Challenged By MTV, Obama Says He Is ‘Surprised’ By His Own Climate Silence*

[*Technically, Obama said he was “surprised [global warming] didn’t come up in one of the debates,” but he is the friggin’ POTUS. He doesn’t actually have to wait for the moderator or an extreme conservative to broach the subject in 4 and a half hours of debates if he thinks it is truly such a “critical issue”! — JR]

By Brad Johnson

Today, after the history-making silence on global warming during the national debates, MTV’s Sway Williams challenged President Barack Obama to address his climate silence. The president acknowledged to the young voters watching the Friday afternoon interview that the climate crisis is a “critical issue,” but said he was “surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates”:

The answer is number one, we’re not moving as fast as we need to. And this is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation. So this is a critical issue. And there is a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I am surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates.

Watch it:

The President of the United States shouldn’t pretend to befuddled why he promoted deadly coal, gas, and oil production during the debates instead of addressing the urgent threat of carbon pollution.

President Obama was right to finally tout in this interview the steps his administration has taken to cut carbon pollution and the commitments he made to the world in Copenhagen, but he was even more right to acknowledge that “we’re not moving as fast as we need to.”

The president unfortunately continued to portray global warming as a threat to “future generations” that is “going to have a severe effect.” But global warming is not a someday problem, it is now. The freakish Hurricane Sandy, barreling down on millions of Americans and powered by superheated seas, is likely to be the latest in the growing barrage of long-predicted billion-dollar climate disasters fueled by carbon pollution.

The network of Jersey Shore should be applauded for doing the job that PBS’s Jim Lehrer, CNN’s Candy Crowley, and CBS’s Bob Schieffer failed to do in breaking the candidates’ climate silence. Gov. Mitt Romney has been asked by MTV to also appear, but has given no response. This writing off of young voters is only fitting, as Romney’s aggressively pro-carbon agenda would write off any hope for their future.

There is now a little more than a week left for the presidential candidates to present a serious plan to eliminate carbon pollution before Election Day.

Brad Johnson is the campaign manager of Forecast the Facts and


Q: Until this year global climate change has been discussed in every presidential debate since 1988. It was a big part of your previous campaign but pushed back on the back burner. Given the urgency of the threat, do you feel that we’re moving quickly enough on this issue, number one, and Samantha from New Jersey wants to know what will you do to make it a priority?

OBAMA: The answer is number one, we’re not moving as fast as we need to. And this is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation. So this is a critical issue. And there is a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I am surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates. Gov. Romney says he believes in climate change. That’s different than a lot of members of his own party that deny it completely. But he’s not sure that man-made causes are the reason. I believe scientists who say we are putting too much carbon emissions into the atmosphere and it’s heating the planet and it’s going to have a severe effect.

There are a lot of things we have done a lot of things in the last four years. We have already doubled the fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. That’s the first increase in 30 years in the fuel mileage standards. As a consequence we will be taking huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, even as we’re also saving folks money at the pump and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

We have doubled clean energy production — wind, solar, biofuels — and that means that increasingly people are getting electricity, companies are generating power, without the use of carbon-producing fuels. And that’s helping as well.

The next step is to deal with buildings and really ramp up our efficiency in buildings. If we had the same energy efficiency as Japan, we would cut our energy use by about 20 percent, and that means we’d be taking a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere.

And if we do those things, we can meet the targets that I negotiated with other countries in Copenhagen, to bring our carbon emissions down by about 17 percent, even as we’re creating good jobs in these industries.

In order for us to solve the whole problem though, we’re gonna have to have some technological breakthroughs. Because countries like China and India, they’re building coal-power plants and they feel that they have to prioritize getting people out of poverty ahead of climate change. So what we have to do is help them and help ourselves by continuing to put money into research and technology about how do we really get the new sources of power that are going to make a difference.

