Will President Obama Seize Moment on Climate Change?

Climate change received scant attention in the election campaign. But with public concern about global warming growing in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, President Obama has an unprecedented opportunity to take bold action on climate and clean energy.

November 12, 2012 | Source: Yale Environment 360 | by William Becker

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As President Barack Obama interprets what the election told him about his priorities for a second term, how much weight will he give to global climate change? On his very crowded list of pressing issues, where will climate action rank?

It should be near the top of his agenda. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, with the U.S. public increasingly accepting the stark reality of climate change, he has an unprecedented opportunity to take bold action. Although polls have placed global warming far down the list of national priorities this year, they’ve also shown that a growing bipartisan majority of Americans wants the president and Congress to confront this issue. It is an unorganized and mostly silent majority so far, but it exists, and the president has the skills to mobilize it.

President Obama sent an encouraging signal in his victory speech in Chicago when he said, “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt… that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” After a campaign in which he had largely ignored the issue, Obama’s mention of climate change at such a key moment was striking. One of the benefits of political campaigns is that our leaders learn things outside the Beltway.

If he follows through on his soaring election-night rhetoric, the president will find public support for action. A series of public opinion polls conducted during the campaign by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications found that 70 percent of Americans now accept that climate change is real; 54 percent acknowledge it is caused mostly by human activities; 74 percent believe it is influencing our weather; 57 percent say it is a growing threat to people in the United States; and 58 percent say they’re worried about it. The Yale polls were confirmed by similar results in October from the Pew Research Center, among others. And these polls were conducted before Hurricane Sandy, which almost certainly would have increased all of these numbers.