The 44th President of the United States will take the oath of office on January 20, 2009. From that moment forward, he will have a relatively short honeymoon period during which he has the best chance of advancing his agenda. This book is an action plan for the new President to attack the problem of global climate change during his first 100 days in office.
Every president over the last thirty years has known about climate change. It is the most dangerous and difficult challenge of our time, and it remains largely unaddressed. While scientific research has reached a consensus that human activity already is causing worldwide climate change, America has lacked the political will to do something about it. Since the oil embargoes of the 1970s, every president has gone on record in support of reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, a necessary step for both energy and climate security; presidents as far back as Lyndon Johnson have been advised about the dangers of climate change. But today, the United States imports more oil and emits more greenhouse gases than ever before.
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the largest international science collaboration in history—concluded unequivocally that climate change is underway, that it is primarily the result of our consumption of fossil fuels, and that time is growing short if we are to avoid catastrophic worldwide consequences on a global scale. "What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future," says Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC. "This is the defining moment." It has been left to the new President to define how the United States will respond.
By focusing on the first 100 days, this book underscores the need for urgent action. America’s greenhouse gas emissions are growing by 1.5 percent each year. The IPCC has concluded that worldwide greenhouse gas emissions must be stabilized and begin to decline by 2015, just six years after the next President takes the oath of office.
A 100-day action plan carries symbolic weight, too. President Franklin Roosevelt, whose leadership during two critical national crises is often used as a model for what must happen now, framed his own 100-day plan for the period between the opening and closing of the 73rd Congress in 1933. During that time, according to historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Roosevelt "sent fifteen messages to Congress, guided fifteen major laws to enactment, delivered ten speeches, held press conferences and cabinet meetings twice a week, conducted talks with foreign heads of state, sponsored an international conference, made all the major decisions in domestic and foreign policy, and never displayed fright or panic and rarely even bad temper."
It’s an inspiring example, but we are now facing a different sort of crisis. The crises that FDR faced during his presidency were clearly visible and obvious: the Great Depression and World War II. The climate crisis is far more insidious; vested interests continue to sow doubt that it is real; and the solution will require a literal transformation of the industrial world’s economies.
The recommendations in these pages are the result of a two-year effort by the Presidential Climate Action Project at the University of Colorado Denver. I’m often asked how it got started. The short answer is that the project is the brainchild of Professor David Orr, the noted environmental educator and author at Oberlin College.
The long answer goes back to the 2004 presidential election. At the time, I was beginning my twelfth year as an official at the U.S. Department of Energy who, like many of my colleagues, had spent my career pushing the United States to begin the transition to a new energy economy powered by renewable resources. When George W. Bush was elected to a second term that year, I was at first shocked, then depressed, that the American people had decided to retain a White House that would be a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil, gas, and coal industries for another four crucial years. I decided I had to make a choice. I either would move to another country so that my taxes would no longer support Bush’s policies, or I would try to "light a candle."
I decided on the candle. I resolved to pull together many of America’s foremost experts on green energy, climate change, and sustainable development and create a "Sustainable America" action agenda in time to give it to whomever was elected to the presidency in 2008. My starting point was work of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD), which was convened by the Clinton administration. From 1993 to 1999, the PCSD developed more than 140 recommendations for policies and initiatives that would make the United States more sustainable, but its body of thoughtful ideas was ignored when the Bush administration took office.
The first step was to recruit the two co-chairs of the PCSD—Ray Anderson and Jonathan Lash—to lead an advisory committee that would guide the project. Ray, the founder and chairman of the board of one of the greenest companies on the planet—Interface Inc. in Atlanta—agreed immediately. He helped me recruit Jonathan, head of the World Resources Institute, to be co-chair.
We devised a plan to hold four National Leadership Summits for a Sustainable America during 2006 and 2007. The S.C. Johnson Foundation offered us the use of their Wingspread Conference Center in Wisconsin for all four meetings.
While the objective of the conferences was to write an action plan on sustainable development, it quickly became apparent during the first summit in June 2006 that we could not discuss sustainability without tackling climate change. It was, and is, the mother of all sustainability issues. It was at this meeting that David Orr proposed a 100-day plan for presidential leadership.
As a first step, and with the objective of speaking with one voice on climate change, the forty participants produced "The Wingspread Principles on the U.S. Response to Global Warming," and circulated it on the Internet for signatures. These principles became the guideposts for the work to follow.
Later that year, a mutual friend introduced me to Gary Hart, the former U.S. Senator and two-time presidential candidate, now a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado Denver. Hart, one of the nation’s most influential new thinkers on national security, immediately saw the importance of climate change. He agreed to join Ray Anderson as co-chair of a Presidential Climate Action Project, or PCAP, as we called it.
I retired from the Department of Energy on January 1, 2007, to begin work on PCAP. We formed a new national advisory committee that included Dr. D. James Baker, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Vice Admiral Richard Truly, a two-time shuttle astronaut and former NASA administrator; Theodore Roosevelt IV, chair of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change; John Petersen, the highly regarded futurist and head of the Arlington Institute; Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism Solutions; Terry Tamminen, the architect of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pioneering climate policies in California; Larry Schweiger, head of the National Wildlife Federation; James Gustave "Gus" Speth, dean of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technologies; Van Jones, founder of the Green for All movement; and several other distinguished experts.
After eleven months of intensive research, consultation, and writing, we released the preliminary action plan on December 4, 2007. It contained more than three hundred specific proposals for federal policies, programs, executive orders, and legislation across fourteen topic areas—among them climate policy, energy policy, economics, stewardship, state and local adaptation, transportation, and buildings. Among other goals, the three hundred policies were designed to achieve:
• Zero-carbon buildings by 2030
• Dramatic cuts in oil use for transportation
• An economy-wide drive to improve America’s energy efficiency
• An 80 to 100 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury
• An end to federal subsidies of carbon-intensive fuels
• A moratorium on new, conventional coal-fired power plants
• Carbon neutrality for the world’s biggest single energy consumer, the U.S. government
• An active and constructive role by the United States in the international effort to control greenhouse gas emissions
Since releasing the first plan, we have continued commissioning research and convening the nation’s top environmental, business, science, academic, and policy experts with the goal of providing the President-elect and his transition team an updated action agenda just after the November 4 election.
What we intend to demonstrate—and what I hope to convey in this book—is that global climate change will not be solved with a single bill in Congress, or with the President’s bully pulpit, or by hoping the marketplace will work its magic with no help from the federal government. The Presidential Climate Action Plan is based on the idea that an adequate response to this most complex of problems will require every tool in the toolbox—in the White House, the Congress, state and local governments, the business sector, on Main Street, and in households across America.
From the first 100 minutes of his inaugural address through the next 100 days, the next President must put America back on the path to achieving energy and climate security.
Excerpted from The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet: A Climate Crisis Solution for the 44th President by William S. Becker
Copyright © 2008 by The Regents of the University of Colorado, a body corporate
Published in October 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
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