Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama needs to lay out a plan on climate crisis

By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
updated 9:36 PM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
Global warming have caused glaciers to melt, according to scientists.
Global warming have caused glaciers to melt, according to scientists.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Van Jones: President Obama should lay out a plan on climate crisis in his SOTU speech
  • Jones: Obama should push for a bilateral agreement with China to reduce carbon pollution
  • He says the administration should support the EPA to set stronger air pollution standards
  • Jones: This president's legacy will be measured by his record on climate

Editor's note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy.

(CNN) -- In his second inaugural address last month, President Barack Obama forcefully articulated a case for confronting the climate crisis. In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, I encourage him to lay out a plan on it.

I realize Congress can be an obstacle. A few years ago, the right and left discussed how best to tackle the climate crisis. Today, it has become an article of faith among some conservatives to ignore science and deny there is a human-made crisis at all. Just last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, the oft-touted 2016 GOP savior who will deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union, falsely claimed there was "reasonable debate" on the issue.

There isn't. There is no alternative but to act.

As if the warnings from scientists weren't enough, in 2012 -- the hottest year on record in the contiguous U.S. -- we saw the true face of climate change: freak storms, raging wildfires, a new Dust Bowl in the heartland and devastating damages. Most heartbreakingly, innocent lives were lost.

Van Jones
Van Jones
Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Here's what Obama can do to help stop climate change -- and what he should announce in his speech on Tuesday night.

Opinion: Obama's chance to lead, or kick the can down the road

1. Negotiate a bilateral agreement with China

New Secretary of State John Kerry declared climate change a "life-threatening issue" at his confirmation hearing. Obama should make his chief diplomat's top priority the crafting of a bilateral agreement with China to reduce carbon pollution and accelerate clean energy.

Even if the Doha climate negotiations produce a treaty with teeth, the Senate will refuse to ratify it unless China is on board. Growing concerns about air pollution have the Chinese government talking about renewable energy. An agreement between the two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses would set the whole planet on a more sustainable path.

The best thing about this option: Obama does not need Congress' approval to start the dialogue. Furthermore, he can use the buildup to the Doha climate summit as an opportunity to educate the public about the real dangers of climate chaos.

2. Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

Some scientists liken building the pipeline to lighting the fuse on the world's biggest carbon bomb. According to industry experts, without the demand from this pipeline, most of the oil in the Alberta tar sands would stay safely in the ground. Instead, Keystone would funnel the dirtiest oil on Earth from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, which would do nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign energy while causing irreparable harm.

In return, we could get higher gas prices, risk of a BP-like spill in the heartland and fewer jobs than there are people employed in the wind industry right now.

3. Use executive branch powers

Although Obama cannot institute a carbon tax without Congress, he is not without options.

The Environmental Protection Agency used its authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a source of pollution and set higher standards for power plants. The EPA could go further. Obama should also support the efforts of the EPA to set new standards for soot based on the best and latest science. The administration could also open more public land for renewable energy development.

Finally, the president should publicly commit to making sure coal miners emerge as winners in the transition to clean energy jobs. At the least, the people who sacrifice their health to bring us power deserve secure pensions, world class health care and the opportunity to be trained in the industries of the future.

Twenty years from today, we could live in an age defined by ever-more-violent storms and watch as other nations stake out a crucial advantage in clean energy technology. Or, we can reject that future now and lead a healthier, more prosperous world well into the 21st century.

Tackling the issue entails some political risks. But the president should know that if he leads, a movement will rise to stand behind him. This Sunday, tens of thousands of Americans are expected to gather in Washington for the massive "Forward on Climate" Rally. They will be joined by thousands more across the nation.

A generation from now, this president's legacy will be measured by his record on climate. Strong words in the inaugural address were just the starting point. On Tuesday, we need to hear a concrete plan.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT