Obama's State of the Union punts on climate change... but what did you expect?

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rm iwest mugWell, President Obama certainly did go on at some length tonight in his just-concluded State of the Union address. But he once again failed to elevate the climate issue to urgency. I have to agree with David Roberts over at Grist.org: "Pretty weak tea." (Hat tip to Roberts for posting the transcript of that part of the speech before Obama was even done talking.)

Now, some of our faithful correspondents and even some friends thought it curious that Dateline Earth faulted Obama for falling short on the climate and energy issue in his inaugural address a year ago, after which we held forth thusly:

 That is not the speech of a man who intends to launch a World War II-style domestic campaign -- think Rosie the Riveter and the Manahattan Project. And that's what scientists are saying we'll need.

He did it again tonight. The president -- wisely -- started out talking about jobs or, as we've put it before, "Fighting climate change = ending the recession." He was clearly aware that Americans are saying in polls now that climate is pretty low on their list of concerns. And just a day before the talk, Republican Lindsey Graham caved on Cap'n Trade, provoking Roberts, for one, to accept that we probably won't be going down that road this year, if ever in Obama's presidency.

But the sheer brevity of what Obama had to say tonight portrays a president so pummeled by problems that on climate, he punted. (Not to mention advocating for nuclear power.  And lots of thoughtful people are saying we need to re-examine nukes. Fine. Where do we put the waste? Been to Hanford lately?)

Where in tonight's speech were the lines extolling the virtues of clean power as a jobs machine? Where were the stirring appeals to those who might not even believe people are a big factor in climate change, but know we need a jobs program on the order of the Great Depression?

Yeah, he mentioned these concepts. But 14 tepid lines from a man known for awesome oratory in a speech that went on for over an hour amounts to little more than throat-clearing. Where was the simple factual statement that we could cut greenhouse-gas emissions by four-fifths by 2020 using existing technologies?

If it's off Obama's agenda, climate is probably off D.C.'s radar screen for some time to come. It seemed like the climate campaigners were prepared to hear exactly this. Christina Marshall's advance for Climatewire quoted Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

What he says in the State of the Union is not nearly as important as what he does afterwards.

Ya think? But really... if the president doesn't make this a priority, can you expect the American people to do so?

Well, hey, we're only talking about whether we'll keep the planet inhabitable for humans, right? No biggie. Waterworld, here we come...

At least the overfishing will stop.

-- Robert McClure