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White House back to talking about climate change

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"White House back to talking about climate change"

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Science advisor says the message was always there, asserts “The science of climate change is really very clear in its essentials.”

The climate is changing…  Human activity, particularly fossil fuel burning, is overwhelmingly likely to be the primary cause of the changes were experiencing. We’re already experiencing damages from these changes in climate. We will experience more unless and until we reduce our emissions.  These points are clear in the science.

John Holdren, who heads the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave an extended interview Sunday on Platts Energy Week.  He made clear that the White House understands climate science and is still committed to talking about it and addressing it.

I and others have been critical of the President’s apparent soft-pedaling of the problem in the State of the Union (see “Obama calls for massive boost in low-carbon energy, but doesn’t mention carbon, climate or warming” and Brulle: “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”).

The anti-science crowd and their fellow confusionists gleefully took the speech to mean that Obama was backpedaling on climate, but I mostly saw it as just typically horrendous messaging by the White House, along with evidence that the President personally doesn’t get the truly dire nature of the problem.

I know Dr. Holdren gets it, though, and while Axelrod and White House communications shop have been muzzling him for two years now, he certainly wasn’t shy about spelling out the basics of climate science in his interview.

Indeed, Holdren actually makes the case the President was talking about climate when he said in the SOTU that “clean energy technology” is an investment that will … protect our planet.”  Here’s the video:

The video is here — for some reason the code only runs the Gasland piece, so you have to click on the “John Holdren interview” beneath the main video:

We need better energy technology both to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, to improve the environment, including reducing our contribution to climate change, and to create the jobs in clean energy, the new products, the new businesses that will stay in America, while meeting our growing energy needs….

The president realizes that we need all the new energy sources we can get. We need energy sources that reduce our contribution to production of greenhouse gases that are altering the climate, we need those new energy sources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and we need them to stay competitive in a global market.

I’m still not persuaded that the president gets it, but any notion that the White House was simply going to stop talking about climate change entirely  was certainly unwarranted.

H/t The Hill — But if you read their comments section, put on a head vise first.

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33 Responses to White House back to talking about climate change

  1. nz says:

    wrong video might be posted since no mention of holdren

    [JR: It's the 'right' video in that it is the code they give, but they appear to have a bug on their site whereby their code is only for the main piece. I have gone back in and provided instructions on how one views the video. Sorry.]

  2. It strikes me though that the real question is not whether President Obama gets climate science but whether he really gets the “Bully Pulpit” nature of the presidency. He is an absolutely unique position to help people understand why we need an energy revolution and quite frankly Obama has not taken on that core part of his job, to educate people; in this case about the challenges they face now and into the future. He has managed it with race and health care but in this area he has barely begun.

  3. Prokaryotes says:

    Save Spaceship Earth!

  4. Adrian says:

    The bully pulpit part is very important, of course–but even more important: what, if anything getsdone.

  5. Peter M says:

    Glad the WH is talking about climate change. Here in southern New England we are seeing snow again, with soon to be, paralyzing accumulating freezing rain on top of the 50″ of snow and ice on the roofs of our home and businesses. I have never in my years of living here seen this kind of climatic assault.

    We are seeing here, and other places around the nation and world what wrath climate change is causing. And it will become far worse.

    I hope the WH & The President really understand what is happening. Thus far it has been like a remote concept to them- while they parley and make up to the powers that are causing us here in the northeast and others such misery.

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    Deeply Frustrating

    Does President Obama not understand climate change? Or does he not understand its vital importance and the fact that the clock is ticking? Or does he think that, tactically and “politically” speaking, it’s just best not to name, or talk much about, the largest issue of our times? Or does he simply not understand the power of what he says (or doesn’t say) in major public addresses? Or was there an entire page on climate change in the speech (the Address) that he accidentally overlooked in the delivery because that page got stuck to the back of the previous page by some sticky, or it got left out by the tele-prompter folks? Or, or, or, or?

    (I’m expressing my frustration not at CAP, but at President Obama and also John Holdren, I suppose.)

    How many people watched President Obama’s State of the Union Address?

    Compare: How many people watched John Holdren (the vast majority of Americans almost certainly wouldn’t even recognize his name) on “Platts Energy Week”?

    Dr. Holdren is the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. But the White House (President Obama) did not dare to utter the phrases ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ in the State of the Union Address! So where was the failure?

    How much time have we spent (here on CP) noting The New York Times’ dismal failure, usually, to use the front page for key articles regarding climate change? How many times has the issue of public confusion come up? How many times — in the past — has the President said (or implied) the “make me do it” point? So why in the heck did he not even utter the words in the State of the Union Address?

    And now Dr. Holdren is telling us that “it’s alright”, not to worry, because he (the President) has not forgotten about climate change and does indeed understand it. This has me worried both about the President’s judgment on the matter AND Dr. Holdren’s judgment on the matter.

