Obama must lead on climate change

Now that he’s been re-elected the president is free to do what’s needed to reduce carbon emissions

The latest round of U.N. climate talks is wrapping up this week, in Doha, Qatar. Pardon us for not being optimistic. These international gabfests have been going on for 20 years now, and carbon emissions continue to increase.

As the World Bank recently reported, even if the world’s nations meet the pledges they’ve made so far to reduce carbon emissions, average annual temperatures will rise by more than 3 degrees Celsius—5.4 degrees Fahrenheit—by the end of the century. If they’re not met, the temperature could rise 4 degrees Celsius. “There is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible,” the report bluntly states.

We know President Obama understands how dangerous climate change is, but so far he’s done little about it. Now that he’s been re-elected—and Hurricane Sandy has reminded him just how overwhelming extreme weather can be—he is free to take action. He should begin by giving a big speech on the subject, laying out the science and explaining why confronting global warming is absolutely essential. Then he should find a way to put a price on carbon.

Right now, we aren’t paying an honest price for fossil fuels, one that reflects their true cost to society and the planet. James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first brought climate change to our attention, recommends setting a carbon fee, collected from fossil-fuel companies, that is then distributed to the public. Yes, it would increase fuel costs, but that’s the point. It would also stimulate the economy, foster innovation and move us away from fossil fuels.

Mr. President, are you listening?