Even more significant for the presidential race is the fact that over half of currently undecided voters say that global warming is one of several important issues that will guide their voting choice in November. A majority of those surveyed by the Yale Project on Climate Change believe that President Obama and the Congress need to do more to address this issue than they are currently doing. Granted, climate change remains an abstract issue for most Americans who are more focused on the state of the economy and matters that hit closer to home like entitlements and health policy.
Still, it would arguably make political sense for the president to say more, if only to energize members of his own base -- many of whom have been turned off by the perception that he has not fought hard enough for the environment. Obama could highlight the things that he has already accomplished: in addition to tightening pollution standards for cars and power plants, the production of renewable energy has increased in the US by about 25% during the last four years and tens of thousands of new jobs have been created as the result of tax cuts for green industries. The president has also called on Congress to end tax breaks and cut subsidies for big oil and coal.
Environmental activists applaud these moves, but say that they are not enough. They argue that the US, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases per capita (China recently surpassed us in sheer volume), needs to lead the fight to limit carbon emissions, rather continuing to block global treaties as it has done in the past. Some have called on the president to mount a Manhattan Project on green energy, enlisting the national laboratories at Los Alamos and elsewhere for a major research and development push, which could position the US to take advantage of the growing market for inexpensive renewable energy technology.
Barack Obama knows what the challenge is, should he be re-elected. Whether he has the political grit to do battle on cutting greenhouse gases the second time around remains to be seen.
(version appeared in the Guardian, UK)
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