What the SOTU Address Meant for Our Planet

Last night President Obama delivered his annual State Of The Union Address. If you disregard the internet memes and tweets, you’ll find a very humble, honest, and uplifting speech. While, naturally, the main theme centered on the economic state of our country, the other central points were given appropriate light as they were linked to continuing to improve our economy. For arguably the first time ever, “the environment” was addressed not only as a crucial sub-theme to focus on in the coming year, but also (finally) as something that should be considered our fate, and not just a theme in a speech. This was a major leap for climate justice, even if it was just that attention was paid.

However – and to Obama’s defense, he has a lot to cover in one night – the part about climate change was more reflective than proactive; it touched on the heated “scientific” debates over climate change and its threats, citing NASA’s claim that 2014 was the hottest year to date, and also celebrated the past year’s emissions goals agreed upon by the US and China, truly an historic moment. Where the speech failed was in providing a more concrete plan for saving us from what Obama deemed “[the greatest] threat to future generations.” I would have liked to hear more about what will go into the emissions plan set to be attained in just a decade. In an article published by The Guardian just before the SOTU Address, writer Suzanne Goldenberg predicted that, following recent Keystone protests, “Obama will likely tout new smog rules on Tuesday. He may even tip his hand on the contentious pipeline currently being debated in the Senate.” While specific goals to adjust wages in the workforce and create free higher education were touched upon, the predicted environmental goals were not mentioned.

On a positive note, Goldenberg was correct in thinking that, “the president may have to use the high visibility of the speech to re-affirm science before he can double down on his action plan.” A momentous part of last night’s speech was when Obama confidently (and with subtle mockery towards climate change nay-sayers), said “well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate.”

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So today, what are major environmental players saying about the speech that was delivered? While known for being a more radical voice for the environment, Greenpeace‘s commentary was both thoughtful and agreeable. Said Greenpeace Legislative Representative Kyle Ash in response to the President’s mention of the emissions deal with China, “these advances are overshadowed by a weak proposed rule on methane emissions and subsidies for the continued extraction and export of climate-polluting fossil fuels. Advancements can no longer be negated by setbacks elsewhere. Addressing global climate disruption requires immediate global action.” I conquer.

Overall, the speech was very touching and motivational, and left many who are usually opposed to Obama with little to say. While protecting the planet is an overarching goal – and necessity – we can’t very well do that if we aren’t alive, happy, and healthy. With all that’s on his plate, Obama had to first and foremost address economic wellbeing, as it is the immediate umbrella under which all other immediate issues are influenced. So while we may not have heard everything we were hoping to last night, as Ash put it, “Obama, unlike some leaders in Congress beholden to corporate polluters, understands climate change is an urgent concern and his Administration is beginning to implement climate policies using long available authority.” So we must commend him for that.

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What did you think of the speech? What were the memorable highlights? Problems you foresee as a result of the speech? Hopes for the future? Please share!

Allison Beauregard

Allison is a New York City based writer with a focus on sustainability. Her work demonstrates how it is possible to have the “things” that make us happy without compromising the resources that provide these goods. With this vision, Allison sees a future where environmental degradation is reversed and the quality of human life is equally distributed. She is the Category Editor of The Franklin Report and was among the top 5 contributors for Elephant Journal in October 2014.

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