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Obama’s Climate History

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Obama’s Climate History"

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I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at Barack Obama’s past statements on energy issues and see how they compared to last night’s effort. But not so interesting that I wanted to do it myself, so since it’s summer Intern Ryan was put on the case. It turns out that the specific phrase “cap and trade” has been missing for a while, for example from his December 18, 2009 speech in Copenhagen and his September 22, 2009 UN address. That seems fine enough, my understanding is that people don’t like the phrase “cap and trade” and also don’t understand what it means. So if the President wants to talk about “pursuing comprehensive legislation to transform to a clean energy economy” that’s fine.

But what hasn’t gone missing in the past is the whole climate change thing. In Copenhagen, he was at a whole meeting about climate change. In that UN speech he observed that “Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it — boldly, swiftly, and together — we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.” On November 18, 2008 he said that “[f]ew challenges facing America — and the world — are more urgent than combating climate change.” Last night’s description of the problem just isn’t really accurate:

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.

We cannot consign our children to this future.

This rhetoric wouldn’t bother me if it were part of a push to get a serious carbon-capping bill passed through congress—you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. But given that the Senate pretty clearly isn’t going to pass such a bill, and given that the evidence is overwhelming that these speeches don’t move the voters, then the President really has no good reason not to describe the situation accurately. And the problem isn’t that oil isn’t cheap enough, or that too much of it comes from abroad, or that China has too many windmill factories. The problem is that if we fail to address the growing accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere “we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.”

That’s really bad. The President should say so.

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