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Obama’s Climate Sham[e]: Empty Rhetoric in Copenhagen Speech

There was a time, say 12 months ago, when each speech by Obama was anticipated with a mix of excitement and hope. Despite myself, I felt that same mix of giddy expectation as he took the stage this morning at the Bella Center where the UN Climate Talks continue to stumble forward. All morning, news of secret meetings and leaked texts have been circulating around Copenhagen: the US and China are striking a deal! The Maldives is Backing down! China won't budge! The Islands are standing strong! But the real focus has been on Obama and whether he can muster the leadership, courage, and, let's face it, common sense to make the US commit to a real deal.

Don't hold your breath. Obama's speech this morning didn't just lack substance, it even lacked good rhetoric: the address was met with only sporadic applause from the assembled delegates. Here are some reactions to the talk,

Bill McKibben,  "In the face of leaked UN documents showing that this agreement is a sham, we were hoping for some movement from the President. Instead, his response was take it or leave it. 100 other nations are not making reasonable demands because they want to make the President's life harder. It's because they would like their countries to actually survive the century."

Friends of the Earth U.S. President Erich Pica: "President Obama's rhetoric is empty. The U.S. has failed to significantly improve upon the weak position it brought to these talks. This speech appears to be more of a face-saving exercise for President Obama than an attempt to unite countries around a truly planet-saving agreement. The United States came to these negotiations with a weak position, and now appears to be attempting to take the rest of the world down to our level. It simply must do better."

Obama still has a chance to up his action, but it's clear now that he's not going to go the distance. What does it mean when the US President - someone many of us worked hard for - is selling out the survival of many nations?

This morning, Dessima Williams, the chairwoman of the Association of Small Island States, said: "The fact that more than 100 countries are calling for global warming to be limited to less than 1.5°C shatters the mythology that 2°C is an acceptable target, and instead highlights the broad consensus that climate mitigation goals should be based on up-to-date climate science."


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We've shattered a lot of mythologies at this climate conference. First, that rich countries are ever going to be willing to take on the necessary commitments without immense public pressure. And second - even more important - that we have an incredibly powerful movement building around the world that is ready to apply that pressure in powerful, effective, and yes, beautiful and creative ways.

Next time Obama gives a speech, he should have to face these women:


Or this lone girl in Iraq, who went through multiple US military check-points, to take this photo on October 24:


He should have to face a movement.

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Jamie Henn

Jamie Henn

Jamie Henn is co-founder of and currently serves as Director of Strategic Communications for 350 Action. Follow him on Twitter: @Agent350

Jamie is the co-coordinator of, an international global warming campaign. A recent college graduate, he lives in San Francisco, CA. In 2007, he co-organized Step It Up, a campaign that pulled together over 2,000 climate rallies across the United States to push for strong climate action at the federal level.

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