Obama’s State of the Union: Climate Change and Contradictions

Obama state of the union 2014

The good, the bad, and the ugly. We take a look at how Obama spoke about the environment in the most recent State of the Union address.

It’s hard for me to watch the State of the Union address each year. On one hand, I feel like it’s a civic duty, to stay apprised of the plans elected leaders have for our country. On the other, I’m almost nauseated by the amount of “PR speak” and self-serving camera work. I’ve come to realize that while I want to take the State of the Union seriously, we have no guarantees that any part of this well-written speech will actually come to pass. Considering what was said in the 2014 State of the Union, that could be a blessing in disguise.

First, the good stuff. During the speech, President Obama reiterated what was made plain during the launch of his Climate Action Plan in June: “The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact,” Obama said. Those five words mark a turning point in our national discussion about the extreme weather and other changes that have been repeatedly linked to human carbon emissions and particulate pollution. Obama’s statement sends the message that America is finally ready to discuss not if but WHY climate change is accelerating, and what we can do about it.

The President also scored points with environmentalists by mentioning the need to reduce subsidies for the oil and gas industries, increased investment in solar energy, set new fuel efficiency standards for trucks, and limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Encouraging words, but still just words.

Then, Obama’s State of the Union took a decidedly un-environmental turn. Despite clear scientific evidence that the fracking boom threatens the health of thousands of Americans, putting our soil and drinking water in jeopardy, the President touted the role of natural gas as a job creator. He even proposed that we further prop up this industry by modifying the country’s fleet of medium- and heavy-duty trucks to run on natural gas.

“The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades,” he said.

Sorry, Mr. President, we’re not buying it. A few weeks ago, four states confirmed that natural gas fracking operations have directly contributed to water pollution in their communities. Just days ago The Rachel Maddow Show reported on a Texas town that’s begging the state to shut down fracking operations that have triggered multiple, devastating earthquakes.

And conveniently absent from the State of the Union address? Any mention of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline–a project Obama has admitted should be rejected if there’s any evidence the project would contribute to air pollution and climate change (which, you know, there is).

So while the State of the Union held many hopeful spots, let’s not forget the contradictions. And as always, that actions speak louder than words.

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Image: Whitehouse.gov