Washington Post On Climate: Obama Must ‘Discuss The Science, The Real Reason To Cut Carbon Emissions’

Obama surprised almost everyone when he channeled his inner climate hawk in his powerful second inaugural address. Now everyone is wondering what he will say in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

This weekend, the Washington Post editorial board weighed in:

President Obama will deliver his 2013 State of the Union address on Tuesday, and expectations are high that he will devote significant time to climate change. We hope that he adopts a different approach to explaining the need for action than he did in much of his first term.

In past addresses, talking about green jobs didn’t work, nor did talking about energy independence. The credible way to justify fighting climate change is to discuss the science, the real reason to cut carbon emissions. There is overwhelming evidence that the planet is warming. The widespread burning of fossil fuels, meanwhile, pumps heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every second….

It is certainly nice to see the Washington Post opinion page — home to George Will and other deniers — acknowledge that those of us who have been urging blunt talk on climate science for years have been right all along (see Brulle [1/11]: “By failing to even rhetorically address climate change, Obama is mortgaging our future and further delaying the necessary work to build a political consensus for real action).

Let me say that while I think talking about green jobs and energy independence was — and is — a good idea, those who urged only talking about those things were clearly wrong in retrospect. That’s because the oil and gas folks have been able to make a rhetorically strong (albeit flawed) case that they are the ones who can deliver jobs and reduced oil imports. Only one set of technologies can deliver jobs, energy independence, and preserve a livable climate. So only one set of technologies can avoid betraying our children and future generations. Game, set, and match.

Certainly team Obama worked hard to make sure that when he and other political and environmental leaders did talk about the need for action, the science was left out (see “Team Obama Launched The Inane Strategy Of Downplaying Climate Change Back In 2009“).

To remind you of how much the President has muzzled himself in recent years, recall what he said about the “never seen before” Fargo flooding in March 2009:

I actually think the science around climate change is real. It is potentially devastating,” Obama told reporters Monday. “If you look at the flooding that’s going on right now in North Dakota and you say to yourself, ‘If you see an increase of two degrees, what does that do, in terms of the situation there?’ That indicates the degree to which we have to take this seriously.

Precisely. Yet for nearly four years of record heat, record drought, record wildfires — and record-shattering frankenstorms, Obama had little to offer but climate silence.

That’s why it was so surprising he said last month:

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.

Now it’s time for him to spell out the threat even more clearly — as well as the technologies and policies needed to address it.

15 Responses to Washington Post On Climate: Obama Must ‘Discuss The Science, The Real Reason To Cut Carbon Emissions’

  1. Paul Klinkman says:

    Maybe he’ll discuss the science, but will he come clean on the solutions? He’s long been an advocate of throwing $50 billion in loans down a nuclear hole to China. He loves clean coal, in theory. He loves the idea of selling off vast amounts of American coal for a pittance to his crooked friends (ok, they’re everybody’s crooked friends in Washington), which is then shipped to China, so it doesn’t appear on our books as having been burned here. We don’t need a load of political falsehood.

    Next on the list of Obama’s coming clean or more probably not coming clean is China’s monopolistic predation of the American and world PV panel and wind turbine market. China is, once more, everybody’s biggest corrupt friend in Washington.

    Now we get to new product development. Actually supporting product development for independent inventors is the world’s biggest no-no, when all of your corrupt friends are oil companies, coal companies, fracking companies and tar sands companies. The model for product development is that the government will chip in the second ten million dollars if the inventor chips in the first ten million. Now, can you imagine a more fat cat friendly way of distributing the wealth? Its almost as though they took the social security tax and made it scot-free to anyone who makes over $100,000. Oh wait, they already did that.

  2. John McCormick says:

    WaPo, thanks.

  3. Sasparilla says:

    Great article Joe and especially that last sentence.

    I like the tone of the Post’s editorial, however getting the House to allow a vote on a carbon tax (climate change legislation and a tax of course) seems like a big stretch as it crosses two of those 3rd rail issues for Republican politicians – where they are promised a well funded primary challenger by voting for either of those items. My guess is that the Republican House wouldn’t do such a thing and the EPA is the only place forward…but we’ll see.

  4. Brooks Bridges says:

    Great to hear this from the Post. Crucial to start ramming this down Republican’s throats.

    At the same time, I’ve read that when you give people bad news, it’s best to give them some actions they can take as well, else they feel powerless and despair.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The increasingly odious, ‘The Guardian’, the supposed ‘liberal’ voice, has a story on the SOTU speech where climate change gets no mention as a possible topic. It’s called ‘push-polling’ over here. The closest it comes is a supposed mention to come of ‘clean energy’ but in the context of energy policy alone.

