Obama made no mention of climate change in his state of the union speech, appearing to signal a shift by White House
The Guardian 1/26/11
Barack Obama has paid less attention to climate change in his State of the Union addresses than any other president in the past 20 years, an analysis by a British researcher has found.
Obama made no mention of the words climate change, global warming or environment in his hour-long speech on Tuesday night – when presidents typically employ the pomp and ceremony of the annual occasion to put forward their priorities before an American television audience in the tens of millions.
Aggregate mentions of 'climate change', 'global warming' and the 'environment' in the state of the union address since 1990. The omission was in stark contrast to the presidential candidate who campaigned in 2008 warning of the existential threat posed by climate change.
But even before the speech, however, Obama was exhibiting a reluctance to use the state of the union to make an explicit reference to the issue of climate change, Matthew Hope, a researcher in American politics at the University of Bristol found.
In last night's speech, Obama did devote several minutes to the economic opportunities presented by innovations in clean energy, and the convenience that would come through developing high-speed rail. He repeated his 2009 commitment – endorsed by all G20 leaders – to end fossil fuel subsidies. "Instead of subsidising yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's," Obama said.
But in his three such addresses since becoming president, he has on average made fewer mentions of climate change or the environment than Bill Clinton or even George Bush.
"Clearly they have decided climate change is a no-go area," Hope said.
The choice of language for the most recent speech appears to signal a strategic shift by the White House. In a conversation with reporters today, Nancy Sutley, the White House council on environmental quality, avoided mention of climate change – though offering assurances Obama remained committed to the cause of clean energy. The White House has also removed reference to climate change from its website.
On average, Obama has mentioned the words environment, climate change and global warming only once in his state of the union speeches. Clinton had an average of six mentions, while the former oil man Bush – who famously used his 2006 speech to lament America's addiction to oil – mentioned climate change and environment on average twice.
The researcher rated the speeches only on the mention of the terms environment, climate change, and global warming. He did not track mention of related issues such as green jobs, or clean tech.
Hope in his study goes on to note that Obama appears to be on a downward trajectory in regard to mention of climate change.
Robert Brulle, a professor in sociology and environment science at Drexel University, said the administration appeared to be following the advice of ecoAmerica and the Breakthrough Institute which argue that reframing the problem of climate change as an energy quest would be more popular with voters.
"In my opinion, this approach has several major drawbacks," Brulle wrote in an email. He called the White House strategy intellectually dishonest and short-sighted.
"The only real reason to transform our energy systems is to address GHG emissions. But by failing to even acknowledge the threat posed by climate change, the reasoning for an energy transformation is very thin."
Despite his choice of language, Obama to date has done more than Bush or Clinton to address global warming. But Brulle warned: "Taking a technology-only approach without meaningful mechanisms to drive adoption of renewable energy means further delay in initiating the massive GHG reductions that are needed to deal with climate change."
Liberal bloggers suggested this morning that it was naive of Obama to think he could persuade Americans to act on climate change without talking about it. "I do continue to think that it is both pointless and foolish, catastrophically so, in fact, for him to refuse to talk about global warming or climate change with so much of America watching," Joe Romm, who runs the Climate Progress blog at the Centre for American Progress said.
There has been increasing concern among environmental organisations that Obama is prepared to give up on greenhouse gas measures so as to try to build better relationships with Republicans in Congress and the business community.
Such fears were amplified by Obama's failure to use his speech to signal his support for the Environmental Protection Agency, which is under assault from Republicans.
Obama instead reaffirmed a pledge last week to do away with overly complicated environmental regulations, making a joke about the bureaucracy involving salmon.
The announcement before the speech that Carol Browner, the energy and climate change adviser, is to leave the White House has also heightened fears that Obama has given up on his campaign promise to take action on climate change.
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