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Obama Says 'Climate Change Is a Fact' But Offers Few Clues on Action in State of the Union Speech

By Terrell Johnson
Published: January 29, 2014

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 28 as Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listen.

For a president who's taken more action to reduce the impacts of human-caused climate change than perhaps any other – and who made his Climate Action Plan a central policy goal of his second term – President Obama gave strikingly few details Tuesday night around what he'll do on climate for the remaining three years of his presidency.

In his State of the Union address to Congress, Obama highlighted the nation's surging production of natural gas, stronger protections for clean air and water, a push for more renewable energy like solar, and "a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it."

But he had nothing to say about the most eagerly-awaited decision he has yet to make on the environment: whether or not to give the go-ahead to build Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry crude oil from the tar sands of Canada all the way south to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

That decision is seen as key to Obama's legacy on climate issues. If approved, the pipeline would deepen the country's commitment to one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet, at a time when he Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is warning that nations must take the opposite tack, and begin to scale back greenhouse gas emissions more rapidly.

What's more, Obama asserted in his second inaugural address that during his presidency, "we will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

The reaction to Tuesday night's speech came swiftly on Twitter – and like McKayla Maroney, many were not impressed:

'The Debate Is Settled'

To be fair, Obama made a clear statement when it came to the overall direction of his climate change policy when he said this:

"The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. 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."

What troubles many environmental advocates about Obama's approach to climate issues is his "all of the above" strategy on energy production, which emphasized continuing (and even growing) use of fossil fuels until renewables can meet the nation's energy demands.

Natural gas especially has been touted as a "bridge" to renewable energy, as it has boomed in the United States in recent years thanks to new technologies (like hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking") that have made it easier to get at once-inaccessible gas reserves.

The problem with natural gas is that while it's cleaner than oil or coal, it isn't really "clean" energy in the way that wind and solar power are clean. It emits roughly half the carbon into the atmosphere that coal does, but it's still a major source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

But Obama did call attention to one of his most important climate policies so far – reducing the amount of carbon that new and existing power plants are permitted to pump into the atmosphere:

Perhaps the most ambiguous part of the section of his speech came in his ringing endorsement that "climate change is a fact." Immediately before he said that, he cautioned, "the shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way."

Will that mean that he'll move forward with blessing carbon-intensive energy production like Keystone XL while also pushing hard to grow clean energy sources like wind and solar? Only time will tell.

Obama on Climate Change – Full Text

Here's President Obama in his own words last night. Fast-forward to 15:40 to watch the part of his speech on climate change begin:

 

And here's the section on climate change from Tuesday night's State of the Union speech in full, released by the White House:

Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.

One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas.

I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas.

My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities. And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.

Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders, and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars.

In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.

Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.

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. That’s 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.

The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. 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.

 

MORE: Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals Rapidly-Changing Arctic

Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic

Greenland's Melting Ice Reveals A Rapidly Changing Arctic

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