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Tuning Up the President's Message on Climate Change

Was it just me or did President Obama sound unprepared for a question on climate change at his press conference on Wednesday? Considering climate change is a top national issue, I was expecting a much stronger response from the President. Here’s a breakdown of the three things he flubbed and my perspective on how to tune up the President’s message on the issue.

  1. “We can’t attribute any particular weather event to climate change.” – The President’s opening line was a major missed opportunity. While technically true, it’s politically tone deaf. 

    What we should have heard: “Hurricane Sandy showed the nation what the real cost of extreme weather can be. Scientists agree that with climate change we can expect a rise in the number and severity of these kinds of events.”

  2. “I am a firm believer that climate change is real” – This sentence commits two classic communications errors that play right into the hands of climate deniers. First, the sentence establishes the idea that belief in climate change is a personal choice. Second, making the assertion that climate change is “real” suggests that the opposite is also a possibility. Think about it. Would you assert your belief that gravity is real? Of course not.

    A better approach reminds listeners that climate change is no longer in question: “The evidence is clear and an overwhelming majority of scientists agree that our planet’s climate is changing, it’s caused by an increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and that increase is a direct result of burning fossil fuels.”

  3. “I think the American people right now have been so focused…on our economy and jobs and growth that…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 again commits the mistake of accepting the opposition’s framework that the cost of addressing climate change is bad for the economy and jobs.

    As today’s industrial outlook report showed, the cost of extreme weather is a risk to our economy with Hurricane Sandy reducing our performance by almost 1%. And as the recent National Solar Jobs Census shows, solar industry jobs have grown 13% over the last year to employ 119,000 Americans.

    Here’s what the president should have said , “Hurricane Sandy has shown us just how costly climate change can be. Failing to take action on climate change exposes our economy and jobs to unacceptable risk. We have an obligation to protect our children’s future by taking concrete steps now to address it. Furthermore putting the right policies in place will position our nation’s industries for leadership in clean business and technologies globally.”

Overall, I think the President’s answer reflected an ‘inside the beltway’ assessment of the political landscape. His approach understimates the will of the American people to do something about climate change. The public opinion numbers are clear. Since 2010, the number of Americans who believe in climate change has increased by 13%. And that correlates with the 88% of registered voters who support government action on global warming even it had a negative impact on our economy (Yale & George Mason University).

Mr. President, Americans want leadership on climate change and the political conditions are lining up to support action. Rather than rehashing the debates of the past, it’s time to engage the country in a constructive and aspirational discussion of our responsibility to future generations and to embrace our historic passion for meeting big challenges with American ingenuity.



Arno Harris's picture

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Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on Nov 17, 2012 5:33 pm GMT

"Considering climate change is a top national issue, I was expecting a much stronger response from the President."

Wondering if Arno has been paying attention the last four years.

1) In the spring after Obama was sworn in, the administration held a meeting with activists to explain that mentioning climate change was taboo; instead, they would play up the green jobs angle.

2) After the BP oil well fiasco in 2010, the administration had a chance to make the case for action in an Oval Office address but did not, even though Democrats held both houses of Congress and a climate bill had passed in the House.

3) In late 2011, the administration tried to postpone a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the election.  When Republicans forced the issue, the administration rejected the application early the next year but left an opening for a later approval.  No mention of climate change.

4) During three presidential debates, climate change was never brought up by Obama.

What is surprising is why anybody expects definitive leadership from the president on this issue.


David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Nov 17, 2012 11:08 pm GMT

The climate issue just isn’t important enough to Obama or his advisors for them to bother to come up with a thought he can repeat when cornered that is consistent with the facts.

Obama's statement In his acceptance speech delivered to the Democratic Party National Convention, and again at this press conference, demonstrate this.  

At the convention:  “And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet”.  

And at this press conference:  “Now in my first term, we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. That will have an impact. That will take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere…. And we continue to invest in potential breakthrough technologies that could further remove carbon from our atmosphere.”

The CO2 concentration of the atmosphere continues to increase, and Obama speaks as if he hasn't a clue.  

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