in the weakest category of twisters, Kunzig said.
As for those "wobbly" jet streams hovering over the earth and wreaking havoc on the weather, some experts say it's a possible effect of climate change, while others disagree.
"It’s been just a crazy fall and winter and spring all along, following a very abnormal sea ice condition in the Arctic,’’ Rutgers University climate expert Jennifer Francis told The Associated Press. ‘‘It’s possible what we’re seeing in this unusual weather is all connected.’’
Reducing Carbon Emissions - A Smorgasbord of Options
The most economically efficient way to curb greenhouse gas is by taxing the pollutant. But trying to get Congress to agree to a tax hike is a nonstarter.
“Obama can’t count on Congress to institute any such tax in the near term,” said climate policy expert Nathan Hultman in a Brookings Institute blog post. “As such, he has been looking for other ways to improve, through regulation, the efficiency of parts of the U.S. economy and to expand low-emission sources of energy supply.”
Some of those regulations, which Obama will unveil on Tuesday, include implementing stricter standards to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, regulating high greenhouse-effect gases, reduce methane emissions, development of renewable energy technologies, creating energy efficient appliances and investing in new technologies.
The Politics of Climate Change
Lawmakers have been focused on the economy, job creation, immigration and other issues that have forced climate change into the back burner. But in the wake of the recent spate of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the Oklahoma tornadoes, climate change has been thrust back into the limelight, forcing Obama to make due on a promise he made in his second inaugural speech when he vowed to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
The Clean Air Act gives the president the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants. New power plants will be easier to regulate, but this executive authority will be much more controversial for existing power plants, according to Steven Cohen, executive director at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Power plants produce more than 40 percent of the country’s carbon emissions.
Obama wasn’t kidding when he called this a fight. Not only do scientists have to grapple with the earth’s warming temperature, the president himself has an uphill battle ahead with a government mired in partisan politics.
“Mr. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to regulate utilities reflects a determination that he has no prospect of passing such sweeping policies through Congress,“ according to Peter Baker of The New York Times. But the move "may draw lawsuits and other challenges from industry and Republicans citing the economic costs,” he wrote.