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MIT to Obama: Get Serious About Climate Change

Leon Kaye | Thursday January 10th, 2013 | 1 Comment
obama, climate change, MIT, MIT technology review, fossil fuels, clean energy, renewable energy, Leon Kaye, Obama administration, Barack Obama, summit on climate change, global warming, price on carbon

MIT has joined the voices urging Obama to move on climate change

President Barack Obama may consider a summit on climate change during his second term, but that is not fast enough for the editors of the MIT Technology Review. Dismissing the accomplishments and goals the administration touts, the group has urged Obama to confront climate change–or risk having all of his economic, social and political achievements overshadowed.

MIT has joined other organizations, including the World Economic Forum, to tackle global warming seriously. Arguing that any climate change initiatives need to be for the long haul, not part of any economic stimulus package, the letter urges the Obama Administration to do the following:

  • Push for new clean energy technologies. Saying that energy sources such as solar are not ready to compete directly with fossil fuels, the MIT editors urge the administration to fund more research and development and establish facilities where companies can share resources and the risks of testing new forms of energy.
  • Create market incentives. Since fossil fuels are still the most cost effective forms of energy, the letter insists that the administration consider some kind of market incentive  that would encourage consumers and businesses to adopt renewable energy technologies like a tax or price on carbon.
  • Ditch the green jobs argument. Dismissing the green jobs argument as “political cover,” the MIT editors say that the focus should be on reversing the potentially disastrous effects of global warming. While the costs of tackling climate change are steep, the letter makes the point that waiting will only add to the costs.
  • Finally, the letter pushes the President to lead:

“The president who takes office that year will thus be facing a far more urgent problem—probably, like you, with no political consensus on how to solve it. But as a president in his final term, you have a chance to take risks. You have the power and the opportunity to lay the groundwork for a new clean-energy policy that will help us avoid the worst consequences of climate change. It is quite possible that if this is not done over the next four years, it will be too late.”

Will POTUS bite? History shows that just because a President was re-elected does not mean he will necessarily go out on a limb and carry out an agenda that ignores politics. Obama will still have to deal with a recalcitrant Congress, and in any event, many presidents run out of political capital quickly: take a look at George W. Bush’s tinkering with Social Security back in 2005. In fact, the usual toxic political climate at home has nudged many Presidents to seek solace in foreign policy. And this is where Obama, if he is really serious about tackling climate change, could advance such an agenda. Since climate change is a global problem, countries both developed and emerging need to work together. Could Obama work with leaders in countries from Canada to the EU to the BRIC nations and agree on some aggressive solutions? As is the case with the more complicated issues that face the U.S., the odds are high that no matter how many public letters like that of MIT, climate will be another can kicked down the road.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credit of Great Dome at MIT: Wikipedia (John Phelan)


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  • http://twitter.com/globalteachin globalteachin

    The problem is that MIT has to get serious about climate change as well. Does it have a major department or subgroup promoting advancement in rail technologies? No. It does not. Does it leverage procurement to promote green technologies, by forming consortia nationally with other universities? No, it has not created a national procurement coalition of universities. Has it promoted conversion of defense firms to civilian products, given that they could make alternative energy and mass transit systems (under the right conditions)? No, MIT has not led the nation in research on defense conversion or alternatives to the military economy. MIT is correct to pressure Obama, push for new federal R&D policies, but it could also cooperate more with a network of unions, green firms, and environmental groups, convene them and help organize new coalitions to move money into new areas.