Climate activists turn to plans, persuasion


WASHINGTON — Just before he and other environmentalists marched to the White House on Tuesday, climate change activist James Hansen warned he wouldn’t be able to be arrested with them this time. Hansen, a NASA scientist by day and an activist on his own time, had to be available for a news conference in the afternoon announcing that worldwide temperatures in 2012 were in the top 10 hottest ever recorded.

“I’d be honored to be arrested with you,” Hansen said. A few hours later, he declined to discuss politics on a conference call with reporters, but he outlined how he and other government scientists arrived at their calculations as well as their concerns about future warming trends.

But as President Barack Obama approaches his second term, some of the country’s largest and most influential environmental groups and best-known advocates have drawn up blueprints for the White House to address climate change and its attendant problems: rising sea levels, droughts, more severe storms and acidic oceans.

They’re calling for the president to crack down on big polluters with tougher emissions rules, to reject the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s tar sands, and to stick to higher new fuel efficiency standards for cars. Other groups want the White House to encourage energy innovations.

And some, like the religious leaders who rallied Tuesday on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, said there’s nothing left to do but pray. Among their prayers: that Obama would emerge as a leader on climate change.

Washington, ruled by special interests, has had little political will to grapple with the complexities of climate change, although an increasing number of political leaders have warned of dire consequences in the coming years.

Many communities already are seeing the effects of climate change, most notably in coastal areas where sea levels are rising and storms are more severe.

And yet, advocates are hopeful that Obama can spur what they say would be meaningful changes. If that happens, it would be a major part of Obama’s legacy, said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, which this week announced its own plan of action and upcoming march.

Political scientist Theda Skocpol blamed the failure of cap-and-trade legislation and other environmental aspirations of the Obama administration on tougher than anticipated opposition from the right as well as a lack of imagination by the environmental community.