48 Responses to Challenged By MTV, Obama Says He Is ‘Surprised’ By His Own Climate Silence*

  1. DRT says:

    The truth leaks out around the edges of the miasma of the MSM. We get better coverage from Rolling Stone, Comedy Central and MTV than from ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR and their ilk.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    I second this remark. Actually what we call the mass media should run Climate Change Special’s on a daily basis. To educate each single earthling about the one single most important finding we made in human history.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Democrats and urban educated people, the MTV and Comedy Central demographic, already have at least some knowledge of this issue. Red state residents, especially in rural areas, get most of their information from right wing radio and network television.
    They may not be a majority, but are a big enough bloc to prevent any action on climate change. We still have to call MSM to account.

  4. Joan Savage says:

    In the second debate, moderator Candy Crowley suppressed discussion of climate change, even though she had in hand questions on the topic.

    Given the post-debate revelation, Obama’s staff would know that the topic had been held back by Crowley. Is his term ‘surprised’ a reference to Crowley’s decision? We may never know.

  5. Joan Savage says:

    That said, I totally agree with Joe that Obama could have included climate change somehow, as it links to so many categories of public policy.

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    Obama repeated the meme that China and India will continue to burn coal because poverty amelioration is more important. The implication is that they will be the main problem, not us.

    This is not the reason that those countries continue to rapidly build coal plants. People in both China and India are staging mass protests against coal, and its cost including medical care and environmental damage makes it more expensive than clean energy in both of those countries.

    They have the same problem that we do. Their leadership is entwined with fossil fuels, especially coal. It’s easy money for them, as long as they keep issuing permits, and there are no charges for pollution.

    This would stop if the US approached China, India, and other coal burners (such as Poland) to negotiate global carbon taxes, especially if they reflect externalities.
    Many global political leaders realize this, and also know what is impeding progress: simple corruption, most noticeably in the United States. If we lead here, others will follow, since our obstruction and historical emissions are the main reason for our predicament.

  7. denim says:

    Short retort. Climate didn’t rank high in the Bernaysian focus groups so it was not included. A mistake, I think because most high school grads understand climate…unless brainwashed by a conservative relative.

  8. DRT says:

    Yup, the US needs a GHG tax on domestically sourced fossil fuels and other sources of GHGs and on all imported fossil fules, goods & services, I prefer the fee and dividend model. We can’t have a credible discussion with other countries until we start cleaning up our own act.

  9. Reggie, sponsored by Brawndo says:

    President Obama must win Ohio in order to be re-elected. Ohio generates 82% of its electricity by burning coal, as well as being a coal producing state.
    This may explain why he has been mostly silent regarding climate change, with Ohio being a very close race, the president cannot afford to alienate any voters in that state.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    When I lived in the UK and watched cable, the very best news coverage was the Iranian Press TV. It was not fanatical, Ayatollah-speak (I rather dislike all religious fundamentalism)but featured debates between two different opinions (sometimes it got quite heated) and the other points of view that the Western MSM these days totally suppress were represented. And views hostile to the current Iranian regime were politely listened to. Naturally, subsequently it has been banned in the UK. Chinese CCTV and Russian RT still exist, and, likewise practise what the Western MSM hypocritically preach but do not allow-diversity of opinion.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    So who, or what habit of mind necessary to MSM success, is pulling Crowley’s strings?

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Doesn’t work for me. For every idiot ‘alienated’ by an attack on coal, there must be at least one voter with a functioning brain who will vote to avert climate destabilisation suicide. The voters, in any case, are just the patsies, wheeled out every couple of years to give the plutocratic oligarchy a ‘human face’.

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    He’s a human being who got elected to a job, not an omnipotent supernatural phenomenon, ME

  14. Merrelyn Emery says:

    True, ME

  15. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Try functioning belief system instead of functioning brain – heard any of the good citizens’ comments lately? ME

  16. Omega Centauri says:

    Of course they have the estimated $30T for the market capitalization of owned fossil fuel sources. They don’t want to abandon those assets, so they will do whatever is necessary to keep them on the table.

  17. Would you rather he talk about climate change (but do nothing to solve it) or do something to solve it, (but not mention it)?

    By not mentioning it (while getting us to 17% reduction by 2020, he ensures we don’t lose Ohio votes, so he can continue to work on it around and despite congress.