    We know (I hope) that Dr. Holdren understands the science and (hopefully) urgency of the matter. That’s not the question. And we know, or at least think, or at least hope, that President Obama gets it (the science and importance of the matter). That’s not really the question — or at least let’s hope not. The real question is, Why has the Administration (President Obama, Dr. Holdren, and etc. etc.) been so ineffective at communicating the matter to the public, building public understanding, generating a public that has the will to take effective action, and so forth? The President did not even mention ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ in the State of the Union Address! Should we really feel “O.K.” about that, Dr. Holdren? Really?

    I would like our politicians to “get straight” with us. Explain yourselves! If they want US to talk about ‘climate change’ in public, and if they want the public to better understand climate change and treat it with the importance it cries out for, then THEY had better talk about ‘climate change’ in their public talks, and frequently. Dr. Holdren, on Platts Energy Week, is not the same as President Obama in the State of the Union Address.

    Sigh,

    Jeff

  7. Lou Grinzo says:

    Jeff:

    I’m with you 100% in spirit, but I think we all know what’ going on here. The deniers (including virtually the entire Republican party plus the Tea Party) have succeeded in making “climate change” a toxic term in American politics. Use it, and they and their fringe compatriots start crowing about “climategate” and “letting the UN run our lives” and who knows how many other wackaloon delusions. My point is that aside from the actual difficulty of making meaningful progress on the CC issue, regardless of how desperately we need to do that, the deniers have managed to put a very high price tag on the act of mentioning it. That kind of situation scares politicians spitless.

    I’m convinced President Obama could overcome this, though. Do a prime time message to the public that’s not just him talking to us, but him and a small roundtable of the top experts in the world, perhaps no more than 3 or 4. Have them talk in the most blunt, honest way possible about what the science says, how the dots connect, what level of uncertainty they have with various parts of the mosaic, etc. Maybe even address a couple of the most often heard denier talking points. Then end with President Obama talking to the public and saying, “This is why we we pushed for higher CAFE standards. This is why we did X, Y, and Z. This is why we must, can, and will do much more. Climate change is real, it’s deadly serious, and we’re already feeling its effects. It’s time for America to lead again, to give our children and their children the brighter future they deserve.”

  8. Crank says:

    The anti-science crowd and their fellow confusionists gleefully took the speech to mean that Obama was backpedaling on climate, but I mostly saw it as just typically horrendous messaging by the White House, along with evidence that the President personally doesn’t get the truly dire nature of the problem.

    I really don’t think it’s any of those things. What he said was calibrated to maximize the likelihood of actually getting something through congress.

    At this point, do you honestly think that the deniers just need to have somebody sit down and calmly explain to them what the problem is? As we speak, there are presenters on Fox news telling people that the winter storms in the northeast disprove global warming (and show us that it’s all a big commislaminazi plot, and also Al Gore is fat) and they believe it. Oh, and the President wants to destroy America (and you’d better understand they believe that too). There is just no way to exaggerate how ridiculous the stuff that the right wing noise machine propagates really is, and their audience completely buys into it. These people just don’t think the same way we do.

    There is no rational public debate in which the President can participate. It’s all just politics at this point, and I’m happy for the President to go ahead and say whatever he thinks is necessary to get something done. Bearing in mind where the bar is set, that is, that the GOP has enough seats in the Senate to block anything, and now has enough seats in the House to make sure it never gets there in the first place, why should it surprise anybody that that requires the President to speak in a way that won’t alienate the GOP’s constituency?

    I know it sucks. But this is no time to demand a confrontational approach.

  9. catman306 says:

    Just say no to Status Quo we can believe in.

    Translation: When Obama supports the Status Quo, rather than make some fundamental change to the way we Americans do things (that most likely is necessary to save what’s left of the climate), bitch like hell, because HE’s being the hypocrite, elected by making empty promises, and WE don’t like it.

  10. Paulm says:

    Here’s how you have to talk about It….(extremely colorful language)

    Bill maher on climate change
    http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=191194340900564&id=139434822741700

  11. Michael Tucker says:

    I’m very glad that Dr Holdren has not backed away from the messaging but I am very disappointed that the President does not listen to him.

    The President talks about Clean Coal. The coal industry has decided to now call it clean coal. Soon most people will be talking about clean coal as if it exists. The President does not have an energy plan for America that will get us off coal or oil. I fear the President will “reinvent our energy policy” so that it looks EXACTLY THE SAME as it does today.

    I would love for the President to prove me wrong. I am waiting for that budget he promised that will invest in “clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

    Of course a budget is not an energy plan and I am growing more and more suspicious when President Obama uses the term ‘clean energy’. I bet a guy who believes in clean coal would consider manufacturing ethanol a clean job.

