Obama: Climate change is ‘real,’ doing something about it is ‘hard’

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President Obama gave a long but unspecific answer to a question about climate change today, at his first press briefing since his re-election.

The question, from Mark Landler of the New York Times, referred to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's endorsement of Obama in the closing days of the campaign, and the president's scheduled visit to the region tomorrow.

Landler asked what specific steps Obama was prepared to take, whether the political will exists to do anything, and whether his efforts might include a tax on carbon.

"I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions, and as a consequence, I think we've got an obligation to future generations to do something about it," Obama said.

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He touted some of the same accomplishments he frequently mentioned on the campaign trail, like lowering fuel emissions and investing in green technology, but didn't articulate any specific goals for his second term.

"We haven't done as much as we need to," he said. "So what I'm going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is have a conversation—a wide ranging conversation—with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what more can we do, to make short term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary, a discussion, a conversation, across the country about what realistically can we do long term to make sure this is not something that we're passing on to future generations that's going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with."

Obama said he's not sure what either party is prepared to do on the issue, "because this is one of those issues that's not just a partisan issue, I also think there are regional differences."

And the president said he wouldn't prioritize climate change over a focus on the economy. (The president was criticized by some for focusing on health care reform during his first term, instead of economic issues.)

"There's no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices," he said. "And understandably I think the American people right now  have been so focused and will continue to be focused on jobs and the economy and growth. And if the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody is going to go for that. I won't go for that.

"If on the other hand we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that's something the American people would support. So you can expect that you'll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and moves this agenda forward."

Obama contrasted the issue with an economic one, guaranteeing taxes won't go up on middle class families.

"That should be easy," he said. "This one is hard."

UPDATE: Bloomberg responded to Obama's comments in a statement: "Today President Obama spoke about how he will be bringing scientists, engineers and elected officials together to find bi-partisan ways to reduce carbon emissions – and I look forward to supporting that new effort in any way I can. The president has taken some important steps to fight climate change over the past four years, including doubling fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. But, as he said today, it is not enough. And whether or not Hurricane Sandy resulted from climate change, there is no doubt that the threat of increasingly intense storms should spur Washington to make the issue a top priority.” 

 

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