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President Obama: “those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared”

April 25th, 2012 · 6 Comments

There are a number of true wedge issues — items that clearly differentiate between the parties. These include 99%/1% & equity, belief in the value of government, women’s right to make choices about their bodies, … One of the starkest: attitudes toward science and most notably to climate science.

The Obama Administration — including President Obama — has seemed (at best) reluctant to utter the words “climate change” and engage the anti-science mania dominating the Republican “elite” (and base) directly in a way to highlight to ‘independents’ (and others) the stark differences when it comes to science and the implications of those differences. The reality is, whether discussed or not, that 2012 is an election about science.

Rolling Stone just published an extensive interview with President Obama. And, “climate change” as an election-year issue was raised … by the President.

Perhaps the President’s most important words:

those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared

When asked about what he has learned from the Republican primaries, the President noted

what’s happened, I think, in the Republican caucus in Congress, and what clearly happened with respect to Republican candidates, was a shift to an agenda that is far out of the mainstream – and, in fact, is contrary to a lot of Republican precepts.

Question: Doesn’t all of that kind of talk and behavior during the [Republican] primaries define the party and what they stand for?

President Obama: I think it’s fair to say that this has become the way that the Republican political class and activists define themselves. Think about John McCain, who obviously I have profound differences with. Here’s a guy who not only believed in climate change, but co-sponsored a cap-and-trade bill that got 43 votes in the Senate just a few years ago, somebody who thought banning torture was the right thing to do, somebody who co-sponsored immigration reform with Ted Kennedy. That’s the most recent Republican candidate, and that gives you some sense of how profoundly that party has shifted.

The first item that the President identifies as to the changed Republican Party “identity”: climate science.

The most significant discussion on the issue occurred when the President was asked about Keystone XL

Question: James Hansen, NASA’s leading climate scientist, has said this about the Keystone pipeline: that if the pipeline goes through and we burn tar sands in Canada, it’s “game over” for the planet. What’s your reaction to that statement?

President Obama: James Hansen is a scientist who has done an enormous amount not only to understand climate change, but also to help publicize the issue. I have the utmost respect for scientists.

Respect for scientists is something that most Americans share and is a true differentiation, at this time, between the Republican and Democratic Parties … a differentiation that merits highlighting and pounding home.

But it’s important to understand that Canada is going to be moving forward with tar sands, regardless of what we do. That’s their national policy, they’re pursuing it.

Well, there are activists who are fighting to slow down and then stop tar sands.

Note, the President used the term “tar sands” and not “oil sands”. Perhaps minor, but worth noting.

With respect to Keystone, my goal has been to have an honest process, and I have adamantly objected to Congress trying to circumvent a process that was well-established not just under Democratic administrations, but also under Republican administrations.

A call for orderly government is one, again, that could appeal to the most part of Americans

The reason that Keystone got so much attention is not because that particular pipeline is a make-or-break issue for climate change, but because those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared and concerned about a general lack of sufficient movement to deal with the problem.

As Bill McKibben notes, “Obama correctly understood keystone protest as a sign of frustration with climate inaction. truly impt.”

But, note the critical words: “those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared”. The ones who know what they are talking about are the most scared!

Frankly, I’m deeply concerned that internationally, we have not made as much progress as we need to make.

Is the issue that “internationally”, we’ve not made enough progress?

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.

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.

This is a reasonable statement about the realities of the constraints that President Obama lives within. And, the pushes re fuel efficiency and other arenas are tangible even as “there is no doubt that we have a lot more work to do” especially in the face of economic challenges dominating the lives of too many Americans (outside the 1%).

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.

This, for those educated about climate science and “scared”, this is the money quote: that the President “will be very clear” about that we need “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.

That is right, cleaning up our energy system via things like energy efficiency aren’t at odds with a healthier economy and putting people back to work, they are at the core of it.

After too much silence and avoidance of climate science, we can hope that this interview is the first step of serious Presidential engagement with the public on the serious challenges and opportunities of climate chaos mitigation. And, that this is an integral part of the President’s reelection in a way that provides a mandate for action come next January (with Nancy Pelosi again Speaker of the House).

For an excellent discussion of this interview, contexts on the climate science, and why Mitt Romney would like to see this issue not emerge in the campaign, see Joe Romm’s Obama Stunner …

Tags: 2012 Presidential Election

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