Climate change gains prominence in Obama’s second inauguration speech

By this time, pundits and political wonks are busy dissecting President Obama’s rhetorics after his second inauguration speech. While the President harped on the usual rhetorics of the legacy of democracy and persisting security issues, a so-called second-tier issue of relevance to my profession- the environment- was also given ample air time in his oratorical piece.

Back in 2009, Obama only dedicated 23 words out of his almost 2400-word speech to environment issues, short of 1% in comparison to the whole address. It read:

With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Fast-forward today in 2013, President Obama devoted an entire paragraph with a total of 158 words to the environment:

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. 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. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

This is about 7.5% of the entire speech, which is generous by US political standard, given time and space (and temperature?) constraints during the presidential inauguration.

The change in the choice of words from “a warming planet” (2009) to saying the ‘C-word’ “climate change” and the addition of sustainable energy (2013) also signals a better understanding of the interrelation between environment and energy systems. President Obama also cited the devastating impacts of environmental disasters, as he had witnessed both in his home country and abroad. Anchoring the economy onto sustainable energy both as a resource and industry fleshed-out the growth potential of the sector.

Inaugural speeches give cues to the agenda of the president. In President Obama’s first term, his domestic and international stance  on the environment have been short of disappointing. Is this attributable to his one-sentence mention of environmental issues? Whether the President’s second inauguration speech is mere lip service or will be consistent with his second-term policies and actions is up for speculation. Only time will tell.


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