    Mentioning it means a President Romney, because the media has created a nation of science and facts- illiterates who do not know better.

    The facts are clear. In 2006,when Democrats retook congress back under Bush, we had 10 GW of wind power. They, including Senator Obama, passed the PTC. By mid 2012, we had 50 GW.

    Obama has quadrupled renewables on public lands, cut energy use 20% with efficiency measures (smart grid investments, etc) doubled our fuel efficiency to 54 mpg IIRC, invested $90 billion in clean energy, a Manhatten project worth, expanded DOE and created ARPA-E funding.

  18. Omega Centauri says:

    This is probably true. But our choices are between a quarterhearted stealth effort, and an anti-effort. We aren’t gonna solve the problem at this rate.

  19. Lisa Boucher says:

    The candidacy of Barack Obama demonstrates, once again, that electoral politics does absolutely nothing to solve our problems.

    This year, for the first time in my life, I will not be voting.  From top to bottom, the ballot in my state is filled with the illusion of choice.  For many of the local races, there is only one candidate, thus removing the pretense.  As Jim Hightower once quipped, “If the Gods had meant us to vote, they would have given us candidates.”

    Obama isn’t a candidate, he’s a corporate marketing strategy.  That’s why Advertising Age awarded Obama their top annual award in 2008.  He beat Nike, Zappos and Apple for Marketer of the Year.

  20. fj says:


    We definitely do not need the nightmares of the prior administration & the type of extremely destructive change GOP candidate Mitt Romney is advocating on top of the past four years Republicans have greatly hindered the proper governance of the United States of America.

    Know and fully understand the extremely issues at stake & vote with intelligence.

  21. Brad Johnson says:

    If what you described were anywhere near sufficient to confront climate change, then possibly the counter-logical approach of climate silence would make sense.

    But the only sufficient response to climate change is national (and global) mobilization. Running on a platform of promising to increase fossil fuel production is not going to achieve that.

  22. Brad Johnson says:

    Sacrificing a fundamental right and responsibility as a citizen doesn’t make much sense to me.

    If you truly believe there is no one worth voting for, then you should be running for office.

  23. fj says:

    Bill Maher is a bit more candid.

    Bill Maher: ‘When you elect Mitt Romney, you’re electing every right-wing nut . . .

    Let’s hope this is not the last laugh.

  24. Vote, for heaven’s sake. It’s true that what Obama is doing is inadequate to the task of reversing, or even slowing climate change. But can you imagine what will happen if Romney gets into office?

    I think Obama has a couple of beliefs that are out of date: One, that climate change is an issue mostly for the next generation and, two, that aiming for IPCC 2007 targets is an adequate strategy.

    However, if he is reelected, that can change. It can be made clear to him that the effects of climate change are manifesting NOW — just witness superstorm Sandy — and that the current targets and protocols are inadequate. Then he’ll have four years to work on it.

    There will be a test. We’ll know where we stand, and we’ll know Obama’s true colors, shortly after he is reelected. He will either approve or reject the keystone pipeline, probably in early 2013. As that decision goes, so goes his presidency and our futures on this planet.

  25. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    Reggie: Actually, the maths for R-Money show that he cannot win without Ohio. Obama can lose Ohio, but still win with a combination of Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, etc. There are several combinations that get him to 271 EV’s w/o Ohio. But winning in Ohio is the Obama campaign’s blocking strategy. And it’ll likely work, as Ohio voters remember who bailed out GM & Chrysler, and who said he wouldn’t have.
    To your point about the Ohio coal miners: I would think there are very few coal miners who are planning to vote for Obama anyway. And for those who would, I would think a message about taking action on AGW coupled with retraining for good jobs in green energy would keep them in the camp, as well as sway others.

  26. fj says:

    Yes, it is possible that the president believes this stuff but not likely, and he continues to take political positions that he thinks mirror his constituents and those that grant him polical power.

    He must be shown differently.

    Even Bloomberg, with all his billions, in NYC requires local popular political power to govern.

  27. Jan says:

    Obama: What do you really believe??

