Obama says he will elevate national climate change 'conversation'

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A New York Times reporter asked President Obama at his White House news conference today: "What specifically do you plan to do in a second term to tackle the issue of climate change?" The President's reply included this: "What I'm going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what can -- what more can we do to make a short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary -- a discussion, a conversation across the country about what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we're passing on to future generations that's going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with."

We support this, if it means that the President is going to move forward in making climate change more salient, engaging in high-profile interactions with climate scientists, policymakers, and other stakeholders, and building broad public support for action on preparedness, moving beyond the so-called "all of the above" energy approach, and showing better international leadership.

Full text of the news conference

The White House, November 14, 2012

Question from Mark Landler, White House correspondent for the New York Times:

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  In his endorsement of you a few weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg said he was motivated by the belief that you would do more to confront the threat of climate change than your opponent.  Tomorrow you’re going up to New York City where you’re going to, I assume, see people who are still suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which many people say is further evidence of how a warming globe is changing our weather.  What specifically do you plan to do in a second term to tackle the issue of climate change?  And do you think the political will exists in Washington to pass legislation that could include some kind of attacks [sic] on carbon?

THE PRESIDENT:  As you know, Mark, we can’t attribute any particular weather event to climate change.  What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago.  We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago.  We do know that there have been extraordinarily -- there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe.

And I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions.  And as a consequence, I think we've got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.

Now, in my first term, we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks.  That will have an impact.  That will take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere.  We doubled the production of clean energy, which promises to reduce the utilization of fossil fuels for power generation.  And we continue to invest in potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere.  But we haven't done as much as we need to.

So what I'm going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what can -- what more can we do to make a short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary -- a discussion, a conversation across the country about what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we're passing on to future generations that's going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with. 

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.

So you can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward.

Q    Sounds like you're saying, though, in the current environment, we're probably still short of a consensus on some kind of attack.

THE PRESIDENT:  That I'm pretty certain of.  And, look, we're still trying to debate whether we can just make sure that middle-class families don't get a tax hike.  Let’s see if we can resolve that.  That should be easy.  This one is hard -- but it’s important because one of the things that we don't always factor in are the costs involved in these natural disasters; we just put them off as something that's unconnected to our behavior right now.  And I think what -- based on the evidence we're seeing, is that what we do now is going to have an impact and a cost down the road if we don’t do something about it.

Earlier CSW posts:

"Obama and the Politics of Climate Science Communication"

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

“[T]he time for delay is over, the time for denial is over.  We … believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and of national security, and it has to be dealt with in a serious way.  That is what I intend my administration to do.”

Toward Obama second-term leadership on climate science and policy

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. ...

The President's remarks today were foreshadowed in part by Todd Stern, Obama’s Special Envoy for Climate Change at the State Department, in a speech earlier this year at Dartmouth College. Stern went further than Obama did today, saying a fundamental transformation of the energy system in order to head off the consequences of unchecked climate change is a matter of necessity, not choice:

What we need is a straight-shooting conversation that explains what’s at stake in climate change and why we need action to accelerate the transformation to a clean energy economy. We can and should make clear that there are immediate, non-climate benefits to doing this – building America’s competitive future, since clean energy will be one of the defining industries of the 21st century; making our air cleaner; protecting our health against conventional pollution. But we also need to make clear that the severe risks of climate change make this transformation essential if we care about sustaining our health, our prosperity and our national security. Climate change is what makes the transformation of our energy system an engagement of necessity, not one of choice. …

While potent issues of the moment will always command our attention, we must also take the long view, acting now to avoid crisis down the road.

But how would the President reconcile such a framing, were he to adopt it as his own, with his administration’s promotion of an ‘all of the above’ approach to energy?  The President seeks political support in a difficult economy by emphasizing his administration’s stepped up support for oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, on federal lands, and in the Arctic, along with promoting the game-changing benefits of a purportedly long-term supply of natural gas to be produced by hydrofracking. Mountaintop removal coal mining continues, and more than five years after Massachusetts v. EPA there is no sign of a rulemaking to restrict GHG emissions from existing power plants.

Talking about the implications of climate science would require a politically inconvenient re-framing of the current energy discourse, which seems to be based on the premise that we are going to go on using coal, oil, and natural gas for the indefinite future, with no recognition of a need for a fundamental transformation of the energy system to expedite a phase-out of the use of fossil fuels.

Also see:

NY Times reporter asks President question that NY Times deems not newsworthy

Obama Talks Climate Change During His First Post-Election Press Conference

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One Response to Obama says he will elevate national climate change 'conversation'

  1. Anne says:

    I was particularly struck by Pres. Obama's body language throughout this response. He seemed so uncomfortable! He was measuring each word so carefully, even moreso than usual. And his central idea - ".. to make a short-term progress in reducing carbons" -so awkward! No one who is schooled up on this issue ever says "reducing carbons" in talking about climate change. (If you don't believe me, google it.) Maybe it's me but I could almost feel his fear at the potential repercussions of the fossil fuel industries if he came out too aggressively for CO2 reductions in the near term. Am I alone in this analysis?

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