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What Will the President Say on Climate Change? State of the Union Today

Where will energy policy and climate change figure in today’s crucial State of the Union address? Weather conditions put Connecticut into a state of emergency yesterday. Severe and extreme weather conditions have caused huge difficulties in the past year. Lives have been lost, property has been destroyed, economic activity has been damaged. Climate change is on the political map and the time for mere words is long gone. We need to hear about specific policies and actions and then we need to see them take effect.

So, what are we being told we might hear later today?

Last week, President Obama told House Democrats:

“I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America,”

USA Today is predicting a speech concentrating on jobs, the economy and budgets with an attempt to pressurize Republicans over budget issues. They think gun control, climate change and immigration will get a mention but with an emphasis on jobs and economy. For example, investment in clean energy as a means of creating jobs and also tackling climate change.

This is all well and good and if it is properly done can have significant benefit to both the economy and climate. However, more targeted measures are needed to directly address the problems of global warming and soaring carbon emissions.

The Daily Climate cites many occasions when environmental issues and policies were flagged up in major speeches only to fade away in the world of real politics. Clinton, Reagan, Nixon and both George Bush senior and junior made claims which fell by the wayside. Roosevelt with his U.S. Forest Service of 1905 and Lyndon Johnson with his advanced policies on clean air and water seem to be the Presidents who were most capable of turning their words into action on environmental issues. In his Special Message to Congress in 1965, Johnson made the following statement:

“This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

The issue of radioactive materials has seen big progress. CO2? Not so much. Is it perhaps because radioactive material is so much more frightening? Have the sea, the ice, the rain, the drought and fires not frightened us enough yet?

It is being reported that White House aides have told environmental groups:

“you are going to like what you hear”

Let’s hope so but, more importantly, let’s hope we will be in a position to like what we see happening. With environmental groups questioning lawmakers’ stomachs for legislation on environmental issues and with recent lessons on the dangers of making bold claims, this one calls for real leadership.

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