    “When elected in 2008, most environmentalists were hoping to have finally an ally in the White House. They were wrongly expecting that under President Obama’s impulse, the US would join the 1998 Kyoto Protocol. The Obama administration was also expected to push for an extension of Kyoto which expires in 2012.

    However, this was wishful thinking on the part of US citizens concerned with environmental issues. As matter of fact, the Obama administration has consistently acted as if it wanted to derail any new agreements with even more modest goals to cap CO2 emissions than the Kyoto Protocol. “The Obama administration proposal could undermine a new global treaty, etc.”

  28. MarkF says:

    the “debate” is operated and owned, by the Democratic and Republican parties and the questions are agreed upon in advance.

    “GEORGE FARAH: This is a 21-page contract that was negotiated by the Republican and Democratic parties, by the Obama campaign and the Romney campaign, and it dictates the terms of the presidential debates that we’re seeing this election season. This contract was not made public in 2008. It was made public in three prior election seasons only because we got copies from whistleblowers. So this is a fantastic primary document to see just how much the Republican and Democratic campaigns manipulate the process.” on Democracy Now”

    “The CPD, however, is directly responsible for two debate-numbing procedures: 1) excluding popular third party candidates and 2) awarding major party candidates absolute control over format.”

  29. BBHY says:

    Are we on track to “bring our carbon emissions down by about 17 percent”?

    I don’t think so. We need to do a whole lot more to even reach that meager, completely inadequate target.

    If I was running, I would talk about climate a lot. I would also propose a plan to ween us off coal over a period of time, maybe five to ten years.

    The plan would include help for those working in the coal industry. We should not just leave them on their own to figure out how to get through the transition. Instead of uncertainty about the future, I would tell them exactly how many years they have left before their jobs will disappear, so they would have time to prepare.

    For coal workers over a certain age, offer them an early retirement package.

    Below that age they can choose from among different options:
    * A relocation package if they want to move to another area to find new non-coal industry jobs.
    * A retraining package to get a job in a different industry.
    * Help to start there own business, including seed money, and training on how to run a business.

    For those with children over a certain age, a package of college help would also be available for them. One thing about coal miners is that often the the family stays in the industry for multiple generations.

    Well, that is what I would do. I don’t expect we will ever see anything like that from the Dems or the T-pubs.

  30. Mike Roddy says:

    Well said, Brad. We need to stop screwing around, and if Obama wins he needs to level with the people this winter.

  31. Laurie james says:

    We’ve already gone past the tipping point so now what? I believe it’s such a “hot topic” that discussing it with a no- brain Rmoney would have been fool hardy, but mark my words this issue will come to the forefront immediately in this new term, if Obama is elected. If he is not elected we can all kiss our butts goodbye. What Sandy does to the East Coast will be a big wake-up call. Things are out of whack and the whole world had better heed these weather warnings. As a species we are climate dependant and we, only by luck, are living in a temeorate era. Humans are not forever as a species, and we have speeded up warming in what actually is a cooling trend globally. Man-made for sure. Read your science that is available. Tomorrow we could have a massive volcanic event that would send us the other way. We are at the mercy of other forces that really are beyond our control, but at very least we should control our own forces that keep things balanced out there for as long as we can.

  32. Lisa Boucher says:

    More progress on climate was made under the outright hostile rule of the Bush administration than was made with the deceptive marketing of Brand Obama.

    The reason is that outright hostility energizes political activists, while “progressive” hypocrisy puts them to sleep.

  33. PeterM says:

    The Public remarkably remains disengaged from climate change. We will need to see never ending disasters, heat waves of ‘biblical’ proportions, storms of a destructive magnitude one after another, causing death and social/economic disruption (that may cause the public to stop shopping) and then something may have triggered an American public enamored with their egos, their I Phones, their SUV’s to ‘begin’ to realize a problem exists.

  34. Chris Winter says:

    Like many here, I view Barack Obama as a disappointment. Back in 2008, I vested some hope in what an Australian journalist wrote: that because he was a fairly standard politician he would be good at the wheeling and dealing the presidency requires. And that hope has been fulfilled, at least partly.

    So I will be voting for him again, no doubt to be disappointed again. But as I see it, this election is a choice between disappointment and disaster.

