January 26, 2015

The State of the Climate, According to Obama

Posted by elandau

On Tuesday night, the president carried on the time-honored tradition of appearing before Congress and delivering the State of the Union address. So what exactly did he say?

White HouseThe President spent a full two minutes discussing the topic of climate change, which is pretty lengthy considering the totality of individual issues mentioned in a typical SOTU address. Notably, the president called out United States leadership in combating climate change:

“In Beijing, we made an historic announcement – the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up.”

What shouldn’t be forgotten however is that the U.S. doesn’t just have an opportunity to be a leader in mitigating the effects of climate change – it also has the ability to be a leader in providing the best climate science. By investing in all aspects of climate science research, from the instruments that gather data to the researchers who spent countless hours running experiments and crunching data, the U.S. can be a global standard-bearer in providing the tools that international decision makers will need to face the challenge posed by climate change.

And on the topic of climate, we were very happy to see that the president’s climate change prediction was both measured and in line with scientific data when he said:

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.”

This is, surprisingly, just an unpacked version of AGU’s own position statement on climate change titled “Human Induced Climate Change Requires Urgent Action.

One last thing on the climate front: we were pretty excited when the president stood up for the climate scientists by saying:

“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.”

After a years worth of “I’m not a scientist, but…” bandied about both on and off Capitol Hill, it’s nice to hear the President’s blunt rebuttal. There’s just one issue we have with the second sentence; A LOT of scientists in multiple agencies (NSF, USGS, Department of Energy) conduct climate change research. That’s to say nothing of the important (and awesome) work being done at the United States Global Climate Research Program.

Now we just hope to see the President following through on these priorities in his upcoming budget request. As Vice President Joe Biden once intoned, “don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” In other words, the President’s budget proposal for FY 2016 will be unveiled on 2 February 2015, and we hope it includes support for the climate research and other science he mentioned in his speech. We will see what the president truly values in a few weeks.