Yesterday afternoon Barack Obama gave his first major climate address to the nation. While many environmentalists jumped for joy, I found myself singularly unimpressed — the speech lacked any real sense of urgency, mired in the same plodding, informative language that convinces few of the seriousness of the problem, much less compels them to act. So I decided to write him the speech he should have given. Enjoy.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of Congress, my fellow Americans…
We are at war.
Now I speak not of our fledgling war on obesity, in which my beautiful wife Michelle and legislators across this great nation seek to instill better eating habits in America’s youth. Nor do I speak of our failed War on Drugs, now in its 42nd year and costing billions of dollars to treat sick people like criminals without bringing us any closer to a solution. And no I’m not talking about the War on Terrorism, the pursuit of which has seen us sacrifice thousands of American lives and many of the morals and civil liberties we hold most dear.
The war I speak of is bigger than all of these combined. This war already costs the world trillions of dollars every year, and threatens to wipe out every last human being on Earth. Our enemy in this war is ruthless, showing no remorse as it poisons our air, razes our crops, and destroys our cities. Our enemy is also cunning, as it disguises its attacks, seeds chaos around the globe and makes us turn on one another. Above all, our foe is deadly: every year it claims 400,000 lives, including 1000 children each day. 1000 children a day…think about that. Our enemy inflicts all of this damage, and yet collectively we can barely utter its name.
That changes today.
Here, on the world stage, I declare to the American people that we are indeed under attack, and we will not sit by while our very existence is threatened. The real enemy at the gates — the one that threatens all life on planet Earth — is climate change.
Are you surprised? Have we been blind? I admit to being complicit in our silence, and for that I must apologize to you, the American people. While certainly I have raised climate change as an issue over the years, I have done woefully little to address the issue while in office. My sin is perhaps even greater than those that deny the existence of climate change at all! For in the pursuit of political gain I have lulled many to sleep by giving the impression that real progress was being made.
Well, you should hear it from me first: we are losing this war. Badly. It should be of little surprise, because we’re hardly bothering to fight. And we’re not fighting because ours is not the language of war. We cannot continue to talk about the problem as if it can be fixed with incremental laws and energy efficient light bulbs. We cannot continue to talk about the problem as if it occurs in some nebulous future to be visited only by our children and grandchildren. This war is unfolding all around us, here, today. And we are losing.
Need I remind you what’s at stake? The world is currently on a path to increase global temperatures by more than 10°F this century. This temperature increase is more than enough for the oceans to swallow our cities, stop food from growing, and doom to extinction most of the world’s animal species. Climate change could be no more destructive were it an alien invasion or a cataclysmic meteor strike…for all intents and purposes it’s the end of human civilization.
Think about that for a moment. Unless we win this war, you will be one of the last people that will ever walk the Earth. Your children may not survive to middle age. All of the beauty, culture and knowledge humanity has unlocked will be returned to the ether from whence it came. This is the real meaning of climate change. This is why we fight.
With this unthinkable scenario looming over us, it should be clear that this is not an issue for future generations, it is a problem for us. It is from our wallets that come the trillions of dollars needed to clean up disasters and rebuild homes. Those losing their lives to floods, fires, drought and storms are our neighbors, friends and relatives. As our crops wither on the vine, those who cannot afford to eat are our brothers and sisters, and their suffering diminishes us all in the eyes of God.
We are at war, and as such it will take nothing less than warlike levels of mobilization and money to prevail.
Hearing that, you might despair to look at today’s dysfunction in Washington and think us weak and divided. And you’d be right. But consider the lessons of World War II. In hindsight it might seem absurd, but even with the Nazi war machine decimating Europe, the American public was split over whether to enter the war. Congressmen debated the issue heatedly, calling one another liars and traitors. America was as divided as it had ever been.
And then, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Overnight, the bickering ceased. Now there were no traitors, no liars, only fellow citizens united in common defense of the homeland. Industry kicked into overdrive and unemployment disappeared overnight. So too vanished the timidity and half measures proposed at the time — within weeks the country had repurposed the auto industry to make weapons of war, encouraged citizens to salvage materials for the war effort, and instructed people towards self-sufficiency by growing Victory Gardens.
And the people responded! Young people, ask your grandparents what it was like. No one complained of having to do with less, people were happy to sacrifice for the good of the nation. Citizens thought not of themselves, but of their loved ones in harms way and the greater goal towards which we all strove. Then, as in the months after 9/11, we were a country strong, united, and resolute.
Well ladies and gentlemen, climate change has inflicted Pearl Harbor-level damage several times over, we have just been too foolish to respond until now. Wildfires out west are destroying hundreds of homes and sending thousands fleeing for their lives. The drought that blankets America has obliterated our corn crop and drastically raised everyone’s food bills. Hurricane Sandy brought the East Coast to its knees and brought scenes from disaster movies to real life. And every other country on Earth is experiencing the same thing…the world’s weather is changing rapidly, and humanity is squarely in its crosshairs.
We have been asleep, but now we are awake.
So, as your commander in chief, I charge each and every American with a task: discuss the issue at the dinner table tonight. Talk about climate change, internalize the threat, talk about what it means for your loved ones, your country, and the world. In the coming days I will be rolling out a national defense plan with specific proposals, as well as ways for every American to get involved directly. Between now and then, work to understand what we’re up against, to feel it, to make it real. Then you will be ready for what comes next.
Earth is our home. That bright blue ball rising over the moon’s surface, containing everything we hold dear — the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity — that’s what at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. The battle against climate change is the battle that will define humanity for the rest of time, and each and every one of you is a soldier on the front lines. Future generations will judge us by the decisions we make here, and I have no doubt that together we will prevail and birth a new world of peace and harmony.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless these United States of America.