State of the Union: Words vs. Action
For the first time, President Bush acknowledged the threat of global warming during his State of the Union speech. He also presented a plan to increase fuel economy for cars that, if properly implemented, could offer serious cuts in the amount of global warming pollution generated in the United States.
Unfortunately, the president's proposal to reduce U.S. oil dependence doesn't go far enough to protect against dangerous global warming. We must set an overall cap on heat-trapping emissions for the entire economy-addressing transportation, electricity, and other sources of pollution. Although the president mentioned "changing the way America generates electric power" including advances in solar and wind energy-he stopped short of advocating for sensible legislation that would require utilities to produce 20 percent of the nation's electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020.
Furthermore, the president failed to address that technological advances need to be based on unbiased, independent science. America can not effectively address the serious consequences of global warming if our scientists our being stifled by political interference.
While the State of the Union included some positive rhetoric about providing America with the means to build a cleaner, more secure future, the president and Congress must work together to ensure his words become action.
Global warming is the greatest environmental challenge of our time. Sea levels are on the rise, ice and snow cover are decreasing, and storms are becoming more powerful. Leading scientists, such as James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, caution that we are nearing a climate “tipping point,” beyond which large-scale, dangerous impacts would become unavoidable.
Scientific evidence suggests we must prevent global average temperatures from rising more than 2°Celsius (3.6°Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst effects of global warming. To stay below this threshold, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide must stabilize at or below 450 parts per million. This goal requires cutting today's levels of worldwide global warming emissions roughly in half by mid-century. Given that the United States leads the world in both absolute and per capita emissions, we must achieve even deeper reductions here at home, on the order of 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050.
The science is clear and action is needed now. To ensure the deep reductions needed to leave our children and grandchildren a safe climate, UCS calls on Congress to establish a mandatory economy-wide limit on global warming pollution that ensures near-term emission cuts and puts us on a path to achieve the science-based 80 percent reduction target.
While the president’s call to reform car fuel economy standards in the way he did for light trucks does not inspire much confidence given the administration’s lackluster performance on pickups and SUVs, the preliminary details of his plan are actually quite intriguing.
The president has joined leaders in Congress calling for increasing the gas mileage of cars, SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks to 34 mpg by 2017. This is the equivalent of a four percent improvement per year. However, this will only be a breakthrough if the president and Congress work together to pass a law guaranteeing that this goal becomes reality, while avoiding loopholes and escape clauses. The increase would also cut global warming pollution by 95 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in that same year. This is equivalent to taking 14 million of today’s cars and trucks off the road.
The president also staked out an aggressive target on biofuels and “alternative fuels.” UCS analysis shows that meeting the administration’s target of 35 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2017 would cut our projected oil demand by 1.5 million barrels per day in 2017. This would reduce our oil dependence by 6.4 percent. If these changes are to be a real advance, however, these fuels must be produced without polluting the air, water, and soil—a formidable challenge. If alternative fuels are made from coal instead of renewable resources, the president will not stop the projected growth in carbon dioxide emissions from cars, light trucks and SUVs. Instead of cutting global warming pollution, making gasoline or diesel from coal would double the amount of global warming pollution produced from gasoline today.
The address also included support for plugin hybrid development (the Big Three auto companies are asking for $500 million for battery research). If funded, the support would benefit both plugin hybrid and non-plugins alike. More cost-effective, compact, and efficient battery electrical energy storage and output technologies are hurdles that all hybrids need to overcome for better efficiency and more market penetration in the future.
Challenges remain for effective execution of these proposals, but opportunities for real progress abound with a new Congress and political momentum.
President Bush talked about new energy technologies helping to "confront the serious challenge of global climate change” but the his willingness to invest billions in yet another generation of coal and nuclear power plants dwarfs his stated support for solar and wind energy.
The nation needs leadership on policies like the renewable portfolio standard, which would require utilities to produce 20 percent of the nation's electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020. The renewable portfolio standard is the best way to cut power plant emissions, reducing emissions by 434 million metric tons, the equivalent of taking nearly 63 million of today's cars and trucks off the road.
To seriously address global warming, the president will need to go much further than the measures he outlined. UCS believes we must set an overall cap on global warming pollution for the entire economy.
In his State of the Union address, President Bush recognized the need for “technological breakthroughs…to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.” Scientists in the federal government are also working hard to understand and mitigate the impacts of global warming, but their work is being stifled by political interference. Without independent and accessible science, the federal government will not be able to effectively address the serious environmental and social consequences of global warming.
Fortunately, Congress will soon be stepping in. On Tuesday, January 30, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee will hold a hearing to investigate the manipulation, distortion, and suppression of federal climate change research.
That day, UCS will release the results of a report and survey of federal climate scientists that examines the level of political interference in climate science. At the hearing, UCS Senior Scientist Dr. Francesca Grifo will testify about the report and recommend reforms to restore scientific integrity to federal policy making. You can watch the hearing online on Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. EST.
The new UCS “A to Z” guide to political interference in science shows that, from airborne bacteria to Ground Zero, science continues to be misrepresented for political gain. With the president’s support, Congress must enact meaningful reforms so decisions within federal scientific agencies and advisory committees are based on objective and unbiased science.