Beyond the Keystone Pipeline
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Why Obama’s alternative-energy agenda may be his biggest legacy.
Imagine if President Obama had promised in his long-awaited climate speech in June to launch the first 45 renewable-electricity projects ever built on federal land, enough to power 4.4 million homes. Imagine that he also pledged to slash the government’s carbon emissions by 15%, jack up vehicle-efficiency standards enough to eliminate an entire year’s worth of U.S. emissions by 2025 and enact appliance-efficiency standards that would save enough electricity to power every single-family home for two years.
Then imagine if he vowed to spark a clean-energy revolution with unprecedented investments in wind, solar and geothermal power; electric vehicles; a smarter grid; cleaner coal; green research; and much more.
It would have confirmed the suspicions of many Republicans who have trashed him as an eco-radical. It would have delighted many environmentalists who have trashed him as an AWOL commander in the war on global warming.
It also would have been weird, because Obama already did all those things in his first term. He has probably done more to reduce emissions than anyone else in history, but his critics on the right and the left haven’t noticed.
The climate debate, like so many debates in the Obama era, has been oddly detached from facts. It’s focused on the President’s rhetoric or lack of rhetoric, his partisan or bipartisan tone, his “leadership.” But the thing about Obama, who is known as a words guy, is that he’s really a deeds guy, whether you like his deeds or not. His speeches, about controlling guns or building infrastructure, don’t matter much. They certainly don’t get Congress to pass anything. They just ensure that Republicans who oppose whatever he is for will oppose whatever he has talked about.
Obama’s big climate speech on June 25 was a bit more important—not because it broke his overrated “climate silence” but because it wasn’t about persuasion. It was more a notification of actions taken and actions to come, actions that don’t require help from Congress.