A Daughter's Tears: The President's Speech

US President Barack Obama speaks prior to signing a series of executive orders on car emissions and fuel efficiency standards
US President Barack Obama speaks prior to signing a series of executive orders on car emissions and fuel efficiency standards in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, January 26, 2009. Obama issued a directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to allow 14 states to set their own tailpipe emission standards, as well as announcing new regulations requiring improved fuel efficiency in car and trucks. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Bulworth/War of the Worlds Productions brings you the full text of President Obama's historic, legacy-forging climate change speech.

Good evening my fellow Americans:

Tonight I speak to you concerning a matter of the utmost gravity. It is a matter of national security. It is a matter of human rights. It is a matter of economic and social well-being. I speak to you tonight about a major shift in my approach to climate change.

I am the president but I am also a father. Last week my younger daughter Sasha came to me. In science class, she has been learning about climate change. Sasha overheard one of her classmates saying that his parents said that the president was not doing nearly enough about climate change, that I was playing politics. This classmate's parents went on to say that I am not providing the forceful leadership necessary and am thereby placing our children and grandchildren at risk.

I'll be honest. My first reaction was to be irritated. In my mind, I started to list the policies my administration has put in place to mitigate climate change: higher fuel efficiency standards, incentives to invest in green energies. But then I looked into my daughter's eyes... and I saw tears, and something happened; my rationalizations and justifications fell away. In that moment of clarity, I admitted to myself that her classmate's parents are right. When it comes to addressing climate, I have fallen short, substantially and significantly short. But that is about to change. When it comes to this elephant in the living room that I and Congress and, indeed, most of our leaders and much of our citizenry have been doing our best to ignore, from this moment forward I say this: "Not on my watch!"

As president, I must work with both Houses of Congress in order to bring policy onto law. I cannot simply draw up a program and say, "This is how it is going to be." Compromise and negotiation are an integral part of the political process. And so what I say tonight will not automatically become the law of the land. I recognize that. But for too long, in the name of appeasement, in the name of finding a middle ground, I have avoided a simple and undeniable truth and in doing so have been doing a grave disservice to the American people.

The truth is this: Climate change is an emergency. Right here. Right now. Climate change presents a clear and present danger to the national interests of the United States of America and to the well-being of its citizens. Before I go into details, I want to address the notion that there is still uncertainty among the scientists who are studying our climate. I want to make this clear; there is no uncertainty as to whether human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are warming our planet. They are. There is no uncertainty as to whether the effects of this warming will be mostly negative. They will be. There is no uncertainty as to whether the longer we go without taking needed action the more people will suffer and the more expensive it will become. The only uncertainty that remains is how quickly things will worsen if we do not act now to reduce carbon emissions.

I understand that for many climate change is still a vague and distant phenomenon. For example, you might be aware that the Arctic ice is melting before our eyes; it is simply vanishing. You might think, "So what? How does that affect myself, my loved ones? We need good jobs, we need to pay our mortgages." This is what makes climate change the enormous challenge that it is: To most of us it happens relatively slowly, and even if we are experiencing drought or flooding, we know that droughts and floods have always happened. On a day-to-day level, climate change does not set off our survival alarms.

It is into this breech between our imperfect perceptions and the troubling reality that climate change represents, that I, as your president and Commander-In-Chief, must step. As we put more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, our planet warms. The extra heat enters our oceans and our landmasses every minute of every hour of every day. The climate systems upon which we have depended as we have built our nation; where and how we grow our food, where and how we get our drinking water, where and how we build our cities and towns, are slowly being pushed out of balance. It does not happen all at once. It is measured not in weeks or months but in years and decades. But it is happening and soon, perhaps very soon, we will be looking at basic destabilization of agricultural production and other systems fundamental to our national security and well-being.

The climate system is complex and climate science is complicated. I have learned as much as I can as quickly as I have been able, but at a certain point I simply have to trust the scientists. A strange thing has happened in our country recently. The findings of our scientists, these good men and women who devote their lives to investigating and examining our world in the name of progress and understanding... their findings are being treated as a political matter. It has gotten to the point, where certain high-ranking politicians and business people have leveled baseless accusations impugning the integrity of our scientific community. I can think of few things more dangerous to the functioning of a healthy democracy.

The bottom line is this: Climate change is happening. It is real. What will happen if we do not address it now? It will get worse. It will be more expensive to address later on. There is even the possibility that we will lose the ability to manage the situation altogether. Because of insufficient action on the part of the United States and other nations, humankind is behind the curve when it comes to addressing climate change. What now are our options?

One option is to stay behind the curve. This week, for the first time in at least three million years, the carbon dioxide level in our atmosphere passed 400 parts per million. Three million years ago the Earth was seven degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today and present day New York City, Miami and many coastal cities in the United States and around the world would have been underwater.

