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Le Temps, Switzerland

Climate: A Californian Model for the US


By Stéphane Bussard

Translated By Tara Ferguson

15 February 2013

Edited by Daye Lee


Switzerland - Le Temps - Original Article (French)

Can Barack Obama turn the United States into a power that is concerned about the environment? By making the fight against global warming a priority in his second term, the president is prompting Americans to get involved. Sixty five percent of Americans already take measures to combat the climate phenomenon. Barack Obama also relies on Mother Nature to help him in his mission. Over the past two years, due to heavy human and material contributions from America, the number of natural disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, drought) have changed the human relationship with climate.

The White House, whose climatic track record so far has been mixed, is taking the offensive at an important moment. With the recent boom in oil and shale gas, the U.S. has never produced so much oil and is starting to dream of energy independence.

This phenomenon has produced a surprising effect. The goal to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 — compared to 2005 — seems achievable. The low price of natural gas has rendered the highly pollutant coal obsolete.

The Democratic administration remains in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, it must encourage increased production of fossil fuels to sustain a recovering economy. On the other, it aims to reduce consumption. The challenge will be to better manage the transition, which will take decades, to cleaner energy.

Despite being faced with a wayward Congress, the president is not without means to act. He can enable the Environmental Protection Agency to enact more stringent standards for transport, power and the exploitation of shale gas, which causes the release of a tremendous amount of methane into the atmosphere.

But achieving the goal of an 83 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will take more. The decisive step in favor of the climate's health has a name: carbon tax. As in California, Congress could set a maximum level of emissions and let the market organize itself, allowing companies to reduce their own costs and quantities. The Senate stopped such a measure in 2010. This time, will they be able to make the prospect of a green economy a reality? This is the hope of millions of worried Americans.



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