Obama’s Pledge to Help Species Adapt to Climate Change is No Laughing Matter

Written by Frank Lowenstein on . Posted in Learn, The Wonk Room

This week, NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep discussed with Bill Adair of PolitiFact the promises President Obama made during his campaign and how he has done in keeping those promises. Toward the end of the segment, Inskeep asks Adair to list some of the “more obscure” promises Obama made, which prompted the following exchange:

 

Adair: One was the Obama promise to help species adapt to climate change. We decided that that meant air conditioners for bears, which are probably not going to get funded now that the Republicans are controlling the House.
Inskeep: [Laughing heartily] Did he misspeak?!? Help species adapt… ?!? Not deal with climate change, but help species adapt to climate change?!?
Adair: Now, that’s what the promise said. He got very detailed in his policy statements during his campaign and it’s clear he was trying to appeal to very precise constituencies, so we saw a lot of promises like that. [chuckle].

This prompted a letter to NPR from our climate adaptation leader Frank Lowenstein. Here’s the letter:

Steve Inskeep missed the boat in his conversation with Bill Adair on Wednesday’s Morning Edition. Discussing  President Obama’s campaign promise to help species adapt to climate change, Inskeep asked if the President had misspoken and laughed at the idea. In fact, the President’s promise was wise, and he has taken steps to fulfill it.

Climate change has already begun, and the ranges and habits of plants and animals are changing in response to that change in the climate. These plants and animals are the building blocks of our national parks and forests, and add beauty and unique character to landscapes across the country. Picture the Everglades devoid of mangroves or wood storks, the Rockies without bighorn sheep, the desert Southwest minus the saguaro cactus.

Beyond this wild plants and animals play a vital role in purifying our rivers and air. Most major cities, from Salt Lake to New York, rely on forested watersheds to purify and protect our drinking water. Wild plants and animals provide direct economic benefits by helping pollinate crops and protect coastal communities from damaging storm waves, among many other functions.

The unique character of our natural landscapes and nature’s benefits for people are both at risk from climate change. Adaptation strategies can help preserve and protect these natural values that benefit each and every one of us. The Obama administration’s recent guidance for federal agencies on climate adaptation is a serious step forward in fulfilling this important campaign promise. It is a shame that Inskeep and Adair seemingly neither knew of the administration’s actions nor understood the importance of the promise.

Frank Lowenstein is the climate adaptation strategy leader at The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Paul Mackie/The Nature Conservancy (Screenshot of a short film of Frank Lowenstein and Jennifer McKnight from The Nature Conservancy explaining climate adaptation.)

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Comments (2)

  • Mark Stone

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    While I completely agree with the points in your commentary, I would like to add an idea. Obama’s intent behind his promise to “help species adapt to climate change,” may suggest a potential hazard to the environment and economy as well.

    His promise could be interpreted to suggest a favorable position toward corporations that have been pushing for GMOs in agriculture and aquaculture. That may seem a cynical interpretation that competes with the idealist optimism that helped sweep Obama into office with promises for positive change; however, he is proving to be rather a pragmatist on many counts (take for example his prosecution of war in Iraq and Afghanistan) and it seems that legislation supporting GMOs and corporations wielding those GMO patents is continuing to be received favorably under his administration. If support for GMOs is, in fact, a part of what he meant, then I hope that he fails to deliver on it.

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  • Rob Riordan

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    NPR’s reference provided a good opportunity for TNC to insert some science into the conversation, so I’m glad that Frank responded. But given the humorous tone of the original dialogue between Inskeep and Adair, what if Frank had injected a bit of humor into his response, as well? It’s rarely wise to criticize media figures that the audience likes, and the point about the importance of climate change adaptation could still have been made, without overtly criticizing Inskeep. Environmentalists often come across as dour doomsayers, which doesn’t help our cause. Let’s do what we can to let the audience know that we can laugh with them, rather than seeming to take umbrage at a mere off-the-cuff comment.

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