As Hurricane Sandy looms, Obama breaks climate change silence

President Obama broke his recent silence on climate change policy late last week, stressing there was a “huge contrast” between his commitment to tackling climate change issues and the Republicans’ rejection of climate science.

Obama has faced criticism from green businesses and NGOs in recent weeks, after climate change failed to appear in any of the three presidential debates, making it the first time since 1984 that the issue has not been aired in the formal pre-election debates.

Speaking in an interview with MTV, Obama said he was “surprised” the issue did not come up in the debates and reiterated that the US was not “moving as fast as we need to” in tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a critical issue,” he said. “And there is a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I am surprised it didn’t come up in one of the debates. Governor Romney says he believes in climate change. That’s different than a lot of members of his own party that deny it completely. But he’s not sure that man-made causes are the reason. I believe scientists who say we are putting too much carbon emissions into the atmosphere and it’s heating the planet and it’s going to have a severe effect.”

Obama said his administration had made progress on climate change policy through new fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and a doubling of clean energy production. And he also hinted that if re-elected he would seek further progress on energy efficiency and clean tech research and development.

“The next step is to deal with buildings and really ramp up our efficiency in buildings,” he said. “If we had the same energy efficiency as Japan, we would cut our energy use by about 20 per cent, and that means we’d be taking a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere.

“In order for us to solve the whole problem though, we’re gonna have to have some technological breakthroughs. Because countries like China and India, they’re building coal-power plants and they feel that they have to prioritise getting people out of poverty ahead of climate change. So what we have to do is help them and help ourselves by continuing to put money into research and technology about how do we really get the new sources of power that are going to make a difference.”

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action, welcomed the intervention.

“Climate change is having a dramatic impact on the United States and the world. Your descriptions of both the threat and the action your administration is taking to address it are an important addition to the campaign,” he said. “Without strong, constant and vocal leadership from the next president, we will not be able to protect current and future generations from the destructive impacts of climate change. Don’t let your voice go silent.”

Green groups remain frustrated that climate change has not received a wider airing during the campaign, particularly given polling that suggests independent voters want to see more action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Their anger was further fuelled last week after it emerged that at least two of the debate moderators had questions lined up on climate change, but chose not to use them.

Climate change could be pushed up the political agenda in the coming days as Obama is forced to balance campaigning with leading the response to Hurricane Sandy as it heads towards the eastern seaboard. Scientists and environmentalists have stressed that no single storm can be linked to climate change, but there is copious evidence to suggest the increased frequency and intensity of hurricane activity is linked to global warming.

In related news, Democrats in the House of Representatives reacted angrily after it was confirmed that oil giant Chevron last week donated £2.5m to a Republican Super PAC committed to trying to ensure the GOP retains control of the House of Representatives.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) launched its own fund-raising push in response to the news, issuing a statement condemning “Big Oil” for “trying to drop in at the last second and buy the election for the Republicans”.

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