Melissa Harris Perry
updated 7/6/2013 6:17:23 PM ET 2013-07-06T22:17:23

Part of the president’s plan involves moving away from coal and investing in natural gas, which he described as cleaner and safer, but an "MHP" panel questioned how that's possible if "fracking" is a part of that plan.

You may have missed it with all the news coming from the Supreme Court, but President Obama last week announced a plan to address climate change, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 17% below their 2005 levels. Part of the president’s plan involves moving away from coal and investing in natural gas, which he described as cleaner and safer.

Not all environmental advocates view the plan as a step forward. “This plan is advocacy for fracked gas all over the United States and all over the world,” said documentary filmmaker Josh Fox on Sunday’s Melissa Harris-Perry on Sunday. Fox is the director of the HBO documentaries Gasland and the follow-up Gasland Part II, which premieres on Monday. Both films explore the safety of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), a drilling technology used to release natural gas.

One of the main components of natural gas is methane, a heat-trapping gas. Fox pointed out that fracking causes a large amount of methane leakage that goes directly into the atmosphere. “This is the wrong plan,” Fox said. “We need to transfer from coal and gas to renewable energy.”

The president was also ambiguous about the future of the Keystone XL pipeline, stating a decision would be made based on “net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate.” He included no information about how that impact would be measured and evaluated. The highest-profile existing study the president has to rely on is the State Department’s environmental review, which concludes that the pipeline would have a minimal impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

But that report became a source of controversy, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman reminded the panel.Mother Jones reporter Andy Krolldiscovered one of the lead researchers on the report had worked for seven years as a consultant for TransCanada, the corporation behind Keystone. The contractor producing the report, Environmental Resources Management, had also previously done work for the American Petroleum Institute.

President Obama’s announcement was also met with criticism on the right for its move away from coal and embrace of the validity of climate change. Members of Congress who oppose the president’s plan are moving to use parts of his speech to block the nomination of Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA. In a confirmation hearing in April, McCarthy told the panel that the EPA “is not currently developing any existing source greenhouse gas regulations for power plants.”

The president on Tuesday pledged to develop exactly those regulations by next year–although he did not mention the scale of emission cuts–and also called in his speech for voters to weigh positions on climate change carefully when considering which candidates to support, and encouraged individuals to take responsibility for raising public awareness about the issue.

That strategy may be a challenge considering that 79% of Americans already report that they understand global warming “fairly well” or “very well.” Of those surveyed by Gallup, 43% responded that they worry about climate change “only a little” or “not at all,” and 41% say the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.

And even if individuals believe that climate change is happening, there is still the challenge of making them care about it. Since Gallup began asking the question “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?”, a majority of respondents have stated they do not. As of March 2013, 64% of Americans do not believe global warming is a threat.

Sara Kugler is the program coordinator at the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South at Tulane University in New Orleans–headed by our host, Melissa Harris-Perry. Find them on Facebook, and on follow them on Twitter at @AJCProject.

See the second half of Sunday’s discussion below.

Video: The major climate address you probably didn't hear about

  1. Closed captioning of: The major climate address you probably didn't hear about

    >>> the day before the president went to africa, he gave a major climate speech laying out the things he plans to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change without any help from the no account congress.

    >> as a president, as a father, and as an american i'm here to say we need to act. i refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing.

    >> that's the centerpiece of this strategy, president obama is directing environmental protection agency to create new regulations restricting carbon from existing power plants . power plants are the largest source of carbon emissions in the u.s. there's no limits yet. it's a major speech. we don't blame you if you didn't hear anything about it. president obama gave it during an extremely busy newsweek. joining us author of "gas land." adviser for center for american progress and advocacy for american wildlife foundation. jeff, i want to start with you. what is up with giving this speech at this moment?

    >> i'm not sure about the timing of it. it's welcome to see president obama with all his powers of oration about climate change .

    >> it is the planet.

    >> it has to be addressed as a planetary scale. what's disturbing to me is this plan is an advocacy for frac gas all over the united states and all over the world. if you look at not just carbon emission but all gases. methane, a natural gas is 100 times more potent to warming the atmosphere. we know now looking at field studies we have huge rates of leakage of methane going into the atmosphere. which means natural gas and frac gas, the bulwark of this plan is worse than coal to exploit. when we're talking about actual solutions, this is the completely wrong plan.

    >> this is about substituting and doesn't move us on climate change .

    >> good things about renewables and efficiency. really this is about frac in the united states , export fracing technology to the rest of the world and transition from coal to gas. we need to transition from coal and gas to renewable energy . we know the president met many times with the natural gas industry. what we'd like to advocate is to meet with family that are at the receiving end all over america. for scientists to say these are failing and contaminating aquifers. if you look at the science frac gas is worse or on par with coal, depending on the timeframe you're lookinging at.

    >> started with single biggest issue facing humanity on the planet. when we ask americans how they perceive climate change , they put it below the nuclear program in north korea , below extremist threat, iran's nuclear firm. all things that problematic but pretty unlikely to happen versus something that's occurring. how do you think about how we move this up as an agenda item?

    >> the issue is we don't actually educate the public. this is something i say. what the president did in terms of introducing this speech and plan in the busiest week. this must have been the busiest week ever. if people don't understand it and are not aware of what's going on, then how can they be involved in changing it. education has a big piece in that. how do we talk about the issue, about climate change and why it's important. why as we were talking earlier, we don't have 20 years to wait, for the rest of the world to catch up like they did this week in terms of marriage equality . it's imminent, happening now. superstorm sandy hang now and they are more and more frequent. people are not getting the connection between those issues. so education of the public in our schools, conservatives don't want us to educate kids about what's happening. forget about that science thing. that's silly. these are real issues and kind of dropping this in the middle of a week where no one knows it happened. that's part of the problem that happened.


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