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

Slate Magazine Staff Writer Will Oremus summed up how a lot of folks in the climate advocacy community were likely feeling this afternoon after Obama’s first post-election press conference, in which he was asked about climate change.

There’s been a lot of talk in Washington in recent weeks about the possibility of a carbon tax proposal from Congress or even the White House. Along with the fact that the Obama Administration says it is not planning such a proposal, Obama’s response in today’s press conference shows that broad action on climate probably isn’t very high up on the priority list at the moment. While he did say he wanted to do more on climate in his second term, Obama gave few specifics about what a plan might look like.

Here’s the full New York Times transcript of the President’s comments on climate change from this afternoon:

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 a tax on carbon?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, as you know, Mark (sp), 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 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 short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary, a discussion, the conversation across the country about, you know, 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 — what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point, because, you know, this is one of those issues that’s not just a partisan issue. I also think there’s — 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 you know, 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, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s 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 know, 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 — moves this agenda forward.

Q: It sounds like you’re saying, though — (off mic) — probably still short of a consensus on some kind of — (off mic).

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I — that I’m pretty certain of. And look, we’re — 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’s hard. But it’s important because, you know, one of the things that we don’t always factor in are the costs involved in these natural disasters. We’d — we just put them off as — as something that’s unconnected to our behavior right now, and I think what, based on the evidence, we’re seeing is — is that what we do now is going to have an impact and a cost down the road if — if — if we don’t do something about it.

Nothing shocking here. Don’t expect anything ground-breaking on climate coming out of Washington anytime soon.

But while some will be disappointed in the lack of policy specifics, the climate advocacy community is surely breathing a sigh of relief that we still have a President who says this:

(Hat tip: Adam Peck of ThinkProgress)

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

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Very interesting…

  2. BillD says:

    The issue is that many aspects of policy have moderately positive short term economic benefits and decidedly negative climate effects that get worse over time. Let’s at least make sure that the negative climate impacts are part of the discussion. If the XL Keystone pipeline increases national employment by 300 but has substantial risks to spills and climate change, please make climate change part of the debate and discussion. By the way, we might just point out that the main purpose of the XL Keystone pipeline is to facilitate exporting dirty oil from Canada to Latin America and other foreign countries.

  3. Toby says:

    Should environmentalists start thinking of drafting Angus King, newly elected Senator from Maine, as a Presidential candidate in 2016 or 2020?

    King has impeccable credentials as a former Governor and CEO of a renewable energy company.

    At the least, it would put the wind up the Democrats and make them realise they can’t depend on the environmental vote indefinitely. Not being the Republicans is hardly good enough.

  4. prokaryotes says:

    I think he summed it up nicely.

    “..if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to 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.”

  5. Mark E says:

    Suddenly I wonder if climate hawks voting green and thus electing Mitt would have made any difference in the long run ?

  6. Leif says:

    Lots of wiggle room either direction. Speaks like the politician he is. He must have “We the People” at his side. Obviously 70+% is not enough folks. Still work to do.

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Meanwhile in the UK

    Nuclear, wind and wave power chiefs in joint appeal on green energy

    The leaders of Britain’s nuclear, wind and tidal industries today put aside years of mutual suspicion and antipathy with an unprecedented joint appeal to ministers not to abandon their commitment to combat climate change.

  8. prokaryotes says:

    From the same Press Conference

    Obama Rejects Boehner’s Fake Tax Compromise

  9. Lore says:

    Looks like four more years of talking, as the President put it, but first we have to put everyone back to work before we get serious about climate change. Good luck with that Mr. President. Not to mention, he indicated that it would be at least several more months before the subject even begins to come up at all.

  10. Merrelyn Emery says:

    What’s wrong with creating lots of jobs replacing old infrastructure with green, and building solar generators at the same time as making the tax schedule more equitable? ME

  11. fj says:

    Jobs, the economy & climate change are all highly interdependent and it is really dangerous if he does not get it.

  12. fj says:

    Jobs & an economy that do not address climate change have no future.

  13. fj says:

    Climate change will drive the future for a long time to come.

    We have definitely made sure of that by not giving it the highest priority. Is this what Obama is proposing?

