Toward Obama second-term leadership on climate science and policy


In an editorial this week, the journal Nature asks: “If Barack Obama earns a second term as US president, will he have the energy to tackle climate?” Nature shares some views that we have been expressing since before Obama was inaugurated.  So, what should be included in an agenda for presidential accountability on climate science, policy, and politics during the next four years?

The Nature editorial (September 27 issue, online September 26), “A second wind for the president,” includes this:

[T]he vision that he laid out four years ago remains a work in progress.  Nowhere is this clearer than with energy and climate. …

[A]s the political discussion about climate has degenerated to a frightening degree during the past four years, he has offered too little leadership on these issues. …

Given the toxic political atmosphere surrounding the November elections, it is perhaps understandable that the administration, Democrats and even some environmentalists are saying little about global warming. But by failing to speak out, they have often ceded the airwaves to deniers. Although polling shows that almost two-thirds of US citizens support some kind of action on global warming, law-makers in Washington DC are back to debating the validity of climate science. The United States needs leadership that is willing and able to uphold and act on the science. …

This means laying out a clear vision for the future, and making the immediate steps clear. …

We don’t assume that either candidate is just waiting until after the election to take more meaningful action or even articulate a coherent position, given the ultra-caution — even cynicism — with which they are playing this during the campaign.  Perhaps Romney is too beholden to the ‘skeptics’ and denialists in his party to support doing anything at all.  But Obama has yet to talk to the American people about climate change mitigation, adaptive preparedness, and international responsibilities in a way that is remotely commensurate with the scope of the problem. That leaves his supporters among the ‘climate hawks’, rational science-based thinkers though they may be, with having to fall back on something of a faith-based initiative at this point.

“President Obama speaks of a ‘planet in peril,’ but he does not provide the leadership needed to change the world’s course. Our leaders must speak candidly to the public,” Jim Hansen wrote in the New York Times on May 9. “The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow.”

Climate scientists are always called upon to communicate in a way that makes them more ‘relevant’ to policymakers and the public, but really we could argue that a greater problem is making policymakers more ‘relevant’ to climate science, and more accountable to the public interest.

We need an agenda for presidential accountability on climate science, policy, and politics during the next four years – an executive branch agenda that can be tracked for observable results and that does not depend on Congress to step up and do what is needed any time in the immediate future.  What do we need the President to say and do to show more meaningful leadership in supporting climate science and policymaking?

More to follow on this.  Your thoughts?

Earlier CSW posts:

Petition to “Put Climate Change on the Agenda in the First Presidential Debate”

Climate Change goes AWOL

White House energy policy talk has ‘all of the above’ except climate change

Hansen: It’s time for the politics to follow the science on global warming

Sen. Kerry condemns climate disinformation campaign, challenges Washington’s “conspiracy of silence”

On The Yale Forum’s question: ‘Climate Change’ … and ‘Global Warming’: The New Dirty Words? And If So … What Then?

Boykoff: Obama’s rhetoric of ‘clean energy’ vs. the reality of climate change

Obama’s approach to climate change is both part of the solution and part of the problem

When Obama says climate change is “a matter of urgency and of national security” he needs to say why (December 28, 2008)


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