President Obama delivered his most forceful push for action on global warming on Tuesday, declaring that his administration would impose tighter pollution controls on coal- and gas-fired utilities and establish strict conditions for approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Obama also announced that the government would take climate change into consideration in its everyday operations. The shift could affect decisions on a range of issues, including bridge heights, flood insurance rates and how the military gets electricity overseas.
Speaking to college students and environmental activists at Georgetown University, the president mocked those who disclaim any connection between human activity and climate change and suggested that curbing carbon emissions amounted to a moral obligation owed to future Americans.
"I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” he told the crowd, adding later, "We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”
President Obama mocked critics who contend climate change is not a threat.
"I don't have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real," he said. "We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society."
The president said climate change posed an immediate threat, with the 12 hottest years on record all occurring in the past 15 years.
Al Gore, former U.S. Vice President, commented President Obama's speech:
"This was a terrific and historic speech, by far the best address on climate by any president ever".
"I applaud the new measures announced by President Barack Obama this afternoon to help solve the climate crisis - particularly the decision to limit global warming pollution from existing as well as new power plants".
"This action - if followed by skillful and thorough execution of the plan - has the potential to fundamentally alter the course of our nation's energy infrastructure development and help to promote a sustainable future. On the international front, this action will bolster U.S. credibility and moral authority in negotiations with other countries".
President Obama called for more solar and wind energy projects on public lands, with the aim of powering the equivalent of six million homes by 2020. He also set higher goals for renewable energy at federal housing projects.
The plan includes the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from new and existing power plants. These are the single biggest source of carbon pollution, accounting for a third of US greenhouse gas emissions and 40% of its carbon output.
It remains to be seen how much practical effect his declaration will have on the final pipeline decision, however. A draft environmental assessment by the State Department found that blocking the project would not translate into fewer greenhouse gas emissions because the crude oil destined for the pipeline would be transported through other means, such as by rail.