In his first press conference since the election, Obama hints at climate change's place on the White House agenda. It's not encouraging.
But no, it will not take precedence over our economic troubles. Sorry. “I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behaviour and carbon emissions,” Obama told the assembled reporters. “And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”
(The New York Times has the full transcript here.)
Over the next few months, he said, he will be talking with politicians, scientists and engineers to find out if there are feasible ways to cut emissions in the short-term.
But the kind of visionary, long-term, systemic changes necessary to fundamentally change the US relationship to fossil fuels and carbon? That kind of thinking requires “tough political choices,” said Obama, as well as a reconciliation of interests that go beyond just Democrats and Republicans. The will to address climate change varies by region - for example, states that rely heavily on coal production for revenue may be resistant to legislation aimed at limiting its consumption or export.
And with the US public demanding action on unemployment and growth, there probably won’t be energy left to take on energy problems.
“If the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that,” the president said. “I won’t go for that.”
What’s frustrating about Obama’s remarks on climate change is that unlike other voices in US politics, he gives observers the feeling that he does in fact understand the seriousness of the issue. But he is a political animal first, and it is precisely because he is aware of the problem’s complexity that he is unwilling to sacrifice his agenda to the overwhelmingly difficult and unpopular task of curbing American’s energy consumption.
“This one’s hard. But it’s important,” said Obama. “One of the things we don’t always factor in is the cost of these natural disasters. Based on the evidence we’re seeing, what we do now is going to have an impact and a cost down the road if we don’t do something about it.”
How disappointing it is to hear a leader predicting our regrets, rather than envisioning solutions.