Obama rightly seeks accord, not a treaty, to advance climate attention

09/01/2014 12:00 AM

09/02/2014 4:06 AM

Republicans, in their ongoing effort to undermine all things to do with the Obama administration, continue to speak of climate change as if it were some crazy idea that came out of nowhere. They’ve used every description of it except to call it a “communist plot,” which used to be the conservative moniker for everything from civil rights to women’s equality.

Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader from Kentucky, has led the charge toward President Obama almost since Day One, proclaiming that the No. 1 objective of Republicans was to ensure he’d be a one-term president. That didn’t work out too well for the GOP, but McConnell and his mates have ignored the twice-exhibited will of the people to stand their ground against health care reform and anything else Obama champions.

But McConnell’s rejection of the idea of climate change and of the need to do anything about it reflects not just his attitude toward the president but the fact that he’s from Kentucky, a major coal state.

So faced with certain opposition to any new treaties on climate change as a United Nations summit meeting next year in Paris approaches, Obama is reported by The New York Times to be figuring a way around a formal treaty, which would require a two-thirds vote of support in the Senate, something that will not happen.

Instead, says The Times, the president wants an international climate change agreement in which the world’s worst polluters in terms of fossil fuel emissions would voluntarily agree to enact policies to curb those emissions, in effect an update of an existing treaty and not in need of Senate ratification.

Obama is going to push for the agreement at that Paris meeting.

The president already has used his executive authority to order more regulation of U.S. coal-fired power plants, forcing them to curb carbon emissions. The industry doesn’t like it, and it’s going to be fought in court, but Obama has moved, and he should have.

Credible scientists from around the world have established the reality of climate change. Already, they say, sea levels are rising, storms are more intense and droughts are more prolonged. There are more wildfires as well. Absent strong action by the world’s worst offenders on carbon emissions, the climate changes will only get worse, these scientists say.

Sadly, conservative politicians, most of them Republicans, act as if climate change were simply a conspiracy advanced by ultraliberal Democrats against the power industry. What would be the motivation for someone to create out of thin air fears about rising sea levels and more devastating storms?

It’s important for the U.S. to do its part with domestic policies that curb carbon emissions, but unless China and other nations go along, the United States’ efforts will be like a sparrow in a hurricane. Hence, the need for the president to do something now.

The truth is, with Republicans dreaming of control of the U.S. Senate following the elections this fall, there’s little personal political reward in this for the president. He knows such an effort can cause him only grief from Republicans in Congress. He deserves credit here for exhibiting some statesmanlike gumption and pushing ahead.

This is an uphill fight. Though scientists in many countries have researched climate change and defend their results, political leaders in countries with good economies hate doing anything in terms of regulation that in their minds might somehow slow those economies down.

But acting on climate change can’t be about the instant political gratification politicians the world over prefer. It is about foresight, about doing something to protect the generations to follow, about bringing a far-reaching perspective to get ahead of environmental problems rather than dealing with them when it may be too late.

GOP leaders may criticize the president all they wish, but it is he who is leading here. And they are doing anything but.

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