The President’s State of the Union Address

January 27, 2021


6. Global Warming

I now move to a different but related subject that may be difficult for a few people. Difficult or not, we are way overdue to face it—and face it together we will. Your president is responsible, over and above all other things, to tell you the truth, and on the matter of global warming I shall not mince words.


Global warming is real. Moreover, global warming is caused by human activities that pour carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. We do this  mainly by burning fossil fuels in our power plants, in our millions of vehicles on land, sea and in the air—and in the way many of us heat our homes and cook our food.


These things are known and they have been known for a long time—notwithstanding the doubt and confusion that have been spread among us by naysayers with a vested interest in profiting from the very things that are causing the problem.


For quite some years it has been evident that our overheating of the earth’s atmosphere is causing serious changes in worldwide climate. Most immediately evident, changing climate is in turn bringing increasingly extreme bad weather down upon us—with dozens of negative consequences for human, animal and plant life virtually everywhere on earth.


So here we are in the year 2021, finally acknowledging realities that should have been acknowledged and acted upon, as a national and international emergency, decades ago. At this late date anybody who refuses to accept the facts contained in the scientific data available to us all—as well as in the personal experience of our worsening weather—is either not fully conscious or is in willful self denial and cannot be taken seriously.


It is essential that every person among us must understand:  Hard data leave no doubt at all that global warming is happening, and we are causing it. It increasingly threatens us all, right now, and is a dangerous worsening threat looming over our children’s future.


Our excessive heating of earth’s atmosphere is so disruptive to the planet’s natural processes that it has real potential to bring down climate chaos on the generations immediately behind us. We are responsible to them. Global warming is in fact an existential threat to our very civilization over the remaining decades of this century. We dare not ignore it, and we’re no longer going to ignore it.


I have asked myself how we might reach common understanding of how very serious this problem is, for it is terribly important that we reach it. I’m not aware that our national audience has ever heard any public official speak in any detail about the climate-related environmental problems we face, so bear with me here for about a whole minute.


Right now, warmer air is rapidly melting the world’s glaciers that billions of people depend on in Asia, Europe, and the American continents. All this melt water is raising ocean levels everywhere, and within this century seawater several feet higher will confront every coastal city in the world.


In our country, Boston, New York, Washington DC, Columbia, most of Florida, New Orleans, Galveston, Los Angeles and San Francisco are among the populations that will be adversely affected. In many places massive refugee problems will result from people migrating inland to escape the rising seas. Global warming also is degrading the great ice caps on Antarctica and Greenland;  their collapse would be catastrophic for all of us.


Right now, warming seas are absorbing more carbon, which raises the oceans’ acidity, and this in turn threatens all shellfish—a major source of human food. Warming of the oceans is changing the flow of ocean currents—including the Gulf Stream, which keeps Europe temperate despite its northerly latitudes. These changes to ocean currents and chemistry affect things like El Nino, with major impacts on weather across the USA.


Right now, permafrost is melting all across Alaska, Canada and Siberia, raising the danger of enormous releases of methane gas—many times more harmful than carbon dioxide—which has been locked away in the frozen tundra for thousands of years. We are at risk of still more methane releasing in truly gigantic quantities from the warming ocean floors. This is called positive feedback, and it speeds up:  Global warming causes more greenhouse gases to be released into the air—which causes more global warming.


Let me speed up.  Loss of soil nutrients, moisture and soil erosion;  loss of the biodiversity that protects us in thousands of unseen ways;  longer droughts and more disastrous giant wildfires;  deserts encroaching onto dried-out farmland;  more and fiercer tornadoes, hurricanes and floods, with more homes destroyed and higher premiums for storm and flood insurance;  more invasive species and more loss of species diversity;  more mosquitoes spreading more infectious diseases;  declining food and clean water for a fast-increasing world population;  loss of coral reefs and the fish that use them;  red tides and algae blooms that kill more sea life every year;  declining supplies of ocean fish that billions of people depend on for food…


Folks, this could go on a lot longer, but it’s too depressing. What this awful list is telling us is that global warming—which, I repeat, we are causing—is seriously harming the environment and ecosystems we humans depend on, all over the world. Unless we make some really basic changes in the ways we behave, we are, in effect, killing ourselves.


As for denial that our climate is changing for the worse, let me be blunt. The science is clear, and it has been clear for a long time to people who don’t simply tune it out. Seldom in history has there been more clear cut irresponsibility by adults who are supposed to be leading our public and private institutions in service to the common good of us all.


One example I intend to mention explicitly is selfish insistence on reaping profits from coal, oil and natural gas—even though these fossil fuels are well known to be harming all of us today, and present a worse danger to our children and grandchildren tomorrow.


No more. The old familiar way of doing things has to change, and change quickly. And, I assure you, greed for profits has no place in what we are going to do to stop messing up the benign, human-friendly climate we have enjoyed these past ten thousand years. I do not intend to be the president who presided over the final tipping point on our way downhill to climate chaos that could wreck human civilization.


I wish to announce some corrective actions we are going to take as immediately as possible, and other actions we will set in motion right behind them. We certainly don’t yet have answers for all the changes we must make, but several are obvious.


