Barack Obama’s latest climate speech

As I write this, Pope Francis is on the way to the United States to speak to political leaders and the UN on the subject of climate change in the lead up to the Paris conference, so it is worth noting what sort of response he might get. President Obama has been speaking regularly on the subject this year, most recently in Alaska (text here).

As we know, at the end of last year came a surprising but very welcome announcement of joint action between the United States and China, and this speech continues in the same vein. Much forms a familiar route through the crises we face:

Our understanding of climate change advances each day.  Human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways faster than we previously thought.  The science is stark.  It is sharpening.  It proves that this once-distant threat is now very much in the present.

Details are given of the particular threats found in Alaska and the Arctic: greater temperature rises than the world average, melting glaciers and permafrost, and damage to the very way of life of many. But, paradoxically, it is the unwillingness to change lifestyles which forms a major obstacle to action. People are in particular worried about the threat to the economy. “In countries where there remains significant poverty, including here in the United States, the notion is, can we really afford to prioritize this issue.”

He notes that climate change will, ironically, be a major threat to economic growth. So what is the solution? Efficiency, technology and ingenuity. “This is a solvable problem if we start now.”

So far so good. But some questions need to be posed.

Firstly, is it solvable in these ways? Possibly if this speech was being given in 1995, not 2015, but to make carbon cuts of the levels required seems to need more radical action?

Secondly, how far can Obama speak for the remainder of the US estabilishment and in particular the next administration. The various Republican candidates are – in the main – not so keen to take action, and doubts have been expressed about Hillary Clinton too.

Thirdly, Obama’s view is well short of the Pope’s agenda. How will talk of retreat from the idolisation of technology, placing economics back under the thumb of politics and heightened world equality play with the President, let alone the average American? We will find out starting later this week!


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