  12. Barry says:

    “Platt’s Energy Week”?!?

    This is where Obama WH lets climate change be whispered?

    Freaky extreme Hell and High Water pounds the globe and our food supply and Obama administration talks about climate on “Platt’s Energy Week.”

    Totally surreal.

  13. TGriz says:

    Climate forcings are already in the pipeline. We still have a lot of warming in store even if we could somehow miraculously stop emitting any further CO2 today. Is it me, or does it seem the current administration don’t understand climate science?! It seems they think what we have today is what 390 ppm CO2 “looks like.” NOT! We’re ‘toast’ at 390 ppm, especially when you factor in the positive feedbacks of the arctic loss of albedo effects and methane off gassing, and remove the sun blocking effects of atmospheric particulates (human-induced global dust). We are rapidly heading into the ‘burnt toast’ region of things with business as usual.

  14. Crank says:

    Freaky extreme Hell and High Water pounds the globe and our food supply and Obama administration talks about climate on “Platt’s Energy Week.”

    Totally surreal.

    I would say what’s surreal is that the denialist cabal is able to spin the events you’re referring to into “proof that global warming is a hoax”. Logic and reason are not their strong suits, but unfortunately we have to share a planet with them.

  15. Crank:

    I really don’t think it’s any of those things. What he said was calibrated to maximize the likelihood of actually getting something through congress.

    Oh no, not this again. Are you saying that the Democrats’ failure at the midterm elections is also part of Obama’s super-secret genius plan?

    frank

  16. NeilT says:

    On a two day freezing storm in the US, a large, powerful and dangerous CAT4 tropical storm is bearing down on Queensland in Australia; driven by the record temperatures of the southern oceans in December……

    Nobody is talking about it…….

    NO wonder the White house has to tread on egshells because the US is seeing extreme cold climate…..

  17. MarkF says:

    He is reported to be reading a biography of Ronald Reagan.

    what more do you need to know.

  18. Crank says:

    Oh no, not this again. Are you saying that the Democrats’ failure at the midterm elections is also part of Obama’s super-secret genius plan?

    So do you really think that by explaining calmly what the situation is, the GOP members of congress will be brought around?

  19. nz says:

    Seemed to be a really good interview as the common wisdom seems to be that conservatives have a hard time getting behind prevent climate change prevention but clean energy does make a lot of sense to them.

    Steady and sure will win them over which may be happening quite rapidly with the acceleration of extreme climate events.

  20. NeilT says:

    Make that a CAT5 storm arriving on the top of the tide.

    Expect your news to catch up some time after the event……

  21. NeilT says:

    To be honest if you want a story to tell the US what the future holds in a warming world. You should post this…

    http://forum.weatherzone.com.au/ubbthreads.php/topics/950687/262

    It’s happening right here and right now.

  22. BobG says:

    Obama’s speech was focused on the economy, since America is focused on the economy. In the context of the economy, he devoted quite a bit of time to clean energy. He made clean energy the epitome of “innovation.” This is how you build a constiuency for doing something about clean energy among the sizeable swath of the public that seems indifferent or hostile to talk of climate change. Friedman says the same thing in his book. What Obama was saying is that a big part of “Winning the Future” consists of building a clean energy economy. The State of the Union did not represent a teachable moment on climate change. I agree that Obama has a responsibilty as a leader to explain this overriding issue, and I have been disappointed in his lack of publicized work in this regard. But a speech that was attempting to be “bi-partisan” and that focused on the economy was not the place for teaching about climate change. I suspect that was the Obama team’s thinking on this, and there is a rationality to it.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    For all those waiting for Obama to ‘do something’. I believe that Ralph Nader’s words, on being asked what he expected from the Obama Presidency, replied, ‘Prepare to be disappointed’.

  24. dp says:

    it’s no accident that millions of people are marching egypt’s streets. meetings were held, simple goals were set, deals were made, events were planned, people were organized, people were prodded & pushed, and now a whole wrongheaded government is on the brink.

    none of this stuff is about individual conscience, or waiting for the next election to maybe lay down the law.

  25. greg says:

    He’s “back to talking about climate change” just in time for a congress guaranteed to do nothing. He had two years, what a missed opportunity.

  26. Edward says:

    Maybe Obama is waiting for his second term.

  27. Mike Roddy says:

    Holdren has gone from a brilliant Old Blue to wandering into dangerous political hack territory. If Obama was serious about climate change, he would not be talking about “clean” coal, gas, and nuclear. Instead, he would be saying “It’s time to retire coal plants and replace them with wind, solar, and geothermal. Now”.

