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Obama speaks out against Global Warming

November 18th, 2008 · 9 Comments

In his second substantive, issue-focused discussion since the election, President-elect Barack Obama spoke to the bipartisan governors’ meeting on climate change, with an extensive international audience. I recommend reading the speech (after the fold) and watching the video, but there are some key points worth calling out and perhaps just one important issue to raise.

This is a clear statement that Barack Obama’s discussion of energy and global warming issues during the campaign will translate directly into the White House and is core to the Administration.

I promise you this: When I am President, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington.

Obama makes a strong point about science and the view of it from the Oval Office come January 20th: “The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear.” In the new ‘bipartisan’ era, can we hope that denialists need not apply?

Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious.

From reports from people in the room, this last-minute addition of a video greeting had a powerful impact, with a standing ovation in the room at its conclusion. Under President Obama, the United States will be a leader on climate change, and not a leader due to mounting CO2 emissions.

Here is text of the press release and President-Elect Obama’s comments, with some comments interspersed within it.

President Elect Barack Obama to Deliver Taped Greeting to Bi-Partisan Governors Climate Summit

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama will deliver a surprise message by video to the Bi-Partisan Governors Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles, California this morning. Obama will discuss his commitment to marking a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.

The hosts of the Summit include Governors of states who have been at the forefront of the climate debate: Governors Rod Blagojevich (IL), Charlie Crist (FL), Jim Doyle (WI), Arnold Schwarzenegger (CA) and Kathleen Sebelius (KS) as well as representatives of approximately 22 other states; government officials from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, the UK and others.

Obama didn’t “discuss is commitment,” he clearly and directly stated it, as you will see.

Let me begin by thanking the bipartisan group of U.S. governors who convened this meeting.

Few challenges facing America – and the world – are more urgent than combating climate change.

This is a strong statement … emphasizing “urgent”, placing it at the top of the in-box both in urgency and importance.

The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear

This has such meaning, such import, that the President-Elect believes this and states it so clearly. The Oval Office is in for real change.

Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season.

Good that he pointed to multiple effects.

Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.

And, climate change is linked to oil dependency, and this is economic security and national security at stake with climate change.

I know many of you are working to confront this challenge. In particular, I want to commend Governor Sebelius, Governor Doyle, Governor Crist, Governor Blagojevich and your host, Governor Schwarzenegger –all of you have shown true leadership in the fight to combat global warming. And we’ve also seen a number of businesses doing their part by investing in clean energy technologies.

People have been acting: in localities, states, businesses. But …

But too often, Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership. That will change when I take office. My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.

Yes, elections have consequences. The White House’s dogged commitment to inaction on Global Warming during the Bush-Cheney regime will be swept into history come January.

That will start with a federal cap and trade system.

Wow. Did Barack Obama just commit himself to passage of cap and trade legislation? This is not a minor item and will take serious Congressional action, especially to deliver something that meets basic principles.

We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050.

Okay, we’re at a heartburn issue, something of import. Sounds great, 1990 levels by 2020, no? Perhaps at first glance, but this falls short of what the International Panel on Climate Change, which is a conservative estimate of what is required, calls for. In fact, this target is weaker than the stated targets in the horribly inadequate Lieberman-Warner bill (which had 5% below 1990 levels in 2020). According to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report: “To keep temperatures from rising above 3.5 degrees, the panel said, industrialized countries would need to reduce emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.” The recent call on Obama from the environmental organizations on energy and climate calls for cutting US emissions 35 percent from current levels, or just on the bottom end of that 25-40 percent range.

Now, one reason to respect Barack Obama because it is clear that he is a learning man. The Barack Obama of two years ago is not the same Barack Obama on energy and global warming issues. President-Elect Barack Obama has a strong commitment to science and one can believe the targets could move if/when he is convinced of what is required to avoid catastrophic climate change. And, from another angle, once we start working seriously on energy efficiency, clean energy, and other GHG reduction efforts, it seems quite possible (if not probable) that our efforts could blow through any targets by accelerating and cascading success.

Further, we will invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future. We will invest in solar power, wind power, and next generation biofuels. We will tap nuclear power, while making sure it’s safe. And we will develop clean coal technologies.

Okay, investments. YEAH! Solar, wind, next-gen biofuels, “safe nuclear power” all have roles in tackling climate change. “Develop clean-coal technologies”. Sigh. Perhaps Barack Obama should watch NBC and listen to Brian Williams “While you might have heard the phrase ‘clean coal’ during the presidential campaign, it’s actually an oxymoron. Wishful thinking.” Thinking about George the W and Iraq, Mr President-Elect, we’ve had enough wishful thinking. Its time to take a critical eye to “clean coal” and stop promoting it as a solution when it remains an uncertain and high-risk research and development project.

This investment will not only help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, making the United States more secure. And it will not only help us bring about a clean energy future, saving our planet. It will also help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis by generating five million new green jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.

What can we say other than: YEAH! Let’s get to it, ASAP!

But the truth is, the United States cannot meet this challenge alone. Solving this problem will require all of us working together. I understand that your meeting is being attended by government officials from over a dozen countries, including the UK, Canada and Mexico, Brazil and Chile, Poland and Australia, India and Indonesia. And I look forward to working with all nations to meet this challenge in the coming years.

The Obama Administration will work with the international community to turn the tide on Global Warming’s rising seas.

Let me also say a special word to the delegates from around the world who will gather at Poland next month: your work is vital to the planet. While I won’t be President at the time of your meeting and while the United States has only one President at a time, I’ve asked Members of Congress who are attending the conference as observers to report back to me on what they learn there.

Obama is clear that he won’t undercut President Bush. But, this is a clear statement that those in at the discussions next month can look to Congressional attendees as people President Obama will listen to on these issues.

