Obama on “Terrifying” Climate Threat
September 8, 2016
In an exclusive interview on his legacy, President Obama speaks to The Times’s Mark Landler and Coral Davenport on climate change while visiting Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Campaigning against Mitt Romney in 2012, he barely mentioned climate change.
But soon after Election Day, Mr. Obama interrupted a broad discussion with historians about the country’s challenges with a surprising assertion. Douglas Brinkley, a historian who attended the session, recalled, “Out of nowhere, he said, ‘If we don’t do anything on the climate issue, all bets are off.’”
Mr. Obama, who understood that a legislative push would be fruitless, told his advisers to figure out how to enact deep emissions cuts without Congress. They found a way through the Clean Air Act of 1970, which gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to issue regulations on dangerous pollutants.
In 2014, Mr. Obama unveiled the first draft of what would become the Clean Power Plan: a set of Clean Air Act rules that could lead to the closing of hundreds of coal-fired power plants.
The move enraged critics, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, whose state relies heavily on coal.
“More and more, there are events that are happening that are astoundingly unusual, that knock your socks off, like the flooding in Louisiana,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. “Those are the kinds of events where it’s becoming possible to draw attribution.”
Benjamin J. Rhodes, one of the president’s closest aides, recalled Mr. Obama talking about “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” Jared Diamond’s 2005 best seller, which explored the environmental changes that wiped out ancient societies like Easter Island and discussed how modern equivalents like climate change and overpopulation could yield the same destruction.