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Obama’s State of the Union Climate Mention Fits Pattern

President Obama made a prominent mention of climate change in his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday night, as he has in his other such speeches as well as his unofficial State of the Union speech before a Joint Session of Congress in 2009.

President Obama reviews his State of the Union speech shortly before entering the House Chamber on Jan. 28. 
Credit: White House Photo/Pete Souza.

On Tuesday, Obama once again declared that manmade climate change is a reality, and noted that some of its potential impacts are already being felt across the country.

“Over the past 8 years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth,” Obama said. “But we have to act with more urgency — because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.”

The President then defended the EPA's moves to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants. These rules, only some of which have already been proposed, are being contested in court by utilities and powerful lobbying groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which contend that it would unfairly harm the coal industry and raise energy costs.

The urgency of acting on climate change, Obama said, is “why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.

Later in the speech, Obama said, “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Early on in his presidency, Obama used the State of the Union addresses as an opportunity to urge Congress to act on climate change. "I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America," he said in 2009. But when this effort failed the following year, his State of the Union speeches shifted toward emphasizing executive actions that he can take to bypass Congress. “The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change,” Obama said in his 2012 State of the Union.

In addition, Obama has long framed climate change within the context of energy independence, placing an emphasis on the need to take an “all of the above” approach to domestic energy development, which includes expanding domestic oil and natural gas production.

The most time the President has devoted to climate science in a State of the Union speech came in 2013, when he took on the topic of the connections between extreme weather events and manmade climate change. “Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods — all are now more frequent and more intense,” Obama said. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late."

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By Anne Petersen (silver spring md)
on January 29th, 2014

Thank you for the article on Obama’s mention of climate change in his State of the Union address. I have emailed the White House today thanking him for addressing the issue of climate change. We are all in this together.

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By Kevin (Nashville, TN)
on January 30th, 2014

So Mr. President, you want action on climate change?  Well, change begins with you!  Why haven’t you killed the Keystone XL yet???

Even though I live in Nashville I’m not a country music fan.  But there is a line in a country song that’s perfect for you, Mr. President.  It’s time for YOU to engage in “a little less talk and a lot more action.”  Start with killing Keystone XL…


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By john harkness
on January 30th, 2014

Tamino has an excellent—even by his high standards—new post on why there is no hiatus:

“Global Temperature: The Post-1998 Surprise”

The crucial graphs:

Reply to this comment

By Eric Peterson (Front Royal, VA 22630)
on January 31st, 2014

I clicked on the second graph to see the y axis labeled “adjusted anomaly”.  I assume this is the old Tamino trick of asserting La Nina causes cooling and adjusting measured temperatures upward?

The 2010 El Nino produced about the same level of global temperature as the 1998 El Nino which was stronger.  That result points to a 0.1C per decade increase in global temperature without any Tamino trickery.

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By SecularAnimist
on January 30th, 2014

The Obama administration’s actions to greatly expand domestic oil, gas and coal extraction are in complete and blatant contradiction to Obama’s rhetoric about fighting global warming and climate change.  Whatever merit his “all of the above” approach may have as far as “energy independence” (and that is dubious, since much of those fossil fuels, especially the coal being mined on public lands, is for export to Asia), it is only making the global warming problem worse.

On the other hand, Obama’s acknowledgement of the seriousness of the climate change threat, and the administration’s modest support for deploying renewable energy and efficiency technologies, are a welcome change from the previous administration—but they fall far, far short of what is needed, and what is possible.

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By Eric Peterson (Front Royal, VA 22630)
on January 31st, 2014

2009: “I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution”

The “market based” approach is made to sound very capitalistic, but it is not.  Luckily Congress rejected that approach. 

2012: “...set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”

The approach of simply shutting down coal plants is wrong and stupid.  China and India will continue to build new coal plants and now Germany is too.

The correct approach to reducing CO2 worldwide is to implement 1) a carbon tax and full rebate to the people and 2) a GATT approach to adding carbon content tariffs to all imports.  Without #2 the worldwide efficiency of manufacturing will drop (i.e. the amount of CO2 per product will increase).  That is because we create about 1/2 the CO2 per unit of product than China.

I hear people claim that we should do one and inspire the rest of the world.  But the rest of the world, particularly China and India want to export more.  Lowering CO2 is not their priority nor will they be inspired enough to raise their export prices by any significant amount.  If we seriously want to lower CO2 worldwide we will need sticks not carrots.

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