White House lukewarm on climate change?

President Obama will jet to Copenhagen for Chicago's Olympic bid. Will he do the same for global warming?


Lauren Evans
October 2, 2009 1:05AM (UTC)

President Obama will soon be off to Copenhagen, but will it be for the right event?

The president, who was initially content to farm out Olympic lobbying responsibilities to his wife, made the last minute decision to join her in the fight for Chicago to host the 2016 summer games. On the other hand, the U.N Climate Change Conference -- also set for Copenhagen (in December) -- has yet to make the president’s priority list.

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Despite his remarks that the administration is “deeply committed” to passing a new cap-and-trade bill by Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry, the fact that Obama can’t commit to attend the most important conference on climate change since Kyoto does not speak well to America’s ability to make the radical changes necessary to cut emissions (20 percent, in the case of the newly proposed bill).

Not surprisingly, this has raised a few eyebrows abroad. In a meeting held Wednesday at the New America Foundation, European Parliament members Claude Turmes and Reinhard Bütikofer discussed, from the perspective of the German Green Party, the expectations that Europe has of America when it comes to combating climate change.

Obama showing up in Copenhagen in December was at the very top of that list. As Bütikofer put it, “If eminent leaders like Barack Obama … aren’t willing to risk part of the political capital that they own, how can we expect lesser figures to really put in an effort?”

It’s true. Despite the U.S being responsible for more emissions than any other industrialized country, a healthy contingent of the right remains convinced that climate change is, to borrow the popular pun, a lot of hot air. Changing public opinion is the first and most important battle there is to fight, and it is up to Obama to set the precedent. Appearing in Copenhagen could be the dramatic gesture the United States needs to prove to the rest of the world that it is finally serious about getting down to business.

And as Europe leaps toward a greener future, it’s imperative that America proves that it’s willing to uphold its end of the bargain, and quickly. In order to convey the gravity of the situation, Bütikofer turned to a set of analogies more accessible to the average American, even if he mixed a few metaphors in the process:

“It’s the bottom of the 9th inning regarding getting moving on climate change,” he said. “We can’t kick the can further down the alley.”

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Lauren Evans

Lauren Evans is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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