Climate change adaptation was the subtext of President Barack Obama’s references to environmental issues in his State of the Union speech on January 28, woven into talk of reduced carbon power-plant emissions, increased use of natural gas, and the need to invest in alternative energy to decrease dependence on fossil fuels.
Climate change took up seven paragraphs in last year’s State of the Union address, as Public Radio International’s The World noted, but got barely a passing mention this year, with no new proposals put forth. Like last year, Obama framed the issue in terms of energy independence. In 2013 he urged Congress to put aside politics and craft bipartisan solutions while warning that if they did not, “I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
In the intervening year, Obama has laid out a climate-change plan, tightened coal-plant emissions regulations complete with deadline, and created a federal-state task force that must come up with adaptation strategies.
This year, Obama focused on his administration’s accomplishments in his discussion of climate change.
“Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” Obama said. “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency—because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.”
Obama went on to say that cleaning up our energy act “won’t happen overnight” and “will require tough choices.” He made it clear that the question was not whether his administration addresses climate change, but how, and highlighted the new standards for coal plant carbon emissions that his administration has set. He also touched on the increasing use of solar power in the U.S. and the need to invest in sustainable energy in general, the underlying assumption being that climate change is a given.
“The debate is settled,” Obama said. “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
The Keystone XL pipeline was not mentioned, but as PRI’s The World pointed out, that was most likely because the decision at this point is entirely up to Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Overall, Obama emphasized executive orders as a way to get things done in the absence of cooperation from Congress. That came into play in the environmental realm with his promise to balance job growth with conservation and to move away from oil and more toward natural gas as a "bridge" between fossil fuels and renewable energy such as solar.
“My administration will keep working with the [natural gas] industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities,” Obama said. “And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”