SOTU 2013: This is Obama's Chance to Prioritize Climate Change

Without having to fear re-election, Obama has the perfect opportunity to strengthen both his rhetoric and actions on climate change. Environmental groups around the world will be closely watching his State of the Union address on Tuesday to see what direction he takes.

Obama has a history of avoiding the climate change discussion, yet his second inaugural address gave many people hope that the tide was changing, especially when he said: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

Obama then went on to say, “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.” This type of rhetoric worries many concerned citizens, including famed journalist and environmentalist Bill McKibben. According to McKibben, our political system is slow moving by nature. When it comes to many issues this has worked out just fine, however climate change is a threat that’s here now, and Obama must take more difficult and immediate action.

As James Hansen, one of our nation’s leading climatologists, has said: “Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth. That is the equivalent of what we face now [with climate change], yet we dither.” With 97% of climatologists in agreement that climate change is man-made, it seems ludicrous that more is not being done. So what is keeping Obama from making the kind of change the world needs?

Many blame Congress; after all, they are “the least productive session in 65 years” and have a historic 84% disapproval rating. Yet Congress does have to answer to somebody: the people in their districts. While Obama can’t fix Congress directly, he can influence the people who turn out to elect them

What Obama says is broadcast all over the world through the media. In an era of historic weather events coupled with declining coverage of climate change, Obama has a lot of power to change the national conversation. The more that climate change is talked about, the more the general public will come to understand its consequences and be willing to make sacrifices to prevent it. Our nation came together against a common enemy during WWII and we can do it again.

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Laura Merli

Laura Merli is a first year Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management student at the New School.

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