President Obama announced an ambitious plan last week to tackle climate change issues. The plan has a goal of reducing carbon pollution from power plants to 2005 levels by 2030 through various options, including cap and trade programs. The New York Times has already called the plan "one of the strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change" and the "defining domestic initiative of Mr. Obama's second term."
Critics of the plan unsurprisingly argue that the proposed rules will lead to loss of jobs in a still anemic economy. But the president's legacy on climate change issues does not just depend on his ability to maneuver past those claims, strike public relations victories and clear any possible legal challenges. It depends on his ability to empower the next generation of leaders.
Climate change is a problem. It's not just killing the polar bears (although there is some evidence that we are on the brink of the world's sixth great extinction). Research shows climate change is linked to increased respiratory diseases. What's more, these diseases are exacerbated in communities of color, which are usually located in places most negatively affected by climate change. African-Americans, for instance, visit the emergency room for asthma at nearly 350 percent the average rate of whites. Yet with one in four Americans still skeptical of the science, it's difficult to believe President Obama's plan has much chance of sticking around. And with ever-increasing climate-related global disasters, this plan won't be enough.