    Sorry, Dr. Holdren, it’s way past time for politically realistic (translation- we have to placate the oil and coal industries to make sure we capture enough swing states in the next election) measures, and time instead for courageous and factually correct ones. Didn’t you go to Cal, John? How did you miss that memo?

  28. Peter M says:

    Obama has turned out to be as political as every President in the last 40 years- his primary motivation- just get reelected. Unfortunately that kind of thinking is a callous disregard to those who expected change and hope.

    If anything, Obama is just another, in a line of ‘corporate Presidents’ since Reagan.

    The climatic problems globally are increasing, Obama is hoping to ‘squeeze’ back in and hope that nothing ‘bad’ happens. From my geographic location in Connecticut- the costs for this extreme weather will be in the tens of millions of dollars for damage to homes, condominiums, and businesses.

    Anything this bizarre is unprecedented, but also a danger to human life – yet the local media largely ignores the gravity of what is happening- and they dare not attempt to make a connection with global warming.

    Obama has no intentions to really ‘understand’ how the climate is changing in the nation. Dr. Hansen does, and explained in his book ‘Storms of My Grandchildren’ something Obama should consider learning from- instead of The Reagan book he is now reportedly reading.

  29. Prokaryotes says:

    “If anything, Obama is just another, in a line of ‘corporate Presidents’ since Reagan.”

    No, Obama is doing it HIS own way. What is lacking is the urgency, as i said before my guess is he waits for the right moment to size momentum. There are many problems to be solved in order to make successful strikes. Something which is missed by most analytical observation summaries i ready here so far. The problems are enormous and especially when it coms to the biggest threat we facing with climate disruption.

    Though i agree the messaging could be better. His style is hard to see through for his supporters as well as for his enemies.

  30. Crank:

    So do you really think that by explaining calmly what the situation is, the GOP members of congress will be brought around?

    Obama can calmly explain global warming, and calmly get the DoJ to investigate Wegman for deceiving Congress, and calmly draw people’s attention to the Koch-led Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, and calmly back all this with a huge activist campaign to galvanize the man on the street… and more. Add all that together, and you have a huge avalanche of progressive momentum that’ll turn Congress around.

    Instead of doing any of that, Obama — and you — are proposing that we simply appease the oily Republicans and hope vainly that they reciprocate in kind.

    dp:

    it’s no accident that millions of people are marching egypt’s streets. meetings were held, simple goals were set, deals were made, events were planned, people were organized, people were prodded & pushed, and now a whole wrongheaded government is on the brink.

    Yep.

    frank

  31. BillD says:

    Yesterday I received one of those surveys from the Democratic National committe where you give your opinion and maybe send them some money. Frankly, I was disappointed that “climate change” was not listed as a choice among 15 priorities that I was asked to rank for the President. The closest choice was “energy independence” and that is not even close.

    So, in my comments I stated that I am PhD scientist who considers reducing carbon emissions at the top of national and internations priorities, and that I cannot contribute more money when “combating climate change” is not even listed among the top 15 potential priorities for the President and his party.

    [JR: Yes, I've seen that. Quite lame.]

  32. mr talik says:

    Sphagnum wetlands sequester 300Gt C. Permafrost is 1500GT. Annual human output is 8GT with forest and agri fluxes around +-1GT. The moss sequestered most of this in the few thousands of yrs after 3km high glacier left N.America. Lakes (I think) and forests sequester much less and may be a C sink, than equivalent land use as peat moss. In water, less oxidation, less decomposition. Sphagnum is made of something that also retards some enzyme that helps decomposition.
    Is maybe 5% of Canada’s land area, peat bogs, but lowlands are 5-10x this. Using beavers, or dams, or wamer GMO sphagnum, or the equivalent of farm/forestry effort, it may be possible to get water tables up north, to a level necessary (-20cm from surface?!) to enable a solely sphagnum (fens don’t sequester as much?) ecosystem for say, 10x existing peat lands. If permafrost is lost permanently, an otherwise earthworm oxidizing forest could be made oxygenless peat bog. I dunno if 3000GT is upper target or when.

  33. Chris Winter says:

    Lawmakers build support for anti-regulatory REINS legislation, to avoid increasing electric utilities’ costs
    Sayeh Tavengar, 1 Feb. 2001
    http://www.plattsenergyweektv.com/story.aspx?storyid=133934&catid=293

    The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is lining up behind a bill that would make it much more difficult for the Obama administration to issue federal regulations that would impose new costs on electric utilities, oil and natural producers and other energy-related industries.

    The bill, dubbed the “Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny” act, would require both the House and the Senate to vote on and pass “major” executive branch rules ‐ defined as those with an annual economic impact of at least $100 million — before they take effect. The bill would also set up a “disapproval procedure” that Congress could use to rescind “non-major” rules.

    Looks similar to the “data quality” strategy that Chris Mooney described.