President Barack Obama tours the Kenai Fjords National Park during his visit to Alaska on September 1, 2015, as part of an effort to highlight the importance of combating climate change.
In his State of the Union Address, President Obama mapped out a future for our nation that prioritizes climate action. He called for marshalling American ingenuity to expand the clean energy economy and make the world safer for the next generation. “A sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids… is within our reach,” he said, but progress is not inevitable. It’s the result of the choices we make.
Americans face a major choice this November. Elections are some of the most important decisions we make, and this cycle will determine our country’s response to climate change for years to come.
Will we elect a president who ignores the climate threat and sides with polluting industries? Or will we elect a president who confronts climate change and puts our nation on a road to cleaner air, lower energy bills and more vibrant communities?
Tuesday night revealed the stark contrast before us.
When Governor Nikki Haley gave the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s address, she didn’t once mention climate change. She didn’t say a single word about the threat that made 2015 the hottest year on record and contributed to extreme weather events like the winter floods which pummeled Midwestern communities, left more than 25 dead and caused an estimated $1 billion in damages.
Given the position of the Republican presidential candidates, silence, while irresponsible, is almost a relief. Some of the Republican presidential contenders still question the science of climate change, and they oppose the concrete steps President Obama has taken to address it. Indeed, none of the leading Republican presidential candidates has offered a positive agenda for addressing climate change or preserving the environment.
Senator Ted Cruz denounces climate science and has said people who recognize climate change are “the equivalent of the flat-Earthers.” Donald Trump told Fox News that the Paris climate talks were “ridiculous” and that “I think [global warming] is a big scam for a lot of people to make a lot of money.” Senator Marco Rubio has relied on the “I’m not a scientist” line and opposes any effort to address climate change.
And when Governor Chris Christie was asked whether he would have attended the Paris climate if he were president, he simply responded: “Hell no!”
President Obama revealed how far afield these GOP attitudes are in his Tuesday night address: “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because 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.”
It is the American people who will determine if our nation can move forward with climate action. President Obama has ushered in important progress, from increasing fuel efficiency in cars to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 to setting national limits on carbon pollution from power plants.
More work needs to be done, but the President’s actions thus far confirm why elections matter. The steps President Obama has taken reflect promises he made on the campaign trail. He ran on climate action, people held him to it, and he delivered.
While the public is cynical about this, the best indicator of what a President will do is what he’s said on the campaign trail. If one of the Republicans now running for President wins the White House, we will see a US president work to reverse the Clean Power Plan, try to renege on the Paris climate agreement, subsidize polluting energy companies, and turn his back on the millions of Americans suffering from extreme drought, flooding and fires. All the Democratic candidates, in contrast, have vowed to ensure America continues to lead on climate action, clean energy and resilient communities.
This is the choice before us. It would be hard to exaggerate what’s at stake.
In his address on Tuesday, President Obama asked, “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear… Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?” The November election will indicate which path America will take.