Will Obama's second term free him to take bold action on climate change?

Illustration for article titled Will Obama's second term free him to take bold action on climate change?

The election results indicate it's a win for Obama — but is it a win for climate science? Maybe. Will it be a more central piece of an Obama presidency than a Romney one? Most definitely. Romney's willingness to mock sea level rise (here's the soundbite, in case you somehow missed it being played on repeat in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy) suggests that's all but certain. But how much action can we expect from Obama, really?


Over at The Guardian's Environment Blog, Damian Carrington takes a look at some of the factors of a second presidential term term that could either embolden or discourage Obama from addressing climate change in meaningful ways.

"A second-term President is unencumbered by the need to seek re-election, meaning - in theory - he is free to be bold," says Carrington. "Furthermore, it is a clear advantage to have a president who understands the threat climate change leading the world's biggest historical polluter in the make-or-break year of 2015. That is when the globe's nations must finally hammer out an international deal to combat global warming."

And history would suggest that Obama does recognize the threats posed by climate change. As Think Progress's Joe Romm points out, Obama has set a precedent for future presidencies by "articulating in stark terms" the significance of clean, sustainable energy policy:

In April 2009, he said, "The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline." In October 2009, he said at MIT, "There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy - when it's the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs."

At the same time, Obama has surrounded himself with scientists who are intimately familiar with the threats posed by climate change, including his secretary of energy, Nobel laureate Steven Chu, and what Nature has described as a "star-studded dream team" of scientists:

Marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco would head the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration... and physicist John Holdren would be Obama's science adviser and head the Office of Science and Technology Policy. They joined Lisa Jackson, a respected chemical engineer with political experience, who had been named to run the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After taking office, the president completed the team by appointing geneticist Francis Collins at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)... and geophysicist Marcia McNutt at the US Geological Survey.


"Never before," notes the illustrious scientific journal, "had a president assembled such a strong crop of researchers to lead his science agencies."

Illustration for article titled Will Obama's second term free him to take bold action on climate change?

But Obama and his scientific dream team have been surprisingly tight-lipped about climate change in recent years, including this most recent one, which saw an unprecedented, climate-change-enhanced storm in Hurricane Sandy, record-setting drought, and both the hottest month and hottest 12-month period in recorded history. Some have argued that this silence can be tied back to a decision made by the administration in 2009 that climate science was simply "not a winning political message."


Hurricane Sandy, of course, has helped return climate change to the fore of America's mind — and may have even helped Obama fend off Romney in the days leading up to yesterday's election. Obama even gave a shout out to global warming in last night's victory speech, noting that "we want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."


But if we want results, Obama and his team will need to act, and independently of climate change's status as a "winning political message." Fingers crossed for some stick-toitiveness this go around.



Just as bold as his action to close Guantanamo!

Yes, I'm glad he one, but for probably many reasons, bold action was not the staple of his first term....