  35. Jerrymat says:

    I find it amusing that so many people jump onto the outlier in the data: big storm, low rainfall, etc. and do not look at the central tendency. Almost all scientific discovery is based upon research in which the average determines the trend and the outlier helps determine the range of accuracy. It is not the non-average weather events that say anything.

  36. Michaelc says:

    It is a sad state of affairs when the serious issues are brought up by MTV and John Stewart, and the News shows and official debates just ignore them.

    One thing though, what is with that hat? with a suit?

  37. Michaelc says:

    You could hardly expect people to say: Hmmm, today seems slightly warmer than most of the same days of the year over the last 2 decades.

    Of course people will notice the outliers, that is why they are outliers.

  38. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The Comments section of The Drum Unleashed is sufficient to depress even the doughtiest optimist. Malignant idiocy doesn’t run in Australian society-it gallops.

  39. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Lisa I stopped voting in Australia when the mildly reformist Whitlam Government was destroyed by a conspiracy between the Opposition parties, hard Right state governments, the MSM led by the Murdoch excrescence and the ever lovely CIA of our Imperial Masters. Nothing I have seen since has diminished my utter conviction that our ‘democracy’ is a crude sham, designed to legitimise rule by a psychotic, moneyed, elite, and voting in such a corrupt, sham, process would be an act of moral bad faith.

  40. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    You could see Obama’s true colours within hours, in 2009, when he appointed Rahm Emanuel.

  41. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That’s what years of brainwashing by the MSM and the advertising Moloch will do to brains. Add a diet of high fructose corn syrup and economic retrenchment ( median wages stagnant for over thirty years)and the proles are too frightened to revolt. When they do it will be channeled into fascism, the elites safety valve, as we saw in Germany in the 1920s and in Greece today.

  42. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thank goodness we managed to get on with it without you, ME

  43. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I have been predicting that he will act after the election. Sandy and whatever comes next give him all the new ammo he needs, ME

  44. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Very good post.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  45. Lisa Boucher says:

    Mulga, you would probably enjoy the writing of Chris Hedges.  He is a prolific author and a former senior war correspondent for the New York Times (as their Middle East Bureau Chief).  He lost his job when he dared to speak out against the invasion of Iraq.

    One of his most recent books is Death of the Liberal Class — which is an exquisite exposé of how every liberal institution and their leaders have sold out the poor, the working class, and the environment, in order to secure a place at the table of capitalist exploitation.

    Some here would probably disagree with Hedges’ analysis, but I am firmly convinced by his arguments.  My use of the term “Brand Obama” is borrowed from him.

  46. Jerrymat- not to be overly earnest, but here is my case that it is exactly the opposite of amusing. Many in the ‘climate arena’ began by believing that we merely would need to lay out the clear scientific consensus and the straightforward physics of GHGs and warming and ‘dis-equilibrium’…and folks would say ‘oh, I see, yes, of course it is a good idea to cut carbon emissions in order to preserve supportive climate equilibrium’. This approach has, for the most part, not worked. So when the more extreme events begin to come around with greater frequency and intensity, we have learned to emphasize them- simply because ‘less spectacular’ trends and evidence simply have failed to attain traction.

  47. A special every day on climate change IS what’s needed though that would be a regularly scheduled program on the biggest eco- challenges we face. I have been working to get such a show on mainstream radio and/or TV for 15 years and had one briefly on the ill-fated Air America network. Now on the internet, covering climate disruption heavily each and every week. Check out and for archives and please spread the word!

  48. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Lisa, I love Hedges. And Monbiot (despite his nuclear lunacy-nobody’s perfect)and many, many others. Mind you, I indoctrinated myself, from childhood, by working from certain first principles that seemed to me to be obvious (greed and bullying bad, sharing and mutual aid good etc)and observing human behaviour. I had the immeasurable good luck to go to an elite private school (one of the more liberal ones) and observed the second rank of the ruling caste at close range. While I’m outraged and disheartened by human destructiveness reaching its apocalyptic apotheosis in my lifetime, I’m not at all surprised.