And once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.

Eight years of inaction are over. Eight years of acting with arrogant disregard to global concerns are over. Eight years lost … are soon behind us, soon behind the U.S. and the globe.

Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious.

What can one say other than: YES! YES! YES!

Stopping climate change won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. But I promise you this: When I am President, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America. Thank you.

No, thank you, Mr. President-Elect.

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Tags: climate change · Energy · Global Warming

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 polar bear // Nov 19, 2008 at 1:11 am

    awesome. can i also has carbon tax?

  • 2 A Siegel // Nov 19, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Well, Polar Bear, I read this as frosty sarcasm.

    We have a real problem in the United States where “tax” is such an ugly word, discussed in isolation. I like paved roads, honest cops, schools that work, libraries, airline safety, a military, and many other things. Seems to me that we have to pay for them somehow, no? For the past eight years, we have followed a policy of paying for them via borrowing from the future, by tax increases on the unborn.

    “Tax” needs to be associated “for what”. If there is a “tax”, what is the purpose of it. If a carbon tax will help achieve moving toward a more prosperous and climate-friendly society, that is a good. If the revenues from that tax can help fund those moves, employing unemployed and boosting the economy, that is a good. If the ‘carbon tax’ revenues can be used, in part, to reduce taxes on productive activity (such as salaries), that is a good.

    “Tax” in isolation is a foolish way to talk. One has to talk about the full context.

    We have driven our society and the federal budget into massive deficit. Is “tax” to cut into that deficit such an evil thing?

  • 3 Jaimie // Nov 19, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Am I going to be able to afford my utilities? Will any more Americans lose their job?

  • 4 A Siegel // Nov 19, 2008 at 10:14 am


    1. The highest priority is to foster energy efficiency. Across the US economy, we are very energy inefficient. Speaking only to electricity, we can cut electricity use by easily 25+% over the coming years at a cost of roughly 2-4 cents per kilowatt hour, far less than the 9+ cent average kwh cost in the US economy. And, if energy efficiency lowers energy use, it helps foster a lower energy cost due to reduced need for peaker plant use and for new plant construction/transmission lines from those plants. It also will strengthen the economy through reduced pollution reducing health impacts. Etc …

    2. Pursuing a “green economy” will create jobs, far more jobs than any potentially lost in the fossil fuel industry due to reduced fossil fuel use. And, these jobs are reasonable jobs, distributed throughout the nation, that can’t be ‘outsourced’. And, especially the near-term, high-payoff opportunities in energy efficiency, are jobs extremely appropriate for underemployed building trades/industry and for which people can be trained up and see a career progression.

    3. Your comment suggests a stove-piped approach thinking. Californians pay more per kilowatt hour than most Americans. But, as the entire California utility grid has been focused on energy efficiency for most of the past 30 years, that higher cost per kilowatt hour is more than offset by lower electricity use. While America has increased per capita electricity use by over 60 percent over the past 30 years, California per capita use has remained flat. And, that isn’t because Californians don’t have cell phones, big screen TVs, or other modern electronics but because utilities are incentivised to work with customers (business and individual) to help find cost-efficient paths toward greater energy efficiency.

    And, then, there is the move toward clean energy sources (such as wind, solar, geothermal, and potentially nuclear). Wind is already less expensive than new fossil fuel plants in many circumstances. And, solar power is on a serious downward cost curve.

    And …

    In total, moving toward a greener economy, that will help in the fight to mitigate Global Warming, will foster a much stronger economy.

  • 5 Johnny Rook // Nov 22, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    It was a great statement. Boosted my spirits tremendously.

    I continue to wonder about Obama’s continual references to clean coal. He seems way too smart to take it seriously as any sort of near -term solution, so I assume that he’s playing it for political purposes. Maybe throw a little money at it for a while then announce that it’s not panning out and give up. (I know that sounds naively optimistic, but I’m giving Obama the benefit of the doubt for now.)

    The thing that’s often left out of “clean coal” discussions is that even if we could develop functioning and safe CCS, coal mining is such a destructive process even without worrying about GHG’s, that we should still be looking for alternatives to it. Anyone doubting this should Google “mountaintop removal” and take a look at the pictures. Then read about the effects on the lives of the people who live in the valleys where all the detritus is dumped. It’s criminal.

    Blogging for the Future at Climaticide Chronicles

  • 6 James // Dec 2, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    In an effort to combat climate change and to lower greenhouse gasses, President elect Obama should make the Trans-Global Highway a major policy directive in his administration., The project was proposed by Frank X. Didik, who also happens to be the found of the Electric Car Society, a number of years ago. The Trans-Global Highway would physically link the continents of the world together utilizing existing roads, rail lines and through a series of under water tunnels. The Trans-Global Highway would clearly lower transportation costs as well as reduce the huge amount of energy needed to transport products globally . I also see the Trans Global highway as a method to increase international cooperation and better allocation of global resources, with minimal invasiveness of the environment, It may well be the key infrastructure project that Mr. Obama has been seeking. The full proposal can be read at

  • 7 Elation to Confusion to Elation Again: The Obama Appointments roller-coaster when it comes to energy and environmental issues // Dec 18, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    […] Watching Barack Obama and the appointments since the election has created the foundation for an emotional roller coaster while  been a serious one for those concerned about energy and environmental issues.  When it comes to Obama’s own actions, elation that his first major policy statement/engagement after the election was a strong statement on the need for a…. […]

  • 8 Neil: Apologize to Barack and the Nation // May 8, 2009 at 8:43 am

    […] in pushing legislation that undercuts the potential for achieving legislation in line with President-Elect and President Obama’s emphasis on clean energy and on tackling climate […]

  • 9 Time for reusing a tired t-shirt? // Jun 22, 2011 at 12:24 pm

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