Last night, President Obama’s State of the Union speech paid considerable attention to climate change, while also taking aim at climate change deniers.
Obama spoke out against politicians who have avoided answering questions about their positions on climate change by saying, “I am not a scientist.” The rhetoric has been used by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, Florida Governor Rick Scott, and Senator Marco Rubio. Obama pointed out that one doesn’t have to be a scientist oneself to be able to understand the implications of their findings:
“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”
For those watching the White House's livestream, these messages were emphasized by additional statistics and visuals.
Obama has used executive authority to introduce a number of policies to fight climate change, including new rules to regulate power plants, a joint deal with China to reduce emissions, and a promise of $3 billion to the UN’s Green Climate Fund. In last night’s speech, Obama assured Congress that any bill that might set back these efforts would be vetoed.
The speech also alluded to the work to be done leading up to the Paris climate talks in December of this year:
"Because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got."
The comments echoed Obama’s remarks at the United Nations Climate Summit held in New York in September 2014, where he emphasized the need for China and the U.S. to reduce their emissions as the two largest economies—and the biggest emitters of green house gases.
“With President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. can be a catalyst for an international climate agreement,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute in a press statement. The President is poised to now bring India, the third largest emitter, on board with new efforts to reduce global emissions. Obama’s first trip following the State of the Union is a visit with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Although Obama called on Congress to “set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,” Senator Joni Ernst in her response criticized Obama for not approving the Keystone pipeline—which she referred to as a “jobs bill.” According to the U.S. State Department, the pipeline will create 35 permanent positions in the U.S.
The speech also touted the U.S. efforts to become energy independent, including its growing clean energy sector. However, further congressional support for green infrastructure, cleaner energy policies, and emission reductions may be a challenge with a Republican majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The full text of the prepared speech can be found here.