President Obama Provides Hard Truths about Climate Change

In June, leaders of the G7, including President Obama, made false claims about climate change. Now, a few months later, President Obama is at last speaking more forthrightly. His honesty is welcome.

Visiting Alaska to highlight the challenge of climate change, President Obama said on August 31, “We’re not acting fast enough,” a statement he repeated four times during his speech. He also pointed to people’s psychology as one important barrier, saying, “Let’s be honest; there’s always been an argument against taking action. We don’t want our lifestyles disrupted. The irony, of course, is that few things will disrupt our lives as profoundly as climate change.” (And a similar irony is that experts say if we had taken action several decades ago both disruption to people’s lives and the cost of ameliorating climate change would have been far less significant than they will be if we were to act decisively now.)

On the same day, Secretary of State John Kerry compared the dangers of climate change to the dangers of World War II, when “all of Europe was overrun by evil and civilization itself seemed to be in peril.” And the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Dr. John Holdren, said that if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced soon, temperatures could rise 7 degrees, causing catastrophic changes (per World Bank reports discussed earlier on this blog). Without action, the President said, “we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair.”

Has an American President ever spoken so bluntly about the risks of climate change? Not that I recall. Unfortunately, it has taken many decades for such straight talk to be delivered by a President. And yet even now it is not clear that enough political leaders in the U.S. and other nations will move beyond talk by quickly agreeing to and implementing policy changes.

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