- President Obama, often shy of turning climate change into a marquee campaign issue, last night made a full-throated endorsement of climate action, calling out Governor Romney and the Republicans as disbelievers of reality, and jokesters about a real threat. He also explicitly linked this summer's extreme weather to global warming.
"And yes," he said to some of the longest applause of the night, "my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future. And in this election, you can do something about it."
In a clear reference to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama said, "I will not let oil companies write this country's energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers."
"We're offering a better path – a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that's right beneath our feet. If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone."
President Obama's statements—and the applause in Charlotte last night—had a lot to do with Governor Romney's remarks last week in Tampa. Romney openly mocked climate change in his speech to the Republican National Convention, allowing Democrats, including John Kerry, to chide and take higher ground. Listen to the 30-plus second cheer for climate inaction:
- Romney's comments last week were immediately ridiculed on Twitter by climate scientist Michael Mann, whose book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars mounts a case against the deep politicization of climate change:
- In an interview later with Climate Desk, Mann called climate change the "greatest societal threat we've ever faced." He said Romney's speech was a "dog whistle," designed to appeal to a Tea Party constituency that stills calls climate change "an elaborate hoax."
"I think like a lot of people I thought it was very sad, really, that a major party candidate for president would belittle concern for the environment in general," he said. Listen to the highlights here:
- Climate Desk partner journalists agreed it was a moment of insight into what a Romney presidency would look like:
- Suzy was right: climate change has played an important role in recent Democratic messaging. Here's a side-by-side comparison of the frequency of a few climate change keywords, as they appear in the official platforms of Democrats:
- And Republicans:
- Still, David Roberts from Climate Desk partner Grist cautions that simply paying lip service to climate change - what he derides as "climatespotting" - is ultimately fraught:
- The best climate policy for the Obama campaign is pragmatism, says climate policy strategist Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. "He's got to talk about it in a way that's realistic in terms of what he can accomplish," he said in an interview with Climate Desk. In a hypothetical Obama second term, big-ticket legislative items like 2010's doomed cap-and-trade bill will still be nearly impossible for the president to push into law, he said, because of stout resistance from "a Republican Congress where the vast majority deny that global warming is occurring."
Instead, Weiss advised, the president should stay focused on baby steps, which he did last night; things that can be achieved largely through the Executive Branch—think last month's historic car mileage standards:
- Or limits on air pollution from fracking:
- Or giving a federal boost to renewable energy:
- Or slashing pollution from future coal-fired power plants:
- Before his convention appearance last night, Obama was also making rhetorical baby steps, at least in front of younger audiences: "We developed new fuel standards so that your car will get nearly 55 miles per gallon by the middle of the next decade," he said to applause at an Iowa State University rally last week. "That will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a level roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of emissions from all the cars in the world." Check out that moment.
- Politically, Daniel J. Weiss said, even name-dropping climate change scores the president major points with this college-age demographic, who'll be living through the extreme weather, hotter summers, and higher seas that are likely to arrive in coming decades.