Obama thrilled Democrats when he accepted his party's presidential nomination on Thursday with a blunt rebuttal to the climate change contrarians who now dominate the Republican party.
The president said he would continue to invest in wind and solar energy if he wins a second term, because the threat of climate change was real.
"And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future. And in this election, you can do something about it," Obama said, to a roar of approval from the hall.
The remarks were a pointed and deliberate contrast to Romney. The Republican contender got the biggest laughs of his speech by making fun of candidate Obama's concern on climate change when he first ran in 2008.
"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet," Romney said. "My promise is to help you and your family." He got a standing ovation.
The strong reaction in the hall – and the outrage from Democrats and others after a summer of heat waves, drought, wildfires and now hurricanes – all but ensured climate change a mention in Obama's own convention speech a week later.
Obama said nothing about taking comprehensive action to limit the emissions that cause climate change. The Democrats' party platform, adopted this week, makes no mention of cap and trade, which Obama supported in 2008.
Other Democratic leaders used Romney's remarks to draw a contrast with Republican positions on the environment.
Earlier on Thursday night, John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential candidate,said: "An exceptional country does care about the rise of the oceans and the health of the planet." Bill Clinton in his speech on Wednesday night also made a passing reference to climate change.
The rhetoric, evidently co-ordinated, suggests there will be a lot more talk about climate change from Obama and other Democrats during the election season than during the last four years.
Over the past two years, Obama and other administration officials grew noticeably more reluctant to even utter the words climate change, as Republicans adopted attacks on climate science and environmental regulations as one of their core beliefs. Instead, Obama and administration officials shifted their focus to "clean energy jobs". On Thursday night, he used the term "carbon pollution".
Obama made just a single mention of climate change in his state of the union address this year – but that was still better than 2011 when climate change did not rate a mention at all. One analysis found Obama devoted even less time to the issue in his annual address to Congress than George Bush.
Romney's own views have also shifted since his time as Massachusetts governor when he saw climate change as a matter of urgent concern. And they do not appear to align with the derision in his convention speech, or fellow Republicans who do not accept the existence of climate change.
Andrea Saul, his press secretary, said: "Romney's view on climate change is he believes it's occurring, and that human activity contributes to it, but he doesn't know to what extent. He opposes cap and trade, and he refused to sign such a plan when he was governor."
President Obama, often shy of turning climate change into a marquee campaign issue, last night made a full-throated endorsement of climate action, calling out Governor Romney and the Republicans as disbelievers of reality, and jokesters about a real threat. He also explicitly linked this summer's extreme weather to global warming.
"And yes," he said to some of the longest applause of the night, "my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future. And in this election, you can do something about it."
In a clear reference to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama said, "I will not let oil companies write this country's energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers."
"We're offering a better path – a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that's right beneath our feet. If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone."
President Obama's statements—and the applause in Charlotte last night—had a lot to do with Governor Romney's remarks last week in Tampa. Romney openly mocked climate change in his speech to the Republican National Convention, allowing Democrats, including John Kerry, to chide and take higher ground. Listen to the 30-plus second cheer for climate inaction:
Gov. Romney Mocks President Obama's Statements on Climate Change
Romney's comments last week were immediately ridiculed on Twitter by climate scientist Michael Mann, whose book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars mounts a case against the deep politicization of climate change:
@jameswest2010 Romney's cynical denial of climate change is the real threat to our families, to our children & grandchildren's future
In an interview later with Climate Desk, Mann called climate change the "greatest societal threat we've ever faced." He said Romney's speech was a "dog whistle," designed to appeal to a Tea Party constituency that stills calls climate change "an elaborate hoax."
"I think like a lot of people I thought it was very sad, really, that a major party candidate for president would belittle concern for the environment in general," he said. Listen to the highlights here:
Michael Mann Speaks About Climate Politics by ClimateDesk
Suzy was right: climate change has played an important role in recent Democratic messaging. Here's a side-by-side comparison of the frequency of a few climate change keywords, as they appear in the official platforms of Democrats:
The best climate policy for the Obama campaign is pragmatism, says climate policy strategist Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. "He's got to talk about it in a way that's realistic in terms of what he can accomplish," he said in an interview with Climate Desk. In a hypothetical Obama second term, big-ticket legislative items like 2010's doomed cap-and-trade bill will still be nearly impossible for the president to push into law, he said, because of stout resistance from "a Republican Congress where the vast majority deny that global warming is occurring."
Instead, Weiss advised, the president should stay focused on baby steps, which he did last night; things that can be achieved largely through the Executive Branch—think last month's historic car mileage standards:
Before his convention appearance last night, Obama was also making rhetorical baby steps, at least in front of younger audiences: "We developed new fuel standards so that your car will get nearly 55 miles per gallon by the middle of the next decade," he said to applause at an Iowa State University rally last week. "That will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a level roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of emissions from all the cars in the world." Check out that moment.
Politically, Daniel J. Weiss said, even name-dropping climate change scores the president major points with this college-age demographic, who'll be living through the extreme weather, hotter summers, and higher seas that are likely to arrive in coming decades.
Governor Romney, who during his primary race made strides to distance himself from climate science, is now wrestling with different ways of articulating his message to different audiences. When answering a question about climate change in a debate with President Obama published online by Sciencedebate.org, he gave his most comprehensive answer to date:
He wrote: “I am not a scientist myself. But my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences." But he goes on to immediately tamp down expectations of a Romney-led carbon revolution.
"However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community."
And that's a wrap. Climate Desk will keep an eye on climate change as you and the candidates approach Nov. 6. What do you want to hear from the candidates? Share your climate hopes and questions with us on Twitter orFacebook.