For the last couple years, Obama's been notoriously mum on climate. To environmentalists, climate hawks, and anyone else watching the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere and global temps alike tick upwards, it's been a maddening run. See, after the rightwing media apparatus concocted a great backlash against the idea of global warming itself, Obama and his political advisers evidently decided it was best to steer clear of the issue altogether.
And so we got State of the Union Addresses that scarcely, if at all, made mention of what is arguably the greatest looming problem we humanfolk face. We got delays on the EPA regulating greenhouse gas emissions. We got Earth Day proclamations with global warming references edited out. We got inaction, sure, but worse, we got no leadership on the issue; we lost any sense that our nation's highest office viewed climate change as a clear and urgent threat.
Meanwhile, 2010 was deemed the hottest year on record. Record-breaking drought wracked Texas and Oklahoma. Last March was the hottest ever recorded. And people are increasingly connecting each of those events with climate change—which may have led Obama to spring back into action. In a recent interview, Obama told the Rolling Stone that climate change was set to play an important part of his reelection campaign:
Frankly, I'm deeply concerned that internationally, we have not made as much progress as we need to make. Within the constraints of this Congress, we've tried to do a whole range of things, administratively, that are making a difference – doubling fuel-efficiency standards on cars is going to take a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere. We're going to continue to push on energy efficiency, and renewable energy standards, and the promotion of green energy. But there is no doubt that we have a lot more work to do.This is easily the most forceful climate talk the president has uttered in years—and the reason why may be more political than practical.
Part of the challenge over these past three years has been that people's number-one priority is finding a job and paying the mortgage and dealing with high gas prices. In that environment, it's been easy for the other side to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to debunk climate-change science. I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we're going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way. That there's a way to do it that is entirely compatible with strong economic growth and job creation – that taking steps, for example, to retrofit buildings all across America with existing technologies will reduce our power usage by 15 or 20 percent. That's an achievable goal, and we should be getting started now.
A couple recent polls have indicated both that belief in climate change is again growing in the American public, and that an increasing percentage link warming and extreme weather. And support for clean energy, a logical analogue, remains high (it's only falling amongst Republicans). Meanwhile, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have drifted far to the right on both issues—repeatedly denouncing clean energy and rejecting climate science. Perhaps the administration now feels that the congressional GOP and its presidential nominee-to-be have grown extreme enough in their anti-science views that attacking them for it would play well with voters.
Plenty of folks have long argued that climate and clean energy could be a potent wedge issue—one that divides GOP politicians and its hardcore, Tea Partying base from other, more mainstream supporters. Now, maybe we'll see. Of course, there's no guarantee—this is a Rolling Stone interview, not an executive memo—but those do sound like fighting words.
And Obama has to know that his silence on climate has pissed off progressives, and that such language uttered in a high-profile interview will get picked up a plastered onto stories and blog posts around the 'netroots'. And he's got his talking points pretty neatly in order, too—if I had to guess, I'd wager that Obama will indeed start talking climate in events aimed at more progressive circles, but that he'll keep that talk lofty and rhetorical. Even merely describing an intention to address climate is enough to separate him from his opponent, after all.