Obama to use post-presidency ‘megaphone’ on climate change

Source: Hannah Hess, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 5, 2016

President Obama wants to make climate change a big part of his life and work after leaving the White House next year, he said yesterday.

“I think anybody who has the megaphone that even an ex-president has needs to be working on this and raising awareness,” Obama told pool reporters during a visit to Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean to highlight his conservation legacy (Greenwire, Sept. 1).

Obama speculated he might have more influence with Republicans who “have been resistant to the science” after he departs Pennsylvania Avenue.

Americans are now more polarized than ever on environmental protection, according to a new analysis published in the journal Environment that tracked Gallup opinion poll surveys going back to 2001 and congressional voting patterns since 1970.

The authors noted that GOP lawmakers have moved more to the right, especially in terms of opposing government regulations on principle and attacking U.S. EPA.

“This is something that all of us are going to have to tackle, and maybe I get a little more of a hearing if I’m not occupying a political office,” Obama said.

Obama’s argument for Republicans: If the private sector and the business community are embracing a clean energy agenda, and insurers are pricing coverage for flooding, hurricanes, drought and wildfires based on climate change projections, “then there’s no reason why this is something that should be a partisan issue,” he said.

Over the last eight years, researchers say, public concern over climate change has fluctuated considerably because of the economic downturn.

The study’s authors — Aaron McCright of Michigan State University and Oklahoma State University’s Riley Dunlap and Jerrod Yarosh — note an upsurge in “organized denial” in response to the Paris climate deal and other international treaties.

On the flip side, Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and abnormal weather conditions have increased grass-roots interest in conservation and renewable energy.

Obama reflected on his efforts over the past seven years to mobilize the nation against the unseen threats of climate change.

His historic three-day visit to Alaska in 2015, showing villages already overwhelmed by rising sea levels and changing ocean patterns, stood out as one example.

Obama this week described the Arctic as “the leading edge of climate change — our leading indicator of what the entire planet faces” (Greenwire, Sept. 1, 2015).

His trip yesterday to Midway Atoll, after stops in California and Lake Tahoe, similarly served to highlight the importance of addressing climate change.

The remote site is in the middle of the newly expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which Obama has made the largest marine protected area in the world (Greenwire, Aug. 26).

“The question gets asked, why protect such a large area?” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday. “And one of the answers to that is the emerging climate science, that you actually need to create scale in order to create the ecosystem.”

He said, “I think that in the future, people will look at this and actually see it as a climate refuge because you have a protected space of sufficient scale to actually allow the natural features to become more resilient.”

‘We’ve done it before’

Obama arrived in khakis and brown desert boots at an old hangar terminal, where he was greeted by almost all the 40 people who live on the 2.4-mile-long island.

He later made remarks, pointing to the monument’s “spectacular” ecosystem and the need to “examine the effects of climate change” in the Pacific.

On the deck of Clipper House — a white wooden structure within the monument that overlooks lush green vegetation, white sand and cyan waters — Obama said it was part of his job to present “visual aid” so the public can understand what is happening in remote regions of the world.

“When we come here, being able to highlight the incredible beauty of a place like this but also recognizing that if oceans continue to get warmer, that a lot of the marine species here could be affected and ultimately that’s going to have an impact on human populations, so it’s tough,” Obama said.

The president also offered advice to his successor on making progress and keeping the climate change from becoming so partisan.

With Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton looking to build on momentum generated by Obama’s climate initiatives and Republican nominee Donald Trump vowing to pull out of international agreements on climate, the study’s authors concluded that the 2016 presidential election presents a historic choice.

This November, voters confront the “most consequential climate-related decision” most voters will have ever taken, they wrote.

Obama said his successor should tell the story of previous efforts to regulate pollution, including dealing with Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, smog in Los Angeles and acid rain in the Northeast.

“The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act transformed parts of the United States, urban and rural, that a lot of people had written off,” he said.

“… Or more spectacularly a hole in the ozone way above our heads that’s now actually healing itself in part because of steps that we took back in the ’70s and ’80s. So we have to have confidence in our ability to solve these problems,” Obama said.

“We’ve done it before; there’s no reason why we can’t do it this time,” he added.

Reporter Emily Yehle contributed.