February 12, 2013 | 6
After a campaign that avoided climate change like the plague, President Barack Obama gave a State of the Union speech that put climate change on center stage. Early in the speech he encouraged law makers to revisit cap-and-trade as a way of tackling emissions of greenhouse gases.
“I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago,” Obama said. The Climate Stewardship bill would have set a cap of carbon emissions at 2000 levels, but failed in Congress before Obama took office.
Climate change was something of a disaster for Obama in his first term. In 2009, while three senators were trying to negotiate Republican support for cap and trade legislation, Obama undermined their efforts by announcing his support for offshore drilling, effectively giving away a key bargaining chip (the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza wrote a now-classic story on the snafu).
Obama peppered his State of the Union speech with references to several big science and technology issues. He called attention to the threat of cyber warfare and the need to protect the nation’s infrastructure from cyber attacks. Obama singled out the power grid, financial networks and air traffic control as being vulnerable to sabotage. Earlier in the day he signed an executive order to increase information sharing and set security standards, but on the podium he called on Congress to pass legislation “to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.”
Obama went out of his way several times to make jobs and national competitiveness into issues of science policy. He announced his intention to start high-tech manufacturing projects modeled on past government support of 3D printing to ensure that “the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America.” He also cast clean energy technologies in terms of a race with China for future high-tech industries: “As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.” And he coached his proposal for an Energy Security Trust to encourage the development of renewable fuels for cars in terms of protecting citizens from rising gas prices.
Even Obama’s call to repair the nation’s aging infrastructure sounded like a grab-bag of sci-tech measures–it took in the power grid, Internet access, high-tech schools and bridges that have fallen into disrepair. At a time when jobs are scarce and economic growth is still sluggish, Obama emphasized long-term fixes in which science plays a big role.