“Yes We Can” Obama’s environmental legacy begins with reducing US carbon emissions

By: Nathan Sell**

Seventeen years after the United States failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol; the first steps have been taken to address greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama and the EPA have taken a historic stance, solidifying the environmental legacy of this administration. As one of the world’s greatest carbon emitters, this will have a real impact on global emissions, but perhaps more importantly, show that the US will no longer stand idly by when it comes to climate change, setting an example for other large emitters like China and India.

Power plants account for roughly 30% of carbon emissions in the US, and new regulations will reduce emissions from these plants 30% by 2030 in comparison to 2005 levels. The good news is that we’ve made a great deal of progress on this goal to date before this regulation was announced. Since 2005 emissions in the US have been decreasing largely due to the natural gas boom, increased renewables use and the recession. According to Time magazine, we’re down 16% since 2005, more than halfway there.

The impacts on human health and safety are perhaps the most impressive. It is estimated that this legislation will prevent some 2,700 to 6,600 deaths related to air pollution and prevent 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks amongst children in the United States. On the other hand, the GOP claims that this legislation will cost 800,000 jobs and $50 billion/year. If this were to be the case, which seems unlikely, it would still be money well spent, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Ultimately this is the first step to a reduced carbon economy, but it cannot be the last. Reducing emissions just means that we’re putting LESS carbon in the atmosphere every year, but the CO2 concentrations will continue to rise. Having recently passed 400ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, we’re not even close to lowering that number. Regulations and incentives will be a major player when it comes to innovative technology both in terms of energy production, climate adaptation and mitigation. Now that the first step has been taken, we must continue this journey for the future of our planet.


**Nathan is a recent graduate of the Master of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and the current IGEL Coordinator.

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