Obama's once soaring climate rhetoric crash lands

Barack Obama has listed climate change as a priority and a matter of urgency. But his most recent comments cast into grave doubt the likelihood of strong action from America in the near-term.

Climate Progress

Once upon a time there was a second term president who understood that the science was in on the danger posed by carbon pollution.

This visionary understood “heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense” as he made clear in his State of The Union Address: “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.”

This leader spoke boldly of our moral obligation to act on climate in his second inaugural address:

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

But, lo, a few months passed and he visited the Jersey Shore, much of which is still rebuilding from superstorm Sandy, yet his extended remarks made no mention whatsoever of climate change.

Then, just yesterday, he offered up these lame comments at a California fundraiser:

When it comes to what I think will be one of the most important decisions that we make as a nation — this generation makes — the issue of climate change,we’re not going to be able to make those changes solely through a bunch of individual decisions that are made. We’re going to have to make some collective decisions about how much do we care about this when the science is irrefutable. And that means government is going to have a role to play in helping to organize clean energy research, and making sure that we’re taking into account the pollution that we’re sending into the air and that we’re encouraging new ways of delivering energy and using it more efficiently. We’re going to have a role to play.

“We’re going to have to make some collective decisions about how much do we care about this when the science is irrefutable…. We’re going to have a role to play”? What the hell happened to the guy who said:

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.

This latest Presidential gobbledygook sounds a lot like preemptive cover-your-ass DC-speak for “I’m going to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”

And what the heck does this even mean: “when the science is irrefutable”? The fossil-fuel-funded disinformers already refute the irrefutable and will do so long past the time it is too late to stop catastrophe. What happened to the guy who spoke of accepting “the overwhelming judgment of science”?

For the record, the National Academy of Sciences explained back in 2010 that man-made global warming is a “settled fact“:

From a philosophical perspective, science never proves anything—in the manner that mathematics or other formal logical systems prove things—because science is fundamentally based on observations.

Any scientific theory is thus, in principle, subject to being refined or overturned by new observations.

In practical terms, however, scientific uncertainties are not all the same. Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small.

Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.

Since 2010, the science attributing the unequivocal warming of the planet to fossil-fuel pollution has grown even stronger. It’s now considered “highly likely” that all of the observed warming since 1950 is manmade (and “extremely likely” that most of the warming is manmade).

Climate science keeps getting stronger — as does our warming-driven extreme weather — but Obama’s rhetoric and moral urgency appears to be getting weaker and weaker.

This article was originally published by Climate Progress. Republished with permission.