  6. Brian R Smith says:

    Last chance for speculation. I suspect the climate part of the SOTU will emphasize the importance of basing policy on the science without going into the science in any depth. He may also emphasize that climate, economy and security are inescapably woven together, without straying far from general principles. Perhaps the best we can expect is a strongly made case for legislative wisdom and a clarion call for public support.
    Given recent statements, it probably won’t be anything less. But even if he goes further and calls out the Republicans for obstructionism, calls out the industry for dis-informational sabotage.. the SOTU, strong or weak, is merely the crack of the pistol at the starting line of a new race.

    Note that the Administration is winging it under pressure and has no clear strategy for leading on the most complex challenge in history. After the SOTU the situation remains the same with respect to key facts.

    1) There is no confidence that Democrats will retake the House in 2014. Absent victory, we can forget about meaningful federal legislation indefinitely.

    2) Regulatory measures available to Obama outside Congressional support, in the context of unambitious standards (17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020), can do little to stop the pace of emissions.

    3) The successful disinformation campaign to undermine climate progress remains intact and retrenched.

    4) Public concern about climate is on the rise again, but there still is no overwhelming clarity or consensus on the science in the electorate.

    5) Mainstream media are, sadly, reactionary players and will be slow, too slow, to become moral & political allies.

    6) Climate advocates coming from a hundred different frames of reference are, importantly, developing narratives and policies that will help determine our direction, but collaboration among advocates on messaging and legislative agendas is still a diamond in the rough.

    There’s no question that Presidential leadership is key. But it is majorly dependent on how effective his allies outside government are in dealing with the above problems. My bet is he is up for a much closer partnership. How to define and offer that partnership is up for grabs.

  7. John McCormick says:

    Brian, I keep returning to your post. Good analysis of why US climate fight is a wagon with a broken axle.

    And, you see it clearly:

    “collaboration among advocates on messaging and legislative agendas is still a diamond in the rough. ”

    I see neither collaboration nor direction among the big green. Heck, they still cannot say ‘6th extinction’.

  8. Jim Baird says:

    The technologies needed to address it – The Existential Imperative: Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion –

  9. Jim Baird says:

    Brian, John Kerry had it right during his confirmation hearing, the solutions are a $6 trillion/year economic opportunity. Surely to God this is not a contentious proposition.

  10. There is no way he will discuss the science. If he does that, his chances of enriching his cronies goes to zero. The only way to further fleece the sheeple is to avoid science and economics like the plague.

  11. Brian R Smith says:

    John, I do think the growth of more vocal coalitions is accelerating and that a larger, inclusive unity is coming. I’m sure everyone is doing their best at a pace that seems doable for each group. Not arguing with that… I just have a hard time understanding why it’s taking so long for all-out collaboration to become a formalized, organized ambition when the advantages of pooling influence & resources are so obvious. Chief among advantages is the power to insist, insist, insist on science based policy, because we KNOW we are going to be handed a list of half-measures parading as “a good beginning” or “feasible” that won’t come close to meeting the urgency to mitigate 6th Extinction. Half-measures are deadly & the better prepared we are to counter them..the better. I really don’t know how big green leaders see this.

  12. Brian R Smith says:

    Right on. Kristen A. Sheeran of Ecotrust wrote a good reminder piece yesterday, recalling that Nicholas Stern, in 2006, “concluded that [the price tag for] failure to curb climate change would range from 5 percent of GDP, or $3.45 trillion a year (at today’s economy), up to 20 percent GDP, or $13.8 trillion a year.”

    ” And actually curbing climate change? Stern concluded that would cost 1 percent of GDP, or $69 billion a year.

    Is it worth spending $69 billion to save $13.8 trillion? Or to put it in pocketbook terms, is it worth spending 69 cents to save $138? The answer is clear.”

    She says, “We need a new, cutting-edge economic analysis that integrates the latest climatic data, so we can clearly see the costs of change and the costs of inaction.”

    .. and says Obama needs to call for that analysis. And it needs to account for the plus-side opportunities you’re talking about. Let’s hope he picks the right people & stands behind them.

    Read more here:

    Read more here:

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Stern’s 2006 ‘guesstimates’ are an exercise in ‘soft denialism’. In fact, climate destabilisation will cost 100% and more of global GNP, because it will, if it continues much longer to remain unaddressed, destroy our global civilization, so GNP will be reduced to swapping sticks, stones and shreds of meat.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    They are not his ‘cronies’. He is, and has been since college, an employee at best, a product at worst. Those people are his owners, his Bosses.

  15. Brian R Smith says:

    Please, you’re scaring the children. I see a ruined tribal future where the shaman becomes The Mulga (no one remembers why) when he gathers the little ones to give them shreds of meat and tell the story of how the ancestors couldn’t get it together. Sorry kids.