Whether President Barack Obama's sweeping new plan for confronting climate change will eventually meet his second-term goal to sharply reduce carbon emissions is open to argument. But his decision to exercise the prerogatives of the executive branch to address the threat is a necessarily bold end run around a divided Congress that has proven unwilling to face up to the dire consequences of its own inaction.
By any measure, the three-pronged "climate action plan" unveiled by the president Tuesday is an ambitious attempt to frame a multilevel strategy for blunting the consequences of climate upheaval. Central to the effort is a bevy of new standards, rules and regulations limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, buildings, appliances and heavy-duty trucks, buses and vans.
Increasing the country's reliance on natural gas and alternative energy and burning less coal, a Utah staple that is the source of roughly half the nation's energy output, is another key element of the plan. Other pieces include land and water conservation, a more sustainable agriculture, disaster relief and application of sound science to climate policy.
Of at least equal importance is Obama's focus on breathing life into moribund international efforts to arrive at a set of carbon emission standards that are strict enough, and come soon enough, to keep global warming in check. Negotiations remain stalled by sharp differences between wealthy nations that are the worst polluters and poor nations that would be hit hardest by restrictions on burning the relatively cheap fossil fuels that drive their fragile economies.
The plan was devised amid mounting concern that the climate is being knocked off kilter by human dependence on fossil fuels that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases, bringing record temperature extremes, prolonged drought, more potent storms and wildfires and rising sea levels.
In Utah, temperatures for the past 40 years have risen twice as fast as the global average, and the lucrative ski industry faces unprecedented early melting of a declining snowpack. Neverthess, Obama's plan is variously described by Utah members of Congress as "radical" and "unacceptable," an attempt "to appease a small group of radical environmentalists with American families footing the bill."
Such dogged determination to never look up from today's ledgers to consider the stupendous human and economic costs of climate change for this and future generations is not just foolish. Given the mountain of science and real-time evidence of a climate gone awry, it is the pathway to calamity.