You may have missed it with all the news coming from the Supreme Court, but President Obama last week announced a plan to address climate change, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 17% below their 2005 levels. Part of the president’s plan involves moving away from coal and investing in natural gas, which he described as cleaner and safer.
Not all environmental advocates view the plan as a step forward. “This plan is advocacy for fracked gas all over the United States and all over the world,” said documentary filmmaker Josh Fox on Sunday's Melissa Harris-Perry on Sunday. Fox is the director of the HBO documentaries Gasland and the follow-up Gasland Part II, which premieres on Monday. Both films explore the safety of hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), a drilling technology used to release natural gas.
One of the main components of natural gas is methane, a heat-trapping gas. Fox pointed out that fracking causes a large amount of methane leakage that goes directly into the atmosphere. "This is the wrong plan," Fox said. "We need to transfer from coal and gas to renewable energy."
The president was also ambiguous about the future of the Keystone XL pipeline, stating a decision would be made based on "net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate." He included no information about how that impact would be measured and evaluated. The highest-profile existing study the president has to rely on is the State Department’s environmental review, which concludes that the pipeline would have a minimal impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
But that report became a source of controversy, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman reminded the panel.Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll discovered one of the lead researchers on the report had worked for seven years as a consultant for TransCanada, the corporation behind Keystone. The contractor producing the report, Environmental Resources Management, had also previously done work for the American Petroleum Institute.
President Obama's announcement was also met with criticism on the right for its move away from coal and embrace of the validity of climate change. Members of Congress who oppose the president’s plan are moving to use parts of his speech to block the nomination of Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA. In a confirmation hearing in April, McCarthy told the panel that the EPA "is not currently developing any existing source greenhouse gas regulations for power plants."
The president on Tuesday pledged to develop exactly those regulations by next year--although he did not mention the scale of emission cuts--and also called in his speech for voters to weigh positions on climate change carefully when considering which candidates to support, and encouraged individuals to take responsibility for raising public awareness about the issue.
That strategy may be a challenge considering that 79% of Americans already report that they understand global warming "fairly well" or "very well." Of those surveyed by Gallup, 43% responded that they worry about climate change “only a little” or “not at all,” and 41% say the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.
And even if individuals believe that climate change is happening, there is still the challenge of making them care about it. Since Gallup began asking the question “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?”, a majority of respondents have stated they do not. As of March 2013, 64% of Americans do not believe global warming is a threat.
Sara Kugler is the program coordinator at the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South at Tulane University in New Orleans–headed by our host, Melissa Harris-Perry. Find them on Facebook, and on follow them on Twitter at @AJCProject.
See the second half of Sunday's discussion below.