Obama Vows to Talk More About Climate Change

By Keith Kloor | November 14, 2012 11:04 pm

In his first post-election press conference, President Obama received a question on climate change. What he said was likely reassuring, encouraging, and infuriating–all at once–to the climate concerned community. To understand why, read this post by Will Oremus at Slate. He helpfully translates and boils down Obama’s 601 word response to four short sentences:

1) Climate change is real. 2) We have an obligation to future generations to do something about it. 3) Doing something about it will require tough political choices. 4) I’m not willing to make those tough political choices.

Others walked away with a sunnier view. For example, because the President promised to advance a long-term climate agenda (that mostly includes building bipartisan support for action), the Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg is encouraged. The headline of her article:

Obama vows to take personal charge of climate change in second term

Yes, that’s a bit odd-sounding, but I think you get the point. Meanwhile, Stephen Stromberg in the Washington Post wasn’t as impressed as Goldenberg. What Obama offered up, Stromberg wrote, “hardly signals an ambition in proportion to the size of the [climate] problem.”

Indeed, for those that trumpet the urgency of climate change, I suspect that Politico’s Glenn Thrush captured their sentiment in this tweet:

Very candid answer on climate change that will anger left: Obama says carbon regulation last in line behind taxes, jobs and immigration.

Here’s an excerpt of Obama’s comments, which I think reflects his mindset on the climate issue:

I don’t know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point, because this is one of those issues that’s not just a partisan issue; I also think there are regional differences.  There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices.  And understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that.  I won’t go for that.

If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.

Ultimately, the meaning of what Obama said at the press conference probably depends on which of his remarks on climate change you choose to focus on.

  • Leo G

    The Presidents comments sound truthful. What more needs to be said?

  • Jarmo

    It’s a global problem so unilateral emission cuts (as EU has done) achieve nothing (emissions still grow 2 % annually). Obama cannot even slow down AGW by cutting US emissions.

    China already emits more than the US and EU combined.

  • BBD

    Just a side note on the choice of language.

    When you use expressions like ‘the climate concerned community’ in close conjunction with ‘those that trumpet the urgency of climate change’, some readers will infer barely suppressed derision.

  • Keith Kloor

    BBD (3)

    You’re reading into the language. 

  • BBD

    Thought that was what it was for, Keith 😉

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    I think he learned the lesson during his first term. This time he may not be so quick to come out with a ragbag like Waxman Markey.

  • harrywr2

    Let’s review –

    In the US the CAFE standard is set to increase to 54 MPG by 2025…lot’s of whining about that from various sectors but the regulation stands.

    EPA set an emission standard for new fossil fired plants which makes building anything that emits more CO2 then a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine pretty close to impossible. Lot’s of whining on that but so far the regulation looks like it will stand.

    EPA has set rules on mercury etc etc for coal fired plants that will cause about 25% of US coal fired capacity to close in the next 5 years.

    Natural gas is cheaper then coal in many US markets. Economics is driving down the utilization rates of coal fired plants.

    Given all of that…what ‘additional policy’ does our current glorious leader need to reduce CO2 emissions?

    About 60% of US  coal fired capacity was built between 1960 and 1980…that put’s the retirement timeframe between 2020 and 2040.

    Most of US DOE’s efforts are focused on post 2020 electricity generation options, because that is when normal replacement will occur. Anything US DOE is doing prior to 2020 is for demonstration purposes.

    Carbon trading was supposed to be a simple mechanism to reduce emissions. In the end the carbon trading schemes all ended up looking like Rube Goldberg contraptions. In the US we have a combination of R&D, regulation,subsidy and market forces which are currently reducing CO2 emissions at a much faster pace then was anticipated by the Rube Goldberg/Waxman-Makey Contraption…Why change course?

  • Tom Scharf


     I also think there are regional differences

    This appears to be a reference to coal state Democrats.  The war on coal is not very popular in many blue states (Obama lost WV handily).  The problem is that if you were to institute the shiny sounding “revenue neutral” carbon tax, the coal states still look to lose big time.  Are all the solar panels, windmills, and car battery plants going to open up in former coal states, where typically the local economy significantly lags an already suffering national GDP?

    In the end, nobody has ever been serious about crafting a climate plan that would appeal to the right.  Nuclear?  It is sufficient politically to blame the right for lack of progress (this is actually a badge of honor for those on the right). When the NGO’s wake up some day and realize they need actual popular support, and the secret plan to back door the effort through the EPA and the courts isn’t going to work, then a viable plan might start making the rounds.  Don’t hold your breath.

    I respect Obama for basically slapping down the greens with a “don’t bring me hopeless plans full of punitive tax measures” message.  That needed to be said out loud.  

    After the oncoming war on the fiscal cliff which will likely include tax increases and spending cuts, it is unlikely anyone will have an appetite for more tax increases anytime soon.  

    Climate is simply not a priority.  Mysteriously Sandy wasn’t the silver bullet to make it so.  Anybody surprised?

  • jimmy

    BBD, and Keith:I didn’t catch any derision, suppressed or apparent, in Keith’s post.  It’s hard to find the right phrase to group those who advocate for policies to mitigate/prevent climate change.  I percieved Keith’s language to be thoughtfully crafted for neutrality.So, Keith, I hope you read this in the 14th minute: your voice is a unique and valuable contribution to the debate on science/science politics and on both GM foods and climate change. I don’t always agree, but I value your thinking.  Please destroy noose!  :)

  • Joshua

    It’s hard to find the right phrase to group those who advocate for policies to mitigate/prevent climate change.

    How about something like “those who advocate for policies to mitigate/prevent climate change?”


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Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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