Obama signals he’s putting climate change on back burner

President Obama gestures as he answers a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
(Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)

The fact that climate change got some attention at Wednesday’s presidential press conference could be viewed as progress by environmentalists, after they watched the issue go virtually ignored during the just-concluded campaign.

President Obama made many of the right sounds for activists on the issue. In response to a question from the New York Times’s Mark Landler, Obama said America must “make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations, that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.”

But the president also signaled that reducing carbon emissions comes nowhere near the top of his agenda, at least as he looks forward to the start of his second term.


Obama repeatedly hammered away during the 50-minute session on the impending “fiscal cliff” and his support of tax increases for the wealthy. He said he saw “incredibly encouraging” signs for comprehensive immigration reform. But when Landler asked about reducing carbon emissions, Obama only talked about big challenges and the need for more dialogue.

“Understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth,” Obama said, “that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

This is the same president who, in his first term, talked expansively about how clean-energy “green” jobs could be the key to not only environmental progress but to job creation. On Tuesday, Obama talked only in the broadest terms about initiating a “conversation” with scientists, engineers and elected officials to try to find areas for progress.

He said he would look for “bipartisan support” to try to move the issue forward. It’s hard to imagine where that support would come from, since many Republicans in Congress refuse to even acknowledge that global temperature increases can be tied to human activity.

When reporter Landler said it sounded like there was no consensus to move forward, Obama did not disagree. Instead, he turned the question back to his theme of the day.

“Look, we’re still trying to debate whether we can just make sure that middle-class families don’t get a tax hike,” the president said. He said that is where his focus would remain for the foreseeable future.


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