With the economy, national security and all the other noise in Washington it's sometimes hard to remember what may be the biggest issue facing human civilization in recent history: climate change. It has been seemingly everyone's favorite issue to put on the back burner. Most people, except my 10th grade chemistry teacher (go figure), agree that climate change is real, and that humans have something to do with its causes.
Despite this, no one really wants to talk about it. During the 2012 presidential election, the conversation was the economy and jobs, with minimal to no discussion of the planet. In fact, during the 2012 presidential debates not one question was fielded about climate change -- not one! Now I get it: the 2012 election was one about big ideas and ideology, mostly surrounding the future of our economy, but it's difficult, for me at least, to understand how climate change didn't even get a passing mention. It is, after all, a very important piece of the future of our country and our planet. GOP nominee Mitt Romney even went as far as to charge Obama with being too concerned with the ocean levels in his acceptance speech and the Republican National Convention.
Even more to my surprise, in the wake of awful natural disasters in the last six months, most notably Hurricane Sandy and the Oklahoma tornadoes, no one still wants to talk about climate change in depth -- rather leave it as a quick soundbite in evening news segments.
However, today it seems that the tides have shifted at the White House and the serious international conversation about the future of our planet may be upon us. After tiring efforts to get big-ticket agenda pieces through Congress like gun control and immigration, today the administration appears that it wants to make good on Obama's promise in his State of the Union address to focus on climate change in his second term. Three separate events on Wednesday indicate that the White House is planning in the upcoming weeks to make a real policy push for legislation that would put limits on greenhouse gas emissions on new and existing power plants (for the first time), as well as expand renewable energy efforts on public lands.
At an event in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday on climate change and politics held by The New Republic and American University, senior White House aide Heather Zichal assured the audience that climate change was still an important issue to the White House -- even admitting that the President knows climate change is a "legacy issue." Almost at the same time, across the Atlantic Ocean, President Obama was making a landmark speech in Berlin, Germany. The President also stressed the need for action on climate change, describing it as the "global threat of our time." This assessment is far off. And Obama is right: This is an international issue that needs be handled at an international level.
The only problem is getting Congress, especially the Republican-controlled House, to sign off on anything. Climate change is no exception to the stagnation that faces Washington every day, and with the focus on the economy and supposedly jobs, climate change will probably have to face a tough fight to even warrant floor time of the House or Senate. The Obama, Zichal and the administration will try to make climate change a post-partisan issue -- as Zichal said at the New Republic event, "The era of denial and delay is over." But as anyone who follows Beltway politics knows there is seemingly no such thing as 'post-partisan issues' and the era of denial and delay in politics is well among us. It is for this reason that Zichal hinted that upcoming action will be done without the need for funding or approval from Congress. While this may be positive given the current state of partisan politics, long-term solutions that will address the core issues surrounding climate change must come from the Congress
To me, the key for pushing climate change into the forefront of public opinion and therefore legislative agendas is to make this a global issue in which all major and minor nations must act. This brings me to the third climate change news out of the White House on Wednesday. Early this morning, in an online non-profit environmental magazine, Secretary of State John Kerry wrote a blog post about the need for international attention to climate change. Secretary Kerry has long been an advocate for the environment dating back to his early Senate days and he assures that it remains "a critical mission" as the country's top diplomat.
The environment is not something our country can take on alone, and we certainly need international pressure on us to make sure that we do the right thing in doing what is best for our planet, and the future of human civilization. Many believe that it is too late, that too much inaction for too long has solidified a grim fate for the Earth, but hopefully with a renewed effort from the White House today we can bring this conversation off the back burner and prevent global catastrophe.