President Barack Obama made an ambitious move this week on climate change—setting hard targets for state-by-state reductions of carbon emissions from power plants. This is a key step in lowering greenhouse gas emissions since power plants remain the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. Individual states will have flexible ways to achieve these targets that experts believe are doable but difficult. A state has many paths that can be taken to get to the targets include improving power plant heat rates, using more natural gas plants to replace aging coal plants, increasing the use of zero-carbon energy, or moving more towards solar and other efficiency alternative energies. The new federal regulations announced by the Environmental Protection Agency could transform America’s energy sector that depends on coal for nearly 38% of electricity. America’s approximately 1,000 power plants would now face real limits on carbon pollution, which would lower soot and smog and address climate change in real ways. The President has avoided major pronouncements on climate change lately because of pushback from Congress and interest groups in the first term. Interestingly, the EPA is making this new announcement, not the White House, which fears over-promising and then facing legal or legislative hurdles.
These changes could have an impact not only on the United States but around the world as other nations follow our lead, and many American citizens, particularly young people, will welcome significant moves to curb power emissions. Nevertheless, public outreach and messaging will be important around these new announcements. My advice to the Administration would be to utilize this moment with greater fanfare and attention and I have a few suggestions on how to do that:
- President Obama should do more than just have an EPA announcement. Use the bully pulpit and make a statement on the significance of this move
- The White House should dispatch its climate change experts to television, radio, web, social media, print with messages about the importance of emissions
- Secretary of State Kerry, who deeply believes in addressing climate change, should speak to young audiences—particularly college students via Planet Forward or other websites to reinforce the value of these changes
- Op-eds should be generated by those within government and outside government to keep the momentum going on climate change. Op-eds can be generated by the Administration or by those in the field
- EPA should convene all the sustainability experts at universities for a conference call to answer question and encourage use of social media to get out the word
While this climate change announcement will certainly be welcome news for those who believe in moving the planet forward, communicating these changes to the broader public is even more necessary to gain political support in Congress and to win over those who fear change. Ignorance is often the biggest obstacle to addressing climate change. Communicating about this issue is critical to fill in the public gaps in knowledge. Any and everyone can help to accomplish this. Below are a few ways sustainability advocates can help to communicate the new regulations.
- Videotape interviews with others about these new Obama changes and how they affect climate change. Visually—what will the world look like if we do NOT make these EPA changes
- Put together your own op-ed on why carbon emissions matter
- Look at video of pollution and create a viral video on how it looks
- Send ideas to Planet Forward on experiences you have had in this area
- Encourage international students to look at our website.
Tara Sonenshine is a Distinguished Fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and coordinate academic partnerships for Planet Forward. She served as under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
Photo courtesy Alex Proimos