Obama’s UN Address Tuesday Receives Mixed Reviews

Undecided as to whether Obama’s much-hyped address at yesterday’s UN climate change summit was groundbreaking or underwhelming? The reviews are rolling in – here’s what a few of the experts had to say.

Surprisingly taken with the speech was Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes, who pointed out that while Obama didn’t name any specific emissions targets, he did depart from his usual green-economy-green-jobs routine to acknowledge just how much pain and suffering will come with climate change. Although Obama has been talkin bout a green revolution since he took office, he “hasn’t yet given a climate-focused speech like this directly to Americans,” says Hiskes. “Conventional wisdom is that jobs and prosperity talking points are much safer than the buzz-kills about suffering,” says Hiskes, which makes Obama’s “tentative departure” from the usual script praiseworthy.


Less enthused was BBC North America editor Mark Mardell, who live blogged from the UN:

“Polite, and pretty brief applause as Mr Obama concludes. I wonder if those children who called for "action, not more words" felt they got it. Many Europeans feel that the fine words are not matched by real commitment. And what about the 41% of Americans who (according to Gallup) do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity: will there be any effort to convince them?”

Author and activist Bill McKibben took his own advice to Obama (give us more details! Give us emissions targets!) and delivered his criticism with a side of hard numbers (read: 350.org shout-out):

“Due to a lack of leadership, inaction has only made this situation worse -- targets must now be strengthened for both our long and short term goals. We have studied the science and have heard the scientists -- we must commit to bringing our CO2 levels down to 350 parts per million… The words we heard today from President Obama were new coming from an American President, but his words lacked the details necessary to lead the world in these impending talks -- and the United States must lead.”

And as for the New York Times, that little paper of record, Neil MacFarqhuar came down hard on all Heads of State attending the summit, but was particularly disappointed by the US:

“In speech after speech, presidents and prime ministers of countries large and small spoke with soaring promises about the importance of confronting the problem for future generations. But when it came down to the nuts-and-bolts promises of what they were prepared to do in the next decade, experts and analysts were disappointed that there were no bold new proposals, particularly from the United States.”

Read the full text of Obama’s climate change address here.

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