Number one:  This morning I directed that the United States of America is to rejoin our world neighbors in the Paris Climate Accords as quickly as we can restore those interrupted ties. And to our worldwide neighbors who have remained faithful to that historic Accord, I say:  We deeply regret the interruption. The American people are permanently committed to do our share, and to fully cooperate with other nations in eliminating this environmental threat to all humanity.


To demonstrate United States commitment, I have directed every agency of the United States government to immediately identify and review every regulation protecting the environment that was watered down or eliminated in recent years. Environmental regulations that were inappropriately downgraded or eliminated will be restored. Incidentally, I have further directed all federal government agencies to immediately review every regulation of every nature that has been eliminated or watered down since January 1, 2017, and to evaluate the purpose of each such regulation against a default directive that it is to be restored unless good reason to take no action is determined.


To support their full restoration, I will submit to the Congress a bill repealing the Congressional Review Act, a legal travesty which allows a simple, offhand Congressional resolution to overturn, in a day or two, much-needed regulations that required years of research, public hearings and many revisions to finally put in place.


Number two:   The worst carbon dioxide pollution in our nation, as in most other industrialized nations, is coming from the power plants that burn coal and gas to generate electricity, and from the internal combustion engines we use to power our vehicles. In the coming month I will ask the Congress to set a target of totally eliminating fossil fuel power plants throughout the United States within the coming eight years.


I will further ask that the River Energy Initiative be fully funded and implemented at the same speed we used in mobilizing this great nation to fight World War II. We know what has to be done, its great corrective potential is obvious, its many benefits for jobs and the nation’s economic wellbeing are obvious. Let’s get on with it.


Number three:  The recommendations I send to Congress will set a goal of converting all automobiles and small trucks to electric motive power within ten years. And not only must the new vehicles be totally pollution free, they must be priced low enough to be affordable for all American families. This means their retail price must be equivalent to or below today’s vehicle prices … And I promise you I’ll be keeping a close eye on that one, for it is important to millions of our people.


Number four:  I have directed all applicable federal agencies to initiate major new research that, in the shortest possible time frame, will produce batteries with larger electrical storage capacity than any ever seen before. These batteries must be small enough to fit into ordinary cars, and low-priced enough to keep the cars affordable.


I have faith in American ingenuity, and I have no doubt we can and will create such a battery relatively quickly—especially by putting the full force of your federal government onto the task. We put a man on the moon in just ten years—and I have no doubt that with similar mobilization we can solve this battery problem quicker than that.


Number five:  Subject to a better idea, I believe we should set a goal of twelve years for converting to electric power all our larger trucks, all our trains, all our oceangoing ships, all the barge trains that ply our rivers, and our entire fleet of aircraft. These are the big boys that generate megatons of carbon pollution, each one being equivalent to dozens of personal cars. We know what has to be done, we simply have to find within ourselves the moxie to do it. Let’s get on with it.


Number six:  On the matter of electric aircraft, I intend for us to pursue a couple of ideas that will be new to many people, but not all. There are basically two ways to make a heavier-than-air vehicle go flying through the air. One is to make conventional airplanes much lighter, perhaps reshaping their aerodynamics so that it becomes practical for electric motors to provide the necessary push required to keep them aloft.


The reason high-polluting jet engines are now so widely used—often four of these big engines on a single plane—is the need for all that thrust to push jumbo-sized airplanes made ever heavier by cramming them full with several hundred heavy people crammed in like sardines, plus all their heavy luggage. Folks, if you have flown anywhere in a commercial airplane in the last few years, you just know we can do better.


The other way is to retire and replace certain types of airplanes with a different type of aircraft altogether, especially those that carry cargo instead of people. I am speaking of heavy-lifter dirigibles. Most of us have seen those fat little blimps that cruise around over fairgrounds on festive occasions, and thought little about them.


But little do most people realize the enormous capacity of much bigger, slender versions of these great airships. They have potential to become our primary air cargo movers of the future. With proper research, design and engineering, heavy-lifter dirigibles can carry as much cargo as several boxcars or small ships. They move slower than airplanes, but they are as sure and steady as river barges. And, like crows, they fly direct from point to point—they have no need to go through air hubs like Atlanta or St Louis.


Of great importance, dirigibles are cheaper to build, and a lot cheaper to operate, than ships and airplanes. Most important, they can be powered by electric motors and move our nation’s commerce with no carbon pollution at all. We know the high-polluting jet engine has to go, it simply is not tenable in a world under threat from global warming. Since we must find alternatives to the types of airplanes we now use, I intend to focus major research on electric-powered heavy-lifter dirigibles as a major alternative.


Global warming is an existential danger to all humanity. We have no choice but to rise to the occasion, and do what has to be done. I have mentioned here some of the immediate steps we can take to accomplish rapid reduction of our carbon pollution. It’s a start, but there are many other things we must do to restore a clean, healthy environment for ourselves and our descendants. I will be addressing more new initiatives over coming months—and many others over the next four years.


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…to be continued…

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