Friday, February 8, 2013

Will Obama's Actions Match his Words?

There are those who do not believe that President Barack Obama is serious about tackling climate change. Although President Obama made strong statements indicating his willingness to engage climate issues at the beginning of his first term, he ended up doing less than some had hoped. Similarly, during his inaugural address at the beginning of his second term he reiterated his commitment to reduce America's contributions to climate change.

During the 2012 election very little was said on environmental issues. This all changed on inauguration day when the President stated that he intends to act on climate issues. The President's position is supported by the science on climate change, which goes well beyond the fact that 2012 was the warmest year in US history or extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy.

In his January 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama set a goal of reducing dependence on polluting fuels over the next quarter century. The plan’s central theme was to "Win the Future" through energy efficiency.

In February 2011, the Better Buildings Initiative was announced with a goal to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent. This initiative included: New tax incentives for building efficiency, along with more financing opportunities for commercial retrofits. The President announced support for training the next generation of commercial building technology workers. And finally there was a challenge, a “race to green” for state and municipal governments that would streamline regulations and attract private investment for retrofit projects.

President Obama's second inaugural address put climate change front and center again:

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. “

The President also stressed the importance of renewable energy:

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

However, these words ring hollow for some who want actions not speeches. In fairness Obama did achieve a great deal in his first term. He is the greenest President in American history to date. In fact he did more in his first 100 days than most Presidents have done in their entire four year terms. There are good reasons why he was unable to do more. The first reason is that Republicans are climate deniers of the first order, and the second is that the GOP has been radicalized by Tea Party obstructionism.

Can we take the President at his word? Lisa P. Jacson the outgoing head of the EPA thinks so. According to a Reuters interview Jackson, says that she believes President Obama is serious about efforts to manage climate change.

Even without Congress Obama can do a great deal through the EPA and Executive Orders. However, to make the kind of progress the world needs to see on climate issues he will need the support of the American people.


As the President said in his inaugural address “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course...You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time—not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

“For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.”


© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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