Obama, Copenhagen, and the need for straight talk on climate

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Al Jazeera English TV interviewed Climate Science Watch director Rick Piltz on November 23 on what we should expect from President Obama in connection with the upcoming Copenhagen climate conference.  We want him to go, we said.  He should make a strong policy statement and say that he’ll fight for it. But the U.S. public has never heard any president talk to them with candor about the meaning of the climate change problem, and until that happens public opinion will be soft in how much it’s willing to support. 

The interview took place shortly before it was announced that President Obama would attend the climate conference in Copenhagen.

 

Excerpts from the interview, slightly edited:

Q:  If he goes to Copenhagen, what will be expected of him? 

RP:  Perhaps more than he can deliver.  Clearly, President Obama is constrained by his domestic political situation, the dysfunction of the Senate in moving anything forward right now, and he can’t make a binding commitment unless he knows he’s going to have the law and the funding to back it up.  But I think its important that they show some political leadership, that they indicate that they’re making a commitment to serious negotiations so that next time…

Q: But we’ve already had the commitments and the nice speeches and this idea that he’s going to rally the world and so forth, and it’s not coming true…. 

RP:  If he’s not able to make a strong binding commitment it might leave a lot of people disappointed, and yet the “conservatives” who don’t want to have anything done about climate change will just find it one more thing to attack him on, that he showed up at all.  So there’s a downside.  But if your interest is in elevating the significance of the climate change issue among the highest political leadership, then you want him there.  He’s going to be over there accepting the Nobel Peace Prize at the same time the Copenhagen summit will be going on.

Q:  It would be something if he accepts the Nobel Peace Prize having decided to escalate the war in Afghanistan and at the same time not turning up at the climate conference in Copenhagen.

RP:  And climate change was mentioned as one of the reasons he was being given the prize. 

Q:  Given his domestic problems, his international problems, what’s the most you’re expecting from President Obama?

RP:  Right now, the United States doesn’t have a climate policy—not one that can be laid out specifically and is agreed by the governing institutions.  It’s all in dispute.  It’s all unresolved.  But he could make a statement of his own commitment.  He could make a strong policy statement and indicate that he’ll push for it and fight for it.

Obama has made some good statements at the UN climate summit and at the G8, but in the U.S.—the U.S. public has never heard any president talk to them with candor about the meaning of the climate change problem—what we have to go through with the energy system, the impacts, what the implications of not taking action would be, our international responsibilities, the policy choices—none of this.  No American president has ever really done anything to educate and rally the American people on this, and until that happens public opinion will be soft in how much it’s willing to support. 

Q:  We’ll see whether he can do that, with so much else to rally public opinion on domestically.

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