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June 25, 2013

Obama’s Climate Plan Will Reduce CO2, Increase Clean Energy

In a speech today at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama laid out his climate plan for the United States moving forward in the months, years, and decades ahead. Oceana was pleased to hear President Obama promoting clean energy like wind and solar energy, but wishes that he had also mentioned offshore wind – a form of energy that is safe for our oceans and its creatures, and forever sustainable.

In speaking about our rapidly increasing levels of carbon emissions, Obama stated “The levels of carbon pollution in our atmosphere have increased dramatically…our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impact on humankind.” Just last month, for the first time in human history, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passed 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide at the historic Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The ocean has done its part to absorb carbon pollution to slow the impacts of climate change, but this has come at a cost to marine life and people who depend on a healthy ocean. The ocean absorbs approximately one-third of all human-caused CO2 emissions at a rate of 300 tons per second. Unfortunately, however, this CO2 absorption has made the ocean 30% more acidic now than before the Industrial Revolution, and the rate of change in ocean pH, called ocean acidification, is likely unprecedented in Earth’s history.

Ocean acidification is already harming marine animals like oysters, mussels and clams as well as coral reefs. During previous changes in ocean conditions that were much slower than today, 95% of marine species went extinct. As a result, if emissions continue at current rates, we risk a similar mass extinction event – one that could begin within our lifetimes. As Oceana’s Ocean Advocate Nancy Sopko states, “We can no longer afford to play small ball when the planet has just passed the dangerous threshold of 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Thankfully, in his speech today, Obama outlined a new plan aimed at reducing carbon emissions by replacing “dirty energy” like fossil fuels with clean energy sources like wind and solar energy. Among his plans, Obama set a new goal to double renewable electricity generation by 2020. Obama’s proposal will also requires the federal government to get at least 20% of its power from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020, which more than doubles the current goal of 7.5%. We’re pleased to hear that Obama is embracing clean sources of energy like wind and solar, but, as Sopko states, “While the President’s plan does include goals on land-based wind and solar, it is silent on one of our nation’s most abundant renewable energy resources – offshore wind.”

Through disastrous spills like Exxon-Valdez and Deepwater Horizon, we’ve learned the hard way about the damage what the burning of and drilling for dirty fossil fuels can do to the ocean and sea life that call the oceans home. Fortunately, we have an alternative – the United States has renewable energy right off its coasts – offshore wind. The wind is clean, unlimited and guaranteed not to spill. When sited correctly, offshore wind is one of the best chances we have to end our addiction to fossil fuels and to finally stop the dirty and dangerous practice of offshore oil and gas drilling. “The scale of America’s offshore wind energy resource is truly staggering, with literally thousands of gigawatts of clean energy available off our shores,” Sopko explains.

For the health of the oceans and the billions of people that depend on them, we must invest in offshore wind and other renewables and permanently move away from offshore drilling.  See Oceana’s report, Breaking the Habit to learn how we can transition away from offshore drilling to a clean energy future. We urge President Obama to include offshore wind in his promotion of cleaner sources of energy, and to stimulate funding for this burgeoning industry.

As President Obama himself pointed out, the time to act on these climate issues is now. We applaud President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon emissions and replace some fossil fuels with clean energy, but we also urge him to take a stronger stance to protect our oceans today. As Sopko says, “The longer we continue with business as usual, the harder it will be to correct the damage we have done.”