Will Obama run a green election campaign?

By Tierney Smith

As his Defense Secretary joins the growing numbers highlighting the potential of climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’, is President Obama making a comeback on climate change ahead of his election campaign?

Could Obama be making a climate change comeback ahead of the US Elections? (© Whitehouse/Pete Souza)

Speaking at an event at the Environmental Defense Fund, Defense Secretary Leon E Panetta voiced his concerns over the “dramatic” impact of climate change on national security.

“Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” he said.

In the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, released by the Department for Defense, climate change is recognised as an “accelerant of instability or conflict”.

It is not the first time Climate Change has been given this label. It is an increasingly widespread belief amongst academics and policy makers alike, that while climate change may not directly cause political unrest, social turmoil and conflict, it has the role of exacerbating existing pressures and therefore making such incidents more likely.

And while the President’s staff are talking about climate change, Obama too appears to be making a comeback on the issue, using some of his latest high profile events to reinforce his position on the issue.

He has faced some strong criticism for shying away from climate related issues – following the prominent role he played at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009. He has also received mixed reviews from environmentalists throughout his presidency – drawing criticism for offshore drilling plans but praise for work on power plant pollution.

His latest moves have also received cautious praise from environmentalists as his attention is once again moved to climate change.

Out in the open

In his appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show this month, Obama talked about unfair fossil fuel subsidies and the need for investment in clean energy.

“We need to make sure we are investing in the clean energy sources of the future; solar, wind, biofuels,” he said. “Our oil production has been higher than it has been in eight years, our oil imports are lower than they have been in 13. So we are producing a lot of oil but we are still subsidising the oil industry when they are making billions.

“And for us to take some of that money and invest in electric cars, invest in new sources of fuel, that’s good for the planet, it helps us deal with climate change, it’s good for our economy.”

In another high profile event, an interview with Rolling Stone magazine last month, the President spoke both of the work already underway to tackle climate change, and his commitment towards it as he fights for a second term.

“Frankly, I’m deeply concerned that internationally, we have not made as much progress as we need to make,” he told the magazine. “Within the constraints of this Congress, we’ve tried to do a whole range of things, administratively that are making a difference – doubling fuel-efficiency standards on cars is going to take a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere.”

He also voiced concerns that in a period where people’s priorities are focused on financial strains – finding a job, paying the bills and dealing with high gas prices – it has been far too easy for people to throw large amounts of money at debunking climate science.

In his own words, Obama enforced his own commitment to making climate change a prominent debate in the election race.

“I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way,” he added.

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