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Ear to the Ground

Green Talk Is Cheap at the State of the Union

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Posted on Feb 12, 2013
AP/Charles Dharapak

President Obama waves as he walks down the West Wing Colonnade of the White House.

If President Obama reprises the environmental theme in Tuesday night’s speech, “he’ll join a long list of predecessors to warn that we’re leaving a mess for future generations. And if past is prologue, the green talk and pageantry may be the only things delivered on the president’s lofty words,” writes Peter Dykstra, publisher of The Daily Climate.

President Clinton warned in his second inaugural address that failure to act “would put our children and grandchildren at risk,” Dykstra recalls. Since then, “the United States opted out of the Kyoto Protocol, increased its fossil fuel consumption, and saw greenhouse gas legislation crash and burn in 2010.”

Ronald Reagan assured Congress in his first State of the Union that “we have no intention of dismantling the regulatory agencies, especially those necessary to protect the environment and assure the public health and safety.” When he left office eight years later, the EPA and Interior Department were weakened and ineffective, and their initial leaders were disgraced by scandal.

Lyndon Johnson gets credit for being the president who turned most of his words into actions. He advanced the preservation of parks and the protection of species, air and water. A national awakening on environmental issues during his era was punctuated in 1965 when he said, “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

But 48 years later, we’re still waiting for action on carbon.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Peter Dykstra at The Daily Climate:

With the impacts of climate change staring us in the face – from the melting Arctic to the parched Farm Belt to the devastated beach towns in New York and New Jersey – it’s hardly the time for Barack Obama to uphold the sad presidential tradition of ignoring green intentions.

“I think he is serious about making an effort,” former Obama aide Billy Pizer told Politico last month. “Real estate in major speeches is valuable.”

It is indeed valuable, Billy. But history shows that empty promises in sweeping speeches are a dime a dozen.

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