  14. atcook27 says:

    A quote from one of the true leaders of the last century seems appropriate here:
    “You can always count on America to do the right thing…..after it’s exhausted all other posiblities”
    Winston Churchill.
    It seems that there are a few other posibilities to get through yet!

  15. TKPGH says:

    I’m just finishing up four months of training for a career in the solar industry and I’m being held up because the Republican majority in the PA State House worships at he alter of fossil fuels. At this point, I’m not willing to just sit and complain at Obama. I’m just glad the tide is turning. He may or may not come out ane lay it all out for the American people, but he’ll still be the one pushing a pro-climate agenda. Everyone needs to just call the comment line or write a letter and express support, not snarky disappointment. What we are asking him to do will require and LOT of support because of who and what he’ going up against.

  16. Gestur says:

    Not off topic at all—in fact squarely on topic—is the lead off piece in the current issue of The New Yorker magazine. It’s an essay by David Remnick, the Editor of The New Yorker and it’s addressed to all of us but I feel he really wanted Obama to read it. It probably won’t achieve the notoriety that Michael Bloomberg’s talk received for why he endorsed Obama, but it speaks so much more clearly and forcefully and elegantly to this task.

    This essay isn’t behind a subscription wall so you non-New Yorker people can actually read it. I hope you do. It’s not long, just very memorable.

  17. Mark E says:

    Because unless NCA declares fullscale war on carbon and says so explicitly we aint got much chance of hitting 5% decarbonization per year

    – which is supposedly needed to avoid 2C by 2050

  18. The Guardian has a more positive take on Obama’s statements. In particular they highlight the fact that Obama has said he will take a personal role in climate discussions and policy:

    “So what I’m going to be doing…”

    “you can expect that you’ll hear more from me…”

    If he steps into a leadership position on climate that would be huge. He doesn’t write tax policy…but he does have bully pulpit.

    Also it is politically required that he talk with lots of people first. He has to get some sizable chunk of the GOP on-side for climate action or he will not be able to the heavy lifting like a carbon price.

  19. Thanks for the link, Gestur. Remnick is about as lucid on this as anyone, and it would be a shame if we were left with just what Obama said today as a hope and a prayer.

    He should make sure that he talks to Hansen, Mann, Trenberth, et. al. as well as those Generals to whom every President seems to listen. Better yet, he should talk to their grandchildren. I am sure that they “get it” too.

  20. Roger says:

    Leaders need to describe key problems to their followers/citizens in order to garner support for actions to solve the problem.

    Hence, it’s time for a presidential address to the American people, as so aptly indicated here:

    This could come from BO at the Capitol on Inauguration Day, as when JFK kicked off the relatively mundane race to the moon.

    Like this idea on FB, and call the POTUS Comment Line @ 202-456-1111 to suggest it.

    Obama needs more push from scientists and concerned citizens to put CC front & center.

  21. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Mark, I am sure that declaring war on carbon would make a lot of people happy and I am sure that sooner or later the USA will get some sort of carbon pricing but that on its own will be far from sufficient. It must be backed up with a comprehensive range of measures for rapid mitigation and adaptation, regardless of whether 2C is still a reasonable target and personally, I think it is now pie in the sky, ME

  22. Mark E says:

    I never hinted otherwise; what I was trying to say is that the only way we will do what you said

    ((((as intensely as we need to do it))))

    is for the prez to tell people why we need to do it that intensely.

    We need a lifestyle change involving eating more veggies, getting more exercise, and undergoing a 5-way bypass before we leave the hospital. Dr. Obama appears to be prescribing just the first two.

  23. 2050 is way too late, and 2°C is way too high. All this dawdling from the White House is just going to get us deeper into the doo-doo.

  24. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Not being impressed with Obama’s integrity and 4-year record on climate, I found a full transcript and went through his answers to identify the language intelligence behind them. Contrary to the popular delight in any slightest mention of climate by POTUS, what he actually said is very far from good news: it shows that the bipartisan policy of no commensurate action on climate remains in force, and that this will continue to be veiled by the absurdly feeble excuse of a lack of sufficient popular support for action, and that he’ll do nothing to encourage that support.

