Why the Obama climate speech has everyone talking

A speech overnight by US President Barack Obama represented his strongest stance yet on climate change action and it could be remembered fondly as a turning point in global climate policy.

Climate Progress

The full Barack Obama speech can be found here.

Obama delivered a real stemwinder on the moral urgency of cutting carbon pollution. So of course Politico reports, “Cable news skips Obama’s climate speech.”

The president surprised everyone by bringing up the Keystone XL pipeline, even though aides had said he wouldn’t. Obama left his Administration very little room for approving it. Heck, he even called them “tar sands”–a phrase that ‘oil sands’ advocates never use.

And Obama gave Climate Hawks a new slogan: “Invest, divest.”

Climatologist Michael Mann said of the speech, “It is the most aggressive and promising climate plan to come out of the executive branch in years and President Obama should be applauded for the bold leadership he has shown in confronting the climate change threat head on.”

This is such an impressive and well-crafted speech, with many lines you will want to quote again and again. It’s hard to say what the best part was, but we knew yesterday that he was going to put on the table a plan to meet his Copenhagen target of a 17 per cent reduction in carbon pollution by 2005, including regulations for existing power plants.

He also offered a terrific push back against the pessimists who don’t believe Americans and American businesses are up to the challenge of solving this problem:

The problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it’s a – (inaudible) – a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity. (Applause.)

You know, these critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can’t or they won’t do it. They’ll just kind of give up and quit. But in America, we know that’s not true. Look at our history.

And just yesterday, Climate Progress argued, “Obama Should Tell Ex-Im Bank To Move Beyond Coal” and Obama responded, “Today, I’m calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas – unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity.”

But for me the best part was perhaps the least expected, where he calls on young people, indeed on all Americans, to become climate hawks and create a nationwide climate movement:

I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society. (Cheers, applause.)

Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm. And ultimately, we will be judged as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from here.

Our founders believed that those of us in positions of power are elected not just to serve as custodians of the present, but as caretakers of the future. And they charged us to make decisions with an eye on a longer horizon than the arc of our own political careers. That’s what the American people expect. That’s what they deserve. And someday our children and our children’s children will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could, when we had the chance, to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don’t you want that? (Cheers, applause.)

Americans are not a people who look backwards. We’re a people who look forward. We’re not a people who fear what the future holds; we shape it.

What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up and speak up and compel us to do what this moment demands. Understand, this is not just a job for politicians. So I’m going to need all of you, to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends.

Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future. (Applause.)

Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. (Applause.) Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. (Applause.) Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.

And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote! Make yourself heard on this issue. (Cheers, applause.)

In short, become climate hawks, become single issue voters on the issue. Invest in clean energy, divest from dirty energy.

Yes, there are legitimate questions about why someone who understands the science and the morality of the issue so well didn’t give this speech four years ago. And Obama himself hasn’t fully divested from fossil fuels – he still praises domestic oil and gas production. But these are matters for a later post.

Right now, Obama deserves kudos for delivering a inspiring and substantive speech. If he truly follows through on it, if he keeps speaking out, if he puts in place EPA regulations that would enable the 17 per cent cut, and if his Secretary of State negotiates a global climate deal, then this speech will certainly be remembered as a turning point for the climate issue.

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