It happened quickly, and almost silently, but today the United States entered a new era of leadership on energy and climate.
In a video addressed to the more than 600 leaders convened in Los Angeles for the opening sessions of the Global Climate Summit, President-elect Barack Obama stated his conviction in climate change. This was the first time, as the future president, and his conviction could not have been clearer. To open, he said:
"Few challenges facing America, and the world, are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute, and the facts are clear."
With this statement alone -- a clear throated acceptance of the basic science of climate change -- Obama did two things: he wiped away the ruinous environmental legacy of George W. Bush, and opened the door onto a new era of domestic energy policy and international climate agreements. No doubt, the forthcoming climate negotiations at Poznan and Copenhagen were made easier by Obama's remarks.
For those who have labored to raise awareness, to lobby congress, and to push through tough but equitable climate policy, Obama's statement comes with great relief. For the past eight years, President Bush has resided over a kind of Dark Ages in regards to climate change. For years, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, he denied the science. His Administration's systematically set out to gut environmental law. He cultivated a culture of distrust of science. As a result, we lost eight years that could have been devoted to substantive policy. As a result, we've lost more of our natural world than we'll ever know.
It is for these reasons, and more, that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said, "George W. Bush will go down in history as America's worst environmental president." The article was called "Crimes Against Nature." It appeared in Rolling Stone.
The anticipation regarding Obama's climate policy has followed the arc of his election: they have run very, very high. And now, we find Obama plans to deliver substantive action on what can only be described as a leading national priority.
Throughout the campaign, Obama indicated that energy and climate were to rank high on his agenda. In his acceptance speech, Obama described the challenges facing this country as the "greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century." He talked about "new energy to harness, new jobs to be created." And then, following his victory, went into much deserved silence.
Today, his remarks clarified his position. His administration will ground its energy and climate policy with a regard not only for science, but for the broad spectrum of domestic issues that fall under the umbrella of climate and energy. In today's remarks, he made his position very clear:
"My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security, and create millions of new jobs in the process."
This pairing of national security and economy echoed where he began his remarks:
"Sea levels are rising. Coasts are shrinking. We've seen record droughts, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season. Climate change, and our dependence on foreign oil, will continue to weaken our economy, and threaten our national security."
To be clear, Obama's remarks were not addressed exclusively to the climate community -- to the NGOs, scientists, policy makers and citizens who already share his conviction. He addressed a number of different segments of the population.
He spoke to businesses, saying that any company willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington.
To governors, he said that anyone willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House.
And to delegates of the international climate community, he said: "Your work is vital to the planet... Once I take office, you can be sure that the Untied States will participate vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward an era of global cooperation on climate change."
To close, he ended on a note of clear conviction.
"Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences too serious."
We are no longer in denial. The only delay we have to suffer now is the wait until January 20th.
Follow Ben Carmichael on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bhcarmichael