    “As you know, Mark, we can’t attribute any particular weather event to climate change. ”
    – First Lie. – The truth is that we can’t attribute any particular weather event SOLELY to climate change. BIG difference.

    “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 have an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
    – First hype-the-controversy. – Climate science has nothing to do with being a ‘believer’ – either he acknowledges the science, or he rejects it. And climate change is not “impacted by” our emissions, it is being driven by them. Nor is the obligation simply to future generations – a fortnight ago the impacts cost 113 American lives. Nor is remarking the need “to do something about it” anywhere near the honest response of making a clear commitment to resolve 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. ”
    – Second Lie. – The lame change in Cafe standards (that will not even catch up to EU standards) will not take even one gram 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. ”
    – Third Lie.- Each and every tonne of fossil fuels locally displaced by renewables is being bought and burnt elsewhere – and this will continue until a global climate treaty (which he claims is unnecessary) is agreed to put a binding cap on all nations’ emissions.

    “I don’t know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point.
    -First talking down the issue – implying it’s of such low priority he hasn’t even had staff tracking just where people stand on it so he doesn’t know . . .

    “If the message somehow is that we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anyone’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”
    – Second hype-the-controversy – quoting the deniers’ strawman of action on climate damaging the economy.

    “You can expect that you’ll hear more from me over the coming months and years that garners bipartisan support that moves this agenda forward.”
    – Second talking down the issue – declaring that he won’t move before enough private discussions to achieve bipartisan support and that this will take years just to “move the agenda forward” – i.e. that it has no political priority in his second term.

    “Because one of the things that we don’t always factor in are the costs that are involved in these natural disasters.”
    – Third hype-the-controversy. – Climate scientists have no doubt told him unequivocally that neither Sandy, nor the Derrecho, nor the exceptional ongoing drought, nor the Colorado firestorm, nor lethal tornado swarms, etc, were in any way ‘Natural Disasters’ for anyone but the deniers. All of them were in part driven by man-made pollution.

    These were not off-the-cuff remarks by Obama – climate has been suppressed as an issue throughout the election, and with Sandy’s impacts it was certain to be a focus of the first news conference. He will thus have been in detailed discussion with senior staff of exactly how he would respond, and of what language he should use.

    From his answers it seems very clear that he’ll do nothing remotely near what is needed unless he is forced to do so by public and corporate demand. And from those answers he evidently remains dead set on doing anything he can get away with to discourage and postpone public demand for action. –

    So at what point will people stop wasting time in attacking the fossil lobby – who really couldn’t give a damn for their critique – and start focussing pressure where it counts, on the White House ?



  25. Gestur says:

    Thanks for the clarity and thoroughness of this comment, Lewis.

  26. Brian R Smith says:

    The President’s comments were incredibly disturbing for anyone expecting to hear a bully pulpit-worthy position on climate based on his presumed deep understanding of the issues. (Show of hands?) I can’t think of a reason to argue with your analysis and accept your conclusions a.) that his answers were carefully crafted so as to avoid any actual commitment – a damning indication of his intentions to stall and equivocate on climate indefinitely… and b.) that “it seems very clear that he’ll do nothing remotely near what is needed unless he is forced to do so by public and corporate demand.”

    If there is still a defensible argument that the administration is serious about climate but is somehow wisely downplaying it generally, and specifically minimizing its economic importance (for some supposed political advantage for climate later?), I’d like to hear it. Otherwise, the unavoidable task not only to encourage public & corporate pressure in all possible ways but to create a more unified voice from the efforts of hugely diverse advocates and hand that voice a megaphone. I and many others have suggested that climate leaders can and should do more to formalize that unity and deploy the megaphone on the mainstream media stage. Louis, do think a grand alliance is possible? Worth pursuing? A naive hope?

  27. Peter Murtha says:

    I guess I shouldn’t be disappointed as this is exactly what should have been expected given his first term — but I am deeply dismayed with his lack of urgency. As Bill McKibben has made clear, the President’s decision on Keystone will present the clearest indication of his thinking.

    The link provided was incomplete — it should have been:

  28. dick smith says:

    This a teriffic statement–at this point. It’s a great signal. Now, instead of complaining–how about complimenting Obama–thanking him–and encouraging him with your best thinking. Show him that people like you are listening. Tell him you’re encouraged, but need to see more.

