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Obama Says Combating Climate Change Aids Earth and U.S. Economy

In his seventh and final State of the Union address, President Obama touts alternative-energy gains during his tenure, urges a quicker shift from fossil fuels, and mocks climate change skeptics.

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“If anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely,” said U.S. president Barack Obama in his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress last night. “You’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it,” he added, referring to the December agreement reached at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, France. The address also focused on the economy, foreign policy and security, and the need to improve the rancorous political environment.

During the 1-hour talk, Obama pointed to strides in alternative energy since he has been in office. “Even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record—until 2015 turned out even hotter—why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” he said.

The president also called for changes in managing and subsidizing fossil fuel resources. “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future—especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels,” he said. “That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.”

Reaction to the Speech

Environmental groups praised the speech and called for more action. “We’re ready to intensify the fight against the fossil fuel industry, and we’ll be looking for the president to do the same,” said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, a nonprofit organization that focuses on countering climate change globally.

“The president’s top priority during his last year in office needs to be keeping that coal, oil, and gas in the ground,” Boeve added. “The issue of fossil fuel extraction on public lands is going to be a key fight over the coming months. Our government needs to get out of the business of climate destruction.”

Others took issue with the president’s stands on climate and fossil fuels.

Patrick Michaels, director for the study of science at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D. C.–based think tank, tweeted that “Obama’s climate plan can destroy the American Energy Renaissance” driven by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing and that the Paris climate deal “does nothing but cost the U.S. money.”

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, said Obama “has conducted an unrelenting war on coal, which is devastating rural America and the coalfields across this country.”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Obama says combating climate change aids Earth and U.S. economy, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO043609. Published on 13 January 2016.

© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0