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Obama tackles climate change in impressive addressPrint

Clean Energy | July 2, 2013 | By Brian Beauchamp

Obama reminded people that the science on climate is clear and the situation is, in fact, very urgent.
Obama reminded people that the science on climate is clear and the situation is, in fact, very urgent. Watch the address here

On June 25, President Barack Obama stepped up to the podium at Georgetown University, and truly stepped up to the plate on climate change, wowing even the most ardent and committed advocates with his remarkably frank comments about global warming—and what he will do about it.

While reactions to the president’s bold speech varied widelyhe clearly surprised a lot of people with how far he went with his words. 

Among very many other very important things, he called for the U.S. EPA to begin regulating, for the first time in history, climate-changing CO2 emissions from both existing and new coal fired power plants. Those are huge steps, because coal plants are the largest contributors of polluting carbon dioxide emissions in the country.

Furthermore, he seemingly dealt a monster blow to building the Keystone XL pipeline, which has stirred much controversy over the past year.

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” he said. ‘And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

Obama reminded people that the science on climate is clear and the situation is, in fact, very urgent. And, in doing so, he used the kind of language that so many people around the world were waiting for, hoping for, to address those who still deny that we face a serious, man-made problem: “We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society.”

And Obama also slipped in a very important word—a word that’s music to the ears of 350.org members: divest.

“Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution,” he shouted to the crowd over rising applause. “Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices! Invest! Divest!” 

That really sent a shock wave through the twitter-sphere; some even questioned whether or not they heard it correctly.

Clearly, Obama is getting the message from Bill McKibben’s Divestment Movement; for the past six months Bill and the folks at 350.org have urged people and institutions to pull their investments away from Big Coal and Big Oil and put them into renewable energy companies and energy efficiency projects, as a way to immediately and effectively accelerate the kind of change that will lower our carbon emissions.

McKibben, we’re thrilled to announce, will be at the July 14 Oil and Water Don’t Mix rally at the Mackinac Bridge. Like Obama, he will speak about divestment, the urgency of climate change, and solutions we can must demand from our leaders. 

Why did Obama finally act so publicly and boldly? One never knows for sure how and why such things happen, but the strong, continuing push from McKibben and his worldwide 350.org movement is surely part of the reason.

In fact, while listening to the words of TC350 supporter May Erlewine’s song, We the People, the other day I was struck by these lyrics:

Well you know I love a president,
And I’d like to believe,
That he will do all he can to protect,
To serve, to lead.

But in protecting our existence here,
He ought to take a look,
And memorize or tear a page
Out of Bill McKibben’s book.

I just had to smile and feel that that song, and the work of Michigan folks like May and the Musician’s at Earthwork Music are, in fact, helping to change the world. One song, and one day at a time.

Brian Beauchamp is the program manager for MLUI's Clean Energy program. He can be reached at brian@mlui.org.