    And, me. I’ll be talking about a revenue-neutral carbon tax. It is the one essential step we need to take. But, you can pick your own direction.

  29. kca says:

    Obama needs to recognize what researchers are demonstrating: that going green in a big way is a winner with the voters. Stop denying that there is a war on coal and DECLARE a war on coal and all other sources of greenhouse gases. Make this the new Manhattan Project, the new man on the moon promise.

  30. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Gestur and Brian – thanks for your responses.

    While I don’t wish any sleepless nights on you Brian, I have to say that I’m very glad to hear that you find Obama’s comments deeply disturbing. It seems to me that climate campaigners have been played as patsies by the White House since 2009, and unless we now step aside from the widespread deference to power and loyalty to the Democratic party we’ll achieve no more by 2016. It is those people who find Obama’s comments disturbing that are going to be effective in applying pressure where it is needed.

    Re your question over his knowledge of the climate hazard, there can be no doubt of the superlative standard of info available to him from Holdren et al (predictably far better than what is made public), nor of his exceptional analytical intelligence being entirely capable of understanding the relevance of that info.

    I cannot offer a defensible argument as to how his prevarication reflects some future political advantage – notably if he now played his hand well and pivoted to boost popular concern over climate as THE nationally critical wedge issue, then backed by additional climate disasters, in 2014 the Democrats could potentially win full control of both House and Senate – But that option doesn’t appear to interest him.

    What I can offer is an inadmissible argument as to why open-ended inaction is directly in the bipartisan political interest of America’s economic dominance, on which rests its wealth, its prospects and its social welfare programs. This needs a brief review of past events for clarity.

    Considering how the maintenance of global economic dominance has been Washington’s paramount priority since WW2, and how China is now within four years of usurping it, the lack of visible counter-measures seems rather bizarre. Some carrier groups shifted to the Pacific, some encouragement of civil discontent within China, and some pretty moderate trade disputes are about it. Compared to the deeply perilous and wildly expensive response to Soviet ambitions of dominance of “push them up a nuclear arms race till they go bust” these are just miniscule efforts. Yet no one has switched off that paramount priority in Washington.

    Once Cheyney and his frontman took power US climate policy abruptly ceased to be constructive – They reneged on the US signature of Kyoto, gratuitously, by refusing even to present it for ratification, and installed the policy of a “Brinkmanship of Inaction” with China, which promptly retaliated with its surge of unprecedented coal-fired economic growth.

    This much is obvious history. What is not widely seen is the context of the conventional expectations of climate change at the time:
    – that developing countries, such as China, would be far harder hit by climate impacts than developed nations, such as the USA;
    – and that developed nations would be far better able to afford the damages and rebuilding costs than developing nations;
    – and in particular, with climate predictably disrupting agriculture (as Sir Crispin Tickell’s mid-70s book described) China’s massive population and limited arable lands were in stark contrast with the huge US arable lands and limited population.

    Continued below.

  31. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    The first visibly aggressive action serving the policy was Bush suddenly declaring the rise of a minor corn ethanol mandate up to 30% of the US crop – thereby starting global grain prices on their long climb. The next was his reneging on the UNFCCC 1990 emissions baseline, and inventing a unilateral 2005 baseline instead.

    In March 2009 Obama signalled to the diplomatic community worldwide that the US policy of a Brinkmanship of Inaction would be maintained – both by his failing to present Kyoto to the Senate and by his again reneging on the UNFCCC by adopting Bush’s unilateral 2005 baseline.

    While the trainwreck in Copenhagen later that year was blamed on China by the MSM, the jist of the ‘deal’ that Obama demanded was that in 2050 each American should still have around three times the emissions rights of each Chinese – which of course was no more than a calculated insult – to be automatically rejected.

    A forensic New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza: “As the World Burns” is very well worth reading –
    as it offers a uniquely detailed account of exactly how in 2010 Obama and his senior staff brazenly derailed the Senate climate bill (Joe did a fine post on it that is somewhere in the archive).

