By Michael Yudell
"We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," an emboldened President Obama declared in his inaugural address Monday. Following the disconcerting absence of climate change from campaign 2012 and limited climate policy action during his first term, the president has finally told us that not only will he act, but that we (and he) have an obligation to do so. What could be more important, after all, than acting on behalf of our children and future generations?
These types of actions build on Obama's important but limited success on climate change from his first term. The rise in fuel standards for cars and trucks will help reduce the amount of carbon and other climate-warming pollutants spewed into the atmosphere. And the United States is on track to reduce, over the next seven years, its carbon pollution by 17% (from 2005 levels), just as Obama promised at the Copenhagen climate talks four years ago.
Obama's new policy approach seems to accept both the limitations of his office and recognize the intransigence of his current opposition.
Perhaps, then, the president's most important job between now and the 2014 mid-term elections is to raise that number — to foster a movement that will chase the climate change deniers from office. There is one important and thus far underused tool in the president's arsenal that can help move the public on this urgent matter: the bully pulpit.
At his inauguration, Obama seemed keenly aware of this power. His desire to be remembered as a transformational president will be for naught if he is first remembered as the leader who had the last great chance to do something meaningful about climate change and failed.