When Obama opened his mouth to speak about climate change during the State of the Union last night, my heart skipped a beat. Maybe it was the way that Joe Biden rocketed out of his chair to applaud, or the way that John Boehner’s face soured as if he had taken a bite of stale Freedom Fries. Maybe it was born of a “what’s next?” feeling after Obama planted a flag on the issue during his inaugural address, or that the Twittersphere had been engulfed in an orgy of speculation about how the #SOTU would ratchet climate politics into high gear. Whatever it was that got my blood pumping, I should have known better. The speech turned out to be “weak sauce”, as the kids say these days.
(video of relevant sections for State of the Union, enhanced with charts!)
Okay, sure, it wasn’t a terrible speech, it did contain a few good notes. Obama outlined his plan to cut home and business energy use in half over the next 20 years, and hinted at building vehicles that run on alternative fuels. He declared himself unwilling to wait for Congress to pass climate change legislation, vowing to use his executive powers to advance the cause where he could. One part I found particularly interesting was his decision to stoke America’s fear of China’s economic might, particularly regarding solar power. Perhaps he believes that rivalry might prove a better motivator for conservatives who seem unmoved by the job growth and planetary well-being that renewable energies provide?
Positives aside, the speech felt like a lackluster, time-wasting affair…at best a warmed-over version of his inaugural address. Any objective look at the science reveals that climate change demands an urgent, transformational response. So when Obama continues to promote domestic drilling for oil and gas, it makes me feel like he either doesn’t get it, or he’s too timid to lay out the harsh realities to the American public. His messaging about “our children and grandchildren” is dangerously misleading, as it frames the issue as a future threat rather than a matter of outright survival for those alive today. His go-to line, “we need to do more”, implies that we’re doing something of consequence right now, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. When a football team is way behind in the 4th quarter, the coach doesn’t fire up the team with “we need to do more”, he screams at the top of his lungs, begging his squad for some guts and fury.
I won’t be satisfied until I see guts and fury from Obama. With the window for action rapidly closing, last night’s speech was another squandered opportunity to flip the narrative on climate change. Obama had a real chance to plant his feet and launch forward, but he still sounds like he’s trying to justify the issue to the country (a country that overwhelming gets it by now, I might add, all Republican arm-flapping aside). We need to move beyond this, and we need to do it fast.
Weak sauce, Mr. President. Weak sauce.