Does Obama Mean It This Time on Climate?

Top environmental leaders are still pondering the meaning of the president’s inaugural address.

President Obama pleased—and surprised—many environmentalists with his remarks on climate change in his second inaugural speech on Monday. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.” It wasn’t just a fleeting mention, an obligatory nod to climate change alongside a host of other base-pleasing agenda items. In a short, 2000-word, 15-minute speech, Obama used nine separate sentences to lay out his belief that dealing with climate and finding sustainable energy sources are an obligation to posterity.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” says Felice Stadler, senior director of the climate and energy program at the National Wildlife Federation. “It was the first time that we heard a clear signal from him that he believes in the science.”

But like other enviros, Stadler tempers her enthusiasm with caution. She hopes Obama’s comments on climate change mean he will put serious political weight behind the issue in his second term. But what Obama will actually propose in terms of policy—and how hard he’ll push for those proposals—remains to be seen. “I think the time is now to continue the conversation and not to sit quietly and wait for some undefined moment in the future,” Stadler argues.

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The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.