The Climate Speech Obama Should’ve Given in Alaska

The President pivoted his rhetoric in Alaska, but we need stronger actions to match his inspiring words

The White House billed Obama’s trip to Alaska as a pivotal climate change moment — and it could have been.

President Obama said many of the right things about the climate crisis this week, including that we’re not moving fast enough on the “defining threat of this century.”

But what’s hard to stomach this irony: Obama came to Alaska this week to ramp up his rhetoric on climate change in the same state where, just weeks ago, his own administration gave the green light for Shell’s oil drilling in the Arctic.

Obama addresses the GLACIER conference in Alaska

I’m not so naïve that I expected the president to turn change course on Arctic drilling at this hour — his administration has a troubling record of expanding offshore drilling — but hope dies hard. Here’s what I wished the President Obama would have said this week:

“My fellow Americans: The climate crisis is upon us and we’ve waited too long to take action on the defining threat of this century. We’ll wait no longer because we know that delay only gets us closer to intractable disaster wrought by climate change: rising sea levels, horrific weather events, food shortages, increased pain for our most vulnerable human populations and more disappearing wildlife. That’s why today I’m announcing these immediate steps to begin stemming this crisis: No drilling for oil in the Arctic, no more leasing of fossil fuel development on public lands and offshore areas, no Keystone XL pipeline, no more flirting with half-measures to reduce greenhouse pollution that’s coming from our power plants, factories and other human sources. Instead, we turn the page right now — today — and move our economy to a system based on sane and safe fuel sources, ones that ensure the survival of our planet and a livable future for those who come after us. We start right here, right now and don’t look back.”

Can you imagine?

Actually I can. Because we have to. Too much depends on what we decide today, tomorrow and in the coming years.

No, I’m not surprised that President Obama didn’t come out with an ambitious new plan of action for the climate crisis but I am disappointed. He could have — should have — seized the moment for real hope and change. His Alaska speech could have been one for the history books for the day that we finally began taking action that matches the magnitude of this crisis.

As the president said in his real speech: “This is within our power. This is a solvable problem if we start now.”

I couldn’t agree more. I just wished he meant what he said.

Miyoko Sakashita is the oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.