President Barack Obama
The White House
He's thinking about climate. Now to get him acting ...

The bloom is back on the rose. Since President Obama’s strong words on climate in his inaugural speech, Facebook and the blogosphere have been abuzz with climate hopefuls. The consensus is that Obama has always really wanted to act on climate and has simply been stymied by opposition forces. This time around, though, the gloves are off. The executive branch is back in action. Forward climate action!

Before we break out the champagne, though, I think our community needs to remember something: Barack Obama is a politician. He is facing a second term where climate will not be on Congress' agenda. He knows that the environmental community worked itself into a frenzy over his perceived failure to lead during his first term. The words of a speech cost no more than the air. The inaugural address is an opportunity to pacify angry constituents by recognizing their concerns. Just as Obama included representatives of key communities in the inauguration ceremonies, he recognized another group of discontented supporters -- i.e. climate activists -- in his speech.

Let’s assume for the moment that the Obama administration does hope to act on climate. Here are the political realities: Every time the executive branch moves to exercise its authority -- for example, to regulate some industry through the Department of Energy or the EPA -- the Republicans will react with vigorous opposition. They will threaten Democratic leaders politically. They will hold press conferences. In the House of Representatives, GOP leaders will hold hearings, subpoena officials, and try to cut funding. Republicans will, in other words, make the administration's life difficult. Facing these challenges, the executive branch will occasionally, and perhaps frequently, back down. This is politics.

The question then becomes: What can the environmental community do to encourage the Obama administration to follow through on its commitments?