Obama's Climate Speech Helps America Grow Up (and "Eat Our Vegetables")

Obama's Climate Speech Helps America Grow Up (and "Eat Our Vegetables")

Remember when you were little and your parents told you that you had to eat your vegetables because they’re good for you? But broccoli be damned, you weren’t listening to that crazy talk. Hot dogs and chicken nuggets hadn’t caused you to wither away, yet. But as we grew older, we learned that a healthy diet, coupled with exercise, were still the best and simplest instructions to staying healthy. Maybe it took you a while to get there, but everyone grows up eventually.

After Obama’s speech on climate change earlier this week, it would seem like America has finally learned to eat its vegetables.

For all of us that have been working on the climate change for quite some time now, none of the solutions put on the table in Obama’s “Climate Action Plan” weren’t anything we haven’t heard before- make the EPA decide on pollution standards, increase efficiencies on energy, swap dirty sources of fuel for clean ones, etc. But just like diet and exercise are the fundamentals of reducing weight, mitigation and adaptation are still the basic tenets of reducing carbon pollution and becoming more resilient to the impacts of climate change. There is no “diet pill” out there, no “magic bullet” to solving climate change- and it’s a big step in our favor to have the White House finally come out and take a strong stance on the issue.

It was mighty impressive to watch Obama use just about every imperative argument in the book: we need to be world leaders in clean energy, we need to preserve the planet for future generations, economy and environment need not be at odds with each other, there is a rising toll associated with extreme weather, and so on. Someone’s been listening!

He touched on the Keystone XL pipeline saying, “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is to go forward,” and will only be beneficial to the nation if it, “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

While there’s still a bit of wiggle room in those statements (let’s remember carbon omissions were omitted from the State Department’s latest assessment), if climate change is truly becoming a priority for this administration, then that’s a strong statement in favor of vetoing the pipeline.

Sure, there were also cringeworthy moments. Natural gas fracking is a dangerous, creaky bridge that many would argue we don’t actually need to get to a clean energy economy. Alongside the talk about the Clean Air Act, I would have liked to have heard calls for closing the loopholes that allow technologies like fracking to squeak through without consequence.

Also disappointing was the fact that cable news networks barely, if at all, gave air time to the speech.  One graphic from Think Progress illustrated that the network with the least amount of time, MSNBC, showed only 41 seconds of the President’s address, while CNN ranked higher with just an awe-inspiring 8 minutes and 5 seconds.

Yet, so often it’s easy to nitpick and focus on the lacking. But while we shouldn’t let these weaknesses go, let’s also not let them overtake our newfound momentum.

And that faint sound you’re hearing? That’s the sound of climate deniers bleating in the distance as their arguments against chemistry and physics continue to vaporize into the hot air. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” was one of favorite quotes of speech. Perhaps calling out the deniers is especially biting considering other branches of government still harbor quite a few of them. While there will still be deniers a plenty in the future ahead, this is a key moment for combating science disinformation.

So how do we move forward? Firstly, this is not an excuse to sit down and assume the ball will keep rolling on its own. Let’s use this as an inspiring moment to keep pushing these messages out- there is a scientific consensus on the fact that the planet is warming and it’s human-caused, we need to reduce pollution, and we need to make preparations for what’s to come. Activists and communicators will continue to push policy and organize communities.

And hopefully, now that we have words from the President, we will see action from the government as well.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user 350.org