President Obama Mentions Climate Change! But Says the Wrong Things

Joe Crimmings/CC BY-ND 2.0

So, President Obama has mentioned climate change, again, when asked during his first pressed conference post-reelection. Thanks for small miracles, I suppose.

The less miraculous part were his remarks themselves:

As you know...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 take 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 a short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary -- a discussion, a conversation across the country about 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 either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point, because this is one of those issues that's not just a partisan issue; I also think 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 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 if the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody is 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 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 agenda forward.

Good on the President for repeatedly asserting the scientifically correct fact that the planet is indeed warming and that human activity is causing it—although it's a bit sad that this is the state of discussion regarding climate in the United States that simply admitting the issue exists deserves kudos.

And good on the President for increasing fuel efficiency standards. Indeed it's one his genuine environmental victories of his first term in office.

But it all goes downhill from there, quickly.

The President makes a huge rhetorical mistake in repeating and therefore reinforcing the erroneous notion that combatting climate change will cost jobs.

He also makes the intellectual mistake of continuing the fetishization of the universal good of economic growth, when the evidence is solidly on the side of, using renowned ecological economist Herman Daly's words, future expansion of the scale of the economy is actual uneconomic growth—in other words, it actually does more harm than good. More economic growth, if defined as increased consumption of natural resources, is itself the problem of the century, of which climate change is but a subset, albeit perhaps the most dramatic one.

The President also makes the serious error of seemingly ignoring the fact that the prospect of job creation and future prosperity are all severely hampered by climate change; and putting off acting in serious, scientifically relevant way—which to this point, both domestically and internationally, the United States has entirely neglected, claims of leadership being empty ones—only makes certain that these things, which the President rightly thinks are large concerns of the American people, only become more difficult to achieve in the short-, mid- and long-term alike.

More briefly, not dealing with climate change aggressively now, no matter the short term cost, will only make it far more expensive to deal with later, costing jobs, prosperity, and lives.

The President still utterly lacks the urgency the problem requires.

Tags: Barack Obama | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions

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