President Barack Obama this week reminded the nation of the reality of climate change and urged continued work in both the public and private domains to address the issue under the incoming administration of President-elect (and sometimes climate change denier) Donald Trump.
“Without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other,” Obama said during his farewell address Tuesday evening in Chicago.
Obama made climate change a priority during his eight years in office. The Environmental Protection Agency under Obama drafted the first-ever carbon emissions standards for existing and new-build coal-fired power plants. The United States last year also joined the Paris Agreement, the first universal international climate change agreement.
The incoming administration looks to address the issue much differently. While campaigning, Trump promised to roll back the carbon emissions standards and “cancel” the Paris Agreement. He had previously characterized climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese
The core of the problem with the national climate change debate, Obama suggested, is its misplaced focus. “We can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country, the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our founders,” Obama said.
Post-election, environmentalists have gotten a glimmer of hope for the Trump transition team. Trump has suggested since Nov. 8 that he is “open-minded” about the climate change. His pick for secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, this week assured senators at his confirmation hearing that he believes the U.S. would be better off by “being at that table than leaving that table” when it comes to the Paris Agreement.
Obama will leave office in one week, and there has been speculation he will focus his post-presidency efforts on environmental issues. He has leased office space in the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the World Wildlife Fund. Adding to this speculation this week, Obama penned an article for the academic journal Science.
The article, published Monday, argues that the United States will continue to shift away from fossil fuels regardless of the change in the federal government. “[P]utting near-term politics aside, the mounting economic and scientific evidence leave me confident that trends toward a clean-energy economy that have emerged during my presidency will continue and that the economic opportunity for our country to harness that trend will only grow,” Obama wrote.
The president noted during his time in office, the nation’s GDP grew by 10 percent while energy consumption fell nearly 11 percent. “The importance of this trend cannot be understated. This ‘decoupling’ of energy sector emissions and economic growth should put to rest the argument that combatting climate change requires accepting lower growth or a lower standard of living,” Obama wrote.
Obama is the first sitting president to be published in the journal.