Wednesday January 23, 2013

In his second inaugural address on Monday, President Obama prominently mentioned two issues never focused on in previous presidential inaugural addresses -- gay rights and climate change. His message on climate change mirrored the tone of his whole address -- both immediate and also taking a long view.

"We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges," he said. "We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall."

Climate change injected itself into Mr. Obama’s successful race for a second term with the impact of "superstorm" Sandy on coastal New Jersey and New York, and once again moved into the forefront of national issues, after having not been mentioned much at all in the presidential race against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," the president said Monday. "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.


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"The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult," he added. "But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."

Here in Vermont, both a host of environmental groups and state officials and government agencies take the threat of man-made climate change seriously. Earlier this month, a study indicated that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the U.S., eclipsing the previous record by a whole degree, an unprecedented jump. Similarly, Vermont had its hottest year ever in 2012, one of 19 U.S. states to do so, including neighboring New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts. Over time, a warming climate could have devastating effects on Vermont’s winter sports and maple syrup industries.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issued a statement on Tuesday praising the president’s support for action on climate change. "The president is right to make action on global warming a central goal of his administration. The overwhelming scientific consensus is clear. Unless we take bold action soon the temperature of our planet could rise by up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. That would be catastrophic," he said.

Sanders said that in February he will introduce comprehensive legislation to charge fossil fuel corporations fees for carbon pollution, end fossil fuel subsidies, and make unprecedented investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. His legislation would also give Americans a rebate to offset price hikes by fossil fuel companies.

As if to punctuate this release, Sanders on Tuesday posted on Facebook: "Who are the scientists denying climate change?" This post features the resumes -- including funding by and research for the fossil fuel industry -- of six such scientists. Within two hours of, this post had 501 "likes," 99 comments and had been shared 416 times.

While we agree with Sen. Sanders in his urgency, such deniers of human-caused climate change and the fossil fuel industry they serve still hold much sway over both national Republicans and conservative Democrats in coal states, making definitive action matching the level of the crisis unlikely in the next two years. 

Additionally, President Obama has such issues as gun control, immigration reform, job creation and the long-term fiscal health of the country to wrestle with Republicans over first. This is where the long view comes in, and in his inaugural address the president was putting human-caused climate change firmly back on the national agenda for what promises to be a long-term twilight struggle for a healthy planet.

~Mark Rondeau