Optimism and climate in the SOTU

I have read a few places this morning about the optimism felt in some circles regarding President Obama’ s State of the Union, and his comments on climate change. Optimism and climate change are infrequent bedfellows. Which is no reason for despondency, or worse, apathy, regarding our climate trouble.

But if optimism is possible, it would seem that Obama’s SOTU remarks might create it. For the first time in quite a while, an American President used the force of the Office of the Presidency (one of the most powerful forces in the world) to claim that action on climate change is necessary, and lack of action is a failure of the future. Here are the President’s words:

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.
Now the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

If you (like me) are working hard for and devoted to seeing the climate change threat tackled, these words are not exactly indicative of the sweet sounds of success. Like every conversation in American Politics, jobs outweighs all other consideration, and here too this is the case. Still. President Obama makes a forthright acknowledgment that the real world has shifted, and something new is now underway. And this something new will be, is already  a threat to our future, and doing nothing simply cannot be an option.

A reoccurring theme in the SOTU was the broken nature of congress. If you won’t, or can’t, get something done, the President told the nation’s legislators, then I will. If there is cause for climate optimism in the President’s speech, it is in this notion: “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”


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