President Obama has been on the road – or more accurately, in the air – quite a bit lately, in the interest of highlighting his record and, he hopes, enhancing his legacy as a leader in the fight against climate change. This past weekend, in the lakeside city of Hangzhou, Obama and President Xi Jinping of China formally committed their respective nations to the non-binding stipulations of last year’s Paris climate agreement. And during a stopover in Hawaii, Obama laid out to The New York Times his case to be considered for the award of Climate Change Hero for All Time.
In his interview with The Times, President Obama fairly detailed many of the trials and tribulations he has faced trying to address climate change, from Republican science deniers to the political muscle of the coal industry. But perhaps most interestingly, Obama drew focus on his time after his presidency, when he apparently intends to make real progress on global warming. “My hope,” he told the Times, “is that maybe as ex-president I can have a little more influence…”
Well, Mr. President, we appreciate your long-term commitment to the cause. But we’re not willing to write your presidency off just yet; after all, you’ve still got four more months on the job, and there’s plenty you can do RIGHT NOW to make real strides against climate change and bolster your legacy in the process.
Here are the top five things President Obama can and should do now to combat climate change:
1. Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline
Dakota Access LLC is proposing a 1,134-mile-long crude oil pipeline through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois that will threaten our air, water, land, property rights and climate. It is proposed to go through tribal lands that belong to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation as stated in a treaty with the United States. The U.S. has no right to hand over this land to a private oil company for private profit. President Obama must honor the treaty with the Standing Rock Sioux and stand firm on his commitment to tackle climate change. He must use his authority to deny the Dakota Access pipeline.
2. Stop Pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a controversial trade pact secretly negotiated by and for the world’s largest corporations. It would rubber-stamp the export of fracked natural gas to all TPP countries. That means more pressure to expand and accelerate fracking across the country. More fracking means climate catastrophe, plain and simple. President Obama seeks to make enactment of the TPP and action on climate change two key pieces of his legacy. But these two priorities couldn’t be more contradictory.
3. Reinstate the Ban on Crude Oil Exports
Drilling for oil threatens the water we drink, the air we breathe and the climate on which we all depend. We must not risk America's public health and the future of our planet to sell fossil fuels to other countries. If President Obama is serious about our global commitment to combat climate change, he cannot allow crude oil exports to continue. He should declare a climate emergency, which would stop all U.S. crude oil exports for one year.
4. Incentivize Renewable Energy
We already have the technologies needed to make the Clean Energy Revolution a reality. What we lack is the political will to implement the robust policies that will get us there. President Obama must push for government policies that promote renewable energy, including: reforming renewable portfolio standards (RPS); improving net metering programs; increasing energy efficiency standards; expanding community choice aggregation; and supporting community solar programs.
5. Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground: Ban Fracking on Federal Lands
The science is clear: to have any chance to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, the world must keep the vast majority of its remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Banning fossil fuel extraction on federal lands, millions of acres that the president controls, is the best place to start, and he has the executive authority to do so. In particular, he must stop promoting natural gas. Throughout his presidency, Obama has promoted natural gas as “bridge fuel” solution to climate change. Not only does fracking for gas contribute to the climate crisis, but it also will result in billions of dollars spent on the infrastructure that would perpetuate natural gas use, preventing us from moving into a truly clean, sustainable energy future.