Scientists largely agree that aggressive steps need to be taken to slow and prepare for climate change. The glaciers in Yosemite are disappearing, wildfires and superstorms are ravaging the nation, and Arctic ice continues to melt at a record-breaking pace. In his second term, free from the pressure to campaign for reelection, President Obama can seize the moment to do something about this environmental crisis. Still, aggressive steps – taxing carbon, a large-scale switch to renewables, banning coal – may not be politically feasible, especially with a partisan Congress and a fragile economy. The president has made progress: enacting strict fuel standards that will force cars to get 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025; providing incentives to double electricity from solar and wind; and creating 2 million new acres of protected wilderness. But there's still a lot of work to do. "Obama can do a million things," says Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and founder of Waterkeeper Alliance. "He can force coal to pay its true cost, end subsidies to carbon cronies, and deploy a compelling mix of moral and economic arguments." The temptation is to focus on issues that inflame the public, like the Keystone XL pipeline, but the president would do better to take a wider perspective. Keystone, for one, would pump only 830,000 barrels of oil from tar sands a day, about a third of the 2.3 million barrels of oil Canada already sends us, and a mere fraction of our heavily subsidized 19-million-barrel-a-day habit. We spoke to scientists, economists, and policy advisers, who recommended the most impactful environmental measures, ones that can be achieved over the course of the next four years. Here's their nine-point plan to protect the planet.
Prevent oil drilling along the Atlantic seaboard.
A feasibility study assessing oil drilling in open waters along the entire Atlantic coast – everywhere from Delaware to Florida – is under way. If approved, it could mean oil rigs placed just offshore of fragile beach ecosystems and the risk of a Deepwater Horizon-like spill in the most densely populated vacation spots in the country. Instead of letting the oil survey go any further, the president can embrace the Atlantic as a haven for healthy fisheries and clean waters. "We have more coastline than any other country, and fish is the healthiest protein on the planet," says Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana, the world's largest nonprofit for ocean conservation. "We ought to be doing everything we can to make sure it's well managed and abundant." Besides, he says, "the price of gasoline at the pump isn't determined by the amount of domestic drilling. Canada, which exports oil, pays the same price that we do."
Credit: United States Coast Guard