One of the major topics that has gotten the least amount of attention during the long presidential campaign is climate change. Before the devastation wrought by superstorm Sandy on the East Coast— which New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said is proof that global climate change is real— MTV News sat down with President Obama to discuss how he would approach this pressing issue in his second term if re-elected.
Pointing out that the environment was mentioned in at least one debate in every presidential race since 1988 before being omitted from this year’s three debates, during last week’s “Ask Obama Live: An MTV Interview With the President” special MTV News’ Sway Calloway asked the president if he would make good on the promises he made during his first run for the White House to focus significant resources on environmental issues.
“We’re not moving as fast as we need to,” Obama said. “This is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation is. So this is a critical issue.”
The president said he was surprised it did not come up in one of the debates because he feels that there is a “huge” contrast between his plan to deal with what some climate scientists have called a dire situation and that of his opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
“Governor Romney says he believes in climate change, that’s different than a lot of the members of his own party who just deny it completely, but he says he’s not sure that man-made causes are the reason,” said Obama. “I believe scientists, who say that we’re putting too much carbon emissions into the atmosphere and it’s heating the planet. And it’s going to have a severe effect.”
For that reason, Obama noted, his administration has taken a number of steps over the past few years aimed at slowing down U.S. carbon emissions. Among the actions he cited: doubling fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks (the first increase in 30 years in fuel mileage standards) and a doubling of clean energy production (wind, solar, biofuels).
These acts, he said, will not only take “huge” amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, but also decrease reliance on foreign fuel sources, save Americans money at the pump and allow private homes and companies to get electricity from clean sources.
As he deals with the aftermath of Sandy, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg cited Obama’s leadership on the environment in endorsing the president on Thursday.
“We need leadership from the White House — and over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks,” said Bloomberg, who also attributed the enormity of this week’s storm to changes in the climate.
“The next step is buildings and really ramp up our efficiency in buildings,” Obama said of his future plans. “If we had the same energy efficiency as Japan, we would cut our energy use by about 20 percent … that means we’d be taking a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere.” If we do that, the president added, we can meet the targets he negotiated with other countries at a U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009 to bring our carbon emissions down by 17 percent while creating new green jobs.
“In order for us to solve the whole problem, though,” he said. “We’re going to have to have some technological breakthroughs, because countries like China and India … they’re building coal-fired power plants. They feel that they have to prioritize getting people out of poverty ahead of climate change. So what we have to do is help them, and help ourselves, by continuing to put money into research and technology about how do we get the new sources of power that are really going to make a difference?”
With the election less than a week away, stick with MTV’s Power of 12 throughout Tuesday’s voting for results, analysis and reports from Chicago and Boston on election night.