Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama says nation 'will respond to the threat of climate change' to preserve economy, resources

In an inaugural speech that resembled a State of the Union address, President Obama devoted a full paragraph to climate change, an issue from which he largely steered clear in his re-election bid.

"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," Obama said. "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. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."

John Harris and Jonathan Martin of Politico call the address "the most ideologically ambitious speech since Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address" in 1981. "If Obama wanted to create a mandate for new government action on climate change, he could have talked about it prominently in the campaign, including in manufacturing states like Ohio. But he neglected to do that," they write, adding that on climate change and gun control, "A key brake on Obama’s goals will be lawmakers in his own party concerned about their own prospects in moderate districts. A related question is whether — even if changing demographics and changing times have dislodged the center-right consensus that has framed politics for the past 40 years — a federal government with record deficits and a still weak economy can support Obama’s ambitions." UPDATE, Jan. 23: Harris writes about what Obama omitted, and the risks of such a speech.

NPR reported yesterday, "One of the chief expectations of those who voted for President Obama is that he moves assertively to pass climate change legislation, whatever the political climate in Washington." Harvard University political scientist Theda Skocpol, who recently analyzed the failure of cap-and-trade legislation, told NPR's Jackie Lyden that she "is pessimistic about any sort of climate change legislation before the midterm elections in 2014. She does, however, think preparation is necessary." (Read more)

There wasn't much else in Obama's 2,100-word speech that had rural resonance, our general standard for inclusion on The Rural Blog, except his call for immigration reform, which agricultural interests generally favor. The president concluded his paragraph about immigration, gay rights, voting access and children by saying, "Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm." (He pronounced the region "Appa-LAY-cha." In Appalachia, Va., they say "Appa-LATCH-a," and so does this YouTube video.) For the full text of the speech, via Politico, go here. The White House web page for speeches is here.

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