    From then on Obama rarely mentioned climate in public, with at least half of the mentions including hyping-the-controversy and/or talking-down-the-issue. Beside telling the people of Colorado Springs that the firestorm that hit their town was a “Natural Disaster”, my favourite was:
    “We know young people get passionate about issues like climate change . . .”

    One further action was very notable: he raised the fraction of US corn diverted to ethanol to 40% – despite a total lack of popular demand for that change. This has again raised global grain prices, pushing over a 100 million people from being poorly nourised into outright deprivation. Despite two former Democrat presidents breaking long-standing protocol to demand the mandate’s suspension on humanitarian grounds, Obama has thus far refused to do so.

    While each must choose their own interpretation of the motivation behind this sequence of events, to me it indicates that the clear objective of the bipartisan policy of a Brinkmanship of Inaction is the climatic destabilization of China’s government – by means of rising civil unrest due to escalating food prices and shortages in the coming years as a result of increasing crop failures.

    It is worth noting that this bipartisan policy is now the only non-military means available to Washington of maintaining America’s global economic dominance.

    One crucial aspect that needs mention here is that back in ’95, when Cheyney was between jobs as Secretary of Defense for Bush senior and vice president for Bush junior, the ‘very eminent’ nuclear weapons scientist Edward Teller published a paper outlining the potential of Sulphate Geo-engineering as an off-switch for global warming, should that become necessary. As such it provided a backstop control for use after the policy’s successful operation.

    Continued below.

  32. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    For all the policy’s incidentally genocidal nature makes it officially inadmissible to the public, it appears relatively simple to hide in plain sight. It requires no heavy covert spending or special facilities; very few very senior people need to be aware of it for it needs no special management of operations; and any staffers speaking up beyond their pay grade about the 70% public support for climate action could easily be deflected with talk of complex strategic political concerns, or could simply be given the brush off.

    Yet the policy is facing severe problems, partly from the flawed assumptions of the two powers’ relative vulnerability to climate impacts. Firstly, both are under the same destabilizing Jetstream with its ruinous ‘blocking highs’ causing unprecedented impacts, and these are rising much faster in the US than in China. Secondly China’s very rapid growth and the US slump has meant that it is China that is significantly better able to bear the damages and rebuilding costs thus far.

    Those impacts on the US mean that the main risk to the policy is now of the public waking to the climate threat before the objective is achieved and adamantly demanding the negotiation of the requisite climate treaty – which would then not be on the terms required.

    The circus of denial that was hastily expanded when Obama took power has been vital in providing a spurious cover for his silence on climate, but with mounting impacts driving rising public concern the deniers are increasingly ineffective, and Obama has to do whatever he can to deflect and discourage the public’s demand for action. In this light his answers at the press conference were a ‘tour de force.’

    It is at this point that the policy’s inadmissibility becomes its major weakness. As it becomes more widely recognized – as is happening in various parts of the world as well as within the US – the resulting utter disdain and contempt seems to be matched by rising anger that American politicians should stoop to such wreckless and amoral conduct.

    From this perspective, Washington simply cannot afford to brazen it out – the more widely recognized the policy becomes, the sooner it will be reviewed in favour of opening serious negotiations at the UN on an effective climate treaty.

    I’d suggest Brian that exposing that bipartisan policy of a Brinkmanship of Inaction should be the primary focus of the absolutely necessary alliance of climate campaigners that you propose. In addition, beside the wishlist of actions appropriate within any one country, there needs to be a very clear concise set of demands-in-common, which can be slapped on any government around the world as the commensurate basis for international agreement of the climate treaty.

    This is of course a huge discussion in its own right, but here I’d just suggest that beside the climate policy framework of “Contraction & Convergence” and other matters, the demands-in-common should also describe the duty of every nation to commit to recovering its total airborne carbon emissions from the last century at an agreed rate by, say, the end of this century. This clause is much more than simply a desireable binding commitment to the cleansing of the atmosphere; it demands the seminal removal of the key log of America’s problematic ‘historical emissions’ from the logjam of UN negotiations since 2000.

    With my apologies for the length,



  33. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Yes. President Barack Obama is concerned about Climate Change. I am sure he will act positively on this issue which is a Global issue.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India