In his second inaugural address on Monday, President Obama placed climate change at the forefront of his political agenda in a not-so-subtle way.
Just a few minutes into his landmark speech, Obama stated: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
In 2008 Obama campaigned heavily on the premise of taking broad steps to stem the effects of global climatic changes if he was elected president. But during his re-election campaign in 2012 Obama barely mentioned the issue — much to the chagrin of environmental advocates.
By giving climate change such prime billing during his inauguration speech, Obama made it clear that actions attempting to alleviate effects caused by emissions of greenhouse gases will be at the front of his administration's legislative agenda during his second term, much like universal health care was at the onset of his first term.
This is not the first time that Obama has attempted to rally support to take action against climate change. In 2009 the House, which was still controlled by Democrats, narrowly passed the Waxman-Markey Bill which, most notably, aimed to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emission levels by 2050. However, the bill went on to die in the Senate due to the effects of the recession, regional political divides, and the unfortunate timing of the BP oil spill.
That being said, Obama’s second attempt to address climate change will be equally as difficult despite Obama’s clear intention of placing priority on the issue. The economy will remain at the top of the Obama administration's list, especially as recovery remains stubbornly slow and unemployment remains at the same rate as when Obama first took office. Regional political divides will continue to play an important role in the success or failure of any such action as large portions of the country remain heavily invested in the forms of energy and production most commonly associated with the emission of greenhouse gases (i.e. coal) and which any actions on climate change would most likely seek to curtail. Obama also does not have the luxury of having a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, making any measures on the issue even more difficult than they were in 2009.
However, by addressing climate change as he did during his speech it is clear that Obama is willing to expend precious political capital on the issue, which wasn't the case during the failed Waxman-Markey bill in the Senate.
During second terms, presidents consider what legacy their time in office will leave. As many feel that climate change is the most pressing and urgent issue facing not only our country, but our world, Obama is looking towards the future by seeking to lessen America’s role in the effects caused by climate change and attempting to turn the country as a whole towards greater use of sustainable energy.
Action on the issue won’t be easy (is anything in Washington anymore?). However, as the effects of environmental issues like Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 drought have demonstrated, there is no better time than now to attempt to take action.
It’s good to know Obama’s second term might be the time when such action is taken.