Before the use of fossil fuels, these types of temperature rises happened over thousands of years. But we are changing things much, much more quickly. The latest findings put on us on a track for seven degree Fahrenheit warming over pre-industrial temperatures as soon as the 2060s. As difficult as this may be to grasp, if we stay behind the curve, according to the latest research, my daughters and your children and grandchildren are looking at a world of "unprecedented heat-waves, severe droughts and major floods." The research goes on to conclude that, "There is no certainty adaptation to a 7 degree warmer world is possible."

Again, I realize that it is not easy for any of us to wrap our heads around, but the nature of climate change is that the longer it remains unaddressed the more quickly it builds momentum. The time to address it is now before the momentum takes the ability to manage it out of our hands. Staying behind the curve will mean a much more difficult world, perhaps an unlivable world, for our children and grandchildren

But we have another option: We can get ahead of the curve. In 1961, speaking of his intention to put a man on the moon, John F. Kennedy said, "We mean to be a part of it. We mean to lead it. Our leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, requires us to make this effort; not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills."

Do we need to create more jobs? Do we want a robust economy? Of course we do. Do we need to take action to address climate change, to cut carbon emissions and to create sources of low carbon energy? Do we need to get ahead of the curve? We do. Until now, I have been on record as saying that I will not sacrifice jobs in the name of addressing climate change. But, I have been getting this exactly backwards. Creating jobs and addressing climate change actually go hand-in-hand.

When the will, resources, creativity and resolve of the American people are focused on a goal, we have shown, repeatedly, that we are capable of greatness. During World War II, we transformed our industrial base, producing jeeps, tanks, ships and planes for the Allied cause. In 1969, the Apollo program fulfilled John F. Kennedy's promise. The challenge of climate change is no different. And so tonight I am announcing the Green Patriot Program. It is the intention of this program to put us ahead of the curve. We will incentivize a World War II-level build-up of manufacturing in the areas of solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy as well as the supporting technologies of battery storage and smart grid capability.

I spoke earlier of having two options. We also have two options for funding the Green Patriot Program. One is a massive build-up of government bureaucracy. Some of my colleagues in Congress might be surprised to learn that I do not prefer this option. The other is a market option that will keep government intervention to a minimum. I will tell you right now and in no uncertain terms, there is only one way to make the market option possible and that is by instituting a carbon tax.

Now I realize that as president, proposing a new tax might not be good for my approval rating. Quite frankly, my advisers cautioned me to go another route. They said that a carbon tax is a non-starter with Congress, especially in the House of Representatives. That may well be. But that does not change the fact that an effective carbon tax is the only market mechanism sufficient to bring emissions down to the point where they need to be so that systems fundamental to our well-being can continue to function. And yes, some fossil fuel executive might make less money, but fair is fair; their profits and salaries have for too long been subsidized by the fact that the fossil fuel industries have not paid for the externalities, the damages that atmospheric carbon is causing. Furthermore, I am proposing that the proceeds from the tax be returned on a per capita basis directly to every American citizen. In this way, we will minimize government bureaucracy and studies show that most Americans will come out ahead even given the initially higher costs of the newer green energy sources.

Speaking of the fossil fuel industries, an integral component of the Green Patriot Program will be the First-In-Line program. As we make the necessary transition to low carbon and non-carbon energies, jobs in the petroleum, gas and coal industries will be eliminated. Millions of Americans make their living in these industries and these Americans will be first In line to be re-trained for jobs in the emerging energy sectors. As already trained energy workers, they are both qualified and deserving of priority in the new economy.

Finally, let's talk about China. China has recently overtaken the United States as the world's highest carbon emitter. Of course, for any solution to be effective, not only the United States, not only China, but the entire world must get on board. I have cited the fact that U.S. emissions have been declining recently as evidence that my administration is doing its part on climate change. But what I have not said is that in 2012, U.S. coal exports were the highest in history. It does not matter to the atmosphere where American coal is burnt. And, yes China is now the world's leading emitter, but the United States is responsible for a higher share of total carbon emissions than any nation in the world by far. As Americans we like to think that the world looks to us to lead by example and it is time that we do so with climate change.

I am a father and I love my daughters as much as I love anything on this Earth. Now, some may say, "President Obama is attempting to completely revamp our economy and society because his daughter had tears in her eyes." Not so. You have elected me to be your president and Commander-In-Chief. It is my foresworn duty to put forth policy that I deem to be in the best interest of the people of the United States of America. Across the board; economically, ecologically, morally and in terms of national security that is what I have done tonight. We may or may not be able to get this program through Congress now or six months from now or three years from now. I don't know. But as your president and, yes, as a father, I will not stop trying. Thank you, God bless you and good night.