President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise…is to help you and your family. – Willard Mitt Romney, August 30, 2012

The moment Mitt Romney mocked the climate crisis will be cursed, rued, and lamented by future generations. It might even be cursed, rued, and lamented by Mitt Romney, if he looks back on that line as the beginning of the end of his flirtation with young voters and their planet. After all, America’s best and brightest youth are pouring themselves into innovation to create clean energy, to solve the climate crisis, and win the future…and Mitt Romney tonight sent the message that his America has no place for them.

But while Romney mocked the Earth with his words, President Obama is mocking the planet with his actions.

On the same day that Romney unleashed his contempt on the natural systems that support all life, the Obama administration issued permission to allow Shell to drill for oil in America’s Arctic’s fragile Arctic seas. Obama’s actions take oil that’s been locked safely under the sea for eons, and turn it into carbon pollution that will lock us into a future of drought, wildfire, rising seas…and more intolerable heat. Along with Obama’s broader oil drilling and coal mining spree, it would undo the modest but important progress he’s made by raising vehicle fuel efficiency standards and temporarily blocking part of the tar sands pipeline. And that’s if Shell’s aging equipment doesn’t cause a massive oil spill.

That would be the greatest mockery of all.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Obama’s political team looks at the Shell Oil decision – and every other major policy choice facing them in the next few months – purely as a risk: risk of giving the Tea Party material to whine about, risk of riling up Koch brothers, risk of giving Mitt Romney an issue. It’s why Obama has such a hard time telling us what he’ll do in the second term – or even the remainder of this one: any big announcement, any expression of his core values, will turn off someone, and the Obama team it’s much safer to try and keep the focus on Mitt Romney.

Unfortunately, Obama is unlikely to have the luxury to speak only about Romney’s failings.  Until he does something big, until he fights with actions and not just words, until he shows us – not just tells us – that there’s a substantive difference between Romney’s sneer and his “all of the above,” it will be hard to motivate activists to knock on doors, donors to close Obama’s enormous money gap, and journalists to write admiringly about Obama’s character and not just his verbal facility.

But imagine that instead of more bromides, Obama steps up to the podium in Charlotte and finally showed us some spine.

Unlike Mitt Romney, I will never mock the threat of climate change; I will never mock the thousands of young people pouring their best ideas and their hard work into innovating the clean energy economy we need; and I will never mock that quintessentially American drive to create a better world. That’s why today, I am standing up to the oil company CEO’s to protect America’s fragile Arctic and make sure that a major oil spill never again fouls America’s coasts, that we never have to see a picture of a turtle or a polar bear or a person coated in toxic oil, and that we can keep our coastal economy protected from disaster. Mitt, I’ve got a message for you: oil is important, but our children’s future is more important and that, my friend, is something I will always cherish and defend.

In the words of the great progressive champion and political powerhouse Paul Wellstone, “You’ve got to start a fight to win one.” Those aren’t words Obama has lived by, but he’s got to start doing so if we’re going to head off a Romney presidency that seems poised to make Obama’s mixed environmental record look like an eco dream.