Obama Talks Climate Change
Preserving natural places will help the world adapt to warming temperatures, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday as he began a 10-day trip to stress the urgency of curbing climate change and attend a G20 meeting in China.
"No nation, not even one as powerful as the United States, is immune from a changing climate," Obama said after landing in Hawaii, the Pacific island state where he grew up.
Obama, who is racing to cement his legacy on climate change before his presidency ends on January 20, will make a rare visit to Midway Atoll on Thursday, deep inside the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument where he expanded protections last week.
The tour leads up to a meeting in China on Saturday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is hosting the G20 group of leading economies.
Obama and Xi worked together in Paris last year to secure a global deal to cut carbon emissions and are expected to take the next steps soon to help bring that agreement into force.
Earlier on Wednesday, Obama stopped in to a summit about the health of Lake Tahoe, the deep alpine lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the Nevada-California border whose average surface temperature reached an all-time recorded high last year.
“This place is spectacular because it is one of the highest, deepest, oldest and purest lakes in the world,” he said. “It’s been written that the lake’s waters were once so clear that when you were out on a boat, you felt like you were floating in a balloon… And that’s why we’re here: To protect this pristine place. To keep these waters crystal clear. To keep the air as pure as the heavens. To keep alive Tahoe’s spirit. And to keep faith with this truth, that the challenges of conservation and combatting climate change are connected, they’re linked.
“We tend to think of climate change as if it’s something that’s just happening out there that we don’t have control over,” he said. “But the fact is that it is manmade. It’s not “we think” it’s manmade. It’s not “we guess” it’s manmade. It’s not “a lot of people are saying” it’s manmade. It’s not “I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know.” You don’t have to be a scientist. You have to read or listen to scientists to know that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows us that climate change is caused by human activity.”
He continued: “And we’ve proven that the choice between our environment, our economy, and our health is a false one. We‘ve got to strengthen all of them together.
“On a national level,” he said, “we’ve enacted tough fuel-economy standards for cars, which means you’re going to be able to drive further on a gallon of gas. It’s going to save your pocketbook and save the environment. We followed that up with the first-ever standards for commercial trucks, vans and buses. And as a consequence, during the first half of this year, carbon pollution hit its lowest level in a quarter century.
“And, by the way, during the same time, we’ve had the longest streak of job creation on record. The auto industry is booming. There is no contradiction between being smart on the environment and having a strong economy, and we got to keep it going.”
Obama quoted a Washoe elder: “What happens to the land also happens to the people.” He said he’s made it a priority in his presidency to protect natural resources for future generations. “Just as the health of the land and the people are tied together, just as climate and conservation are tied together, we share a sacred connection with those who are going to follow us…
“It’s not going to happen if we boast about how we’re going to scrap international treaties, or have elected officials who are alone in the world in denying climate change, or put our energy and environmental policies in the hands of big polluters. It’s not going to happen if we just pay lip service to conservation but then refuse to do what’s needed.”
Green groups have urged Obama not to rest on his laurels. The U.S. Supreme Court put his plan to slash carbon emissions from power plants on hold earlier this year.
"We’re hoping that he will actually withdraw the Arctic from his five-year plan on offshore drilling, like he did with the Atlantic, because it’s an even worse place to drill," said marine biologist Jackie Savitz of the Oceana conservation group.