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Obama's Record on Climate Change Scrutinized by Activists

Tom Zeller, Jr.

"I think I missed the part where they discussed the Arctic melting," the environmentalist and author Bill McKibben recently quipped.

A tireless spokesman for a planet in rapid and, as he sees it, dangerous flux, McKibben had taken to his Twitter account in the aftermath of last week's presidential debate and, like many other Americans, he found the whole affair wanting -- though his reasons were singular. "Wasn't there some kind of drought or something this summer?" he continued. "Maybe I'm misremembering."

In the clipped and sardonic vernacular of the medium, he ended his Tweets "#oh-that."

McKibben was, of course, referring to climate change. His exasperation echoes a wider movement that by now has grown not just weary, but vaguely astounded at the lack of high-level dialogue on a topic that, as they see it, fundamentally influences -- and therefore ought to trump -- all others, particularly at a time when the nation is preparing to elect a president.

Earlier this month, two activist groups launched a website,, which tracks the candidates' public statements on global warming over the years. By any measure, President Barack Obama fares far better than his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who has morphed from an early supporter of clean energy, fuel efficiency and emissions caps to a climate change agnostic given to openly ridiculing the issue.

But the activists also indict Obama, under whose leadership, they say, climate change has gone from an urgent matter to a mere afterthought.

In response to such assertions, White House and Obama campaign officials highlight numerous speeches and public statements over the last year in which the president has discussed the importance of tackling climate change. They also point to a raft of new measures aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, including new fuel efficiency standards that will effectively cut in half the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and trucks by 2025, and proposed rules that would curb emissions from power plants, among other achievements.

"The Obama Administration has put in place smart, sensible steps to confront this issue," said White House spokesman Clark Stevens in an email message.

Other supporters of the president also suggested climate critics were being myopic, and that the administration's emissions reduction achievements ought to be viewed against the full complement of challenges facing a sitting president during a historically down economy.

McKibben concedes as much, though he adds that if a sympathetic figure like President Obama is unable to elevate climate change to the top of the nation's political agenda, activists may need to change tacks. He also says that, given the clear and present danger of global warming, a little single-mindedness is warranted.

"I plead guilty to tunnel vision around climate," McKibben said. "It's the biggest issue the planet has ever faced, and in 50 years the one thing we will be interested in knowing is how our leaders responded to it -- or didn't. I mean, the Arctic broke this summer, and we had the hottest month in American history," he added. "So it's perhaps just possible the Obama administration hasn't done quite enough."

Read the full article at the Huffington Post

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