The Common Good

A Path Forward on Climate, Or, Obeying God

President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Address this week included a bold statement about his vision for addressing climate change. In fact, he redefined the issue of environmental protection as not only morally important but a command from God. After the vacuum of discussion of climate change during the presidential campaign, this proclamation came as a welcome surprise.

Most analyses of Obama’s speech point to the fact that the reason he was able to say what he did is that American public opinion has solidified behind these ideas. Plenty of polls will tell you that the number of Americans who accept the reality of climate change has soared in recent years, perhaps partly due to the natural disasters the president mentioned.

But how will the President go about addressing climate change? In his speech, he mentions a path toward sustainable energy sources, leading the global transition toward renewable technology. Details are scarce, but many environmental groups are advocating that he avoid Congress altogether and use executive power to make strides. 

The last major piece of climate change legislation was defeated in 2010. It seems unlikely (though not impossible) that the current Congress would be willing to consider new legislation, especially given all the other priorities stated by the White House. Trying to pass gun regulations, immigration reform, and a budget deal leaves little space for movement on climate.

Still, there is still significant work that can be done. During the last administration the Environmental Protection Agency was able to expand regulation of many pollutants under existing legislation as well as raise fuel efficiency standards.  It was also able to offer financing for renewable energy development. By pushing for regulations, President Obama could make similar strides in home energy efficiency and carbon pollution from power plants, adding up to a big impact.

As people who truly believe that the earth has been commanded to our care by God, we should continue to advocate for and support the actions of our leaders to curb our impact. After all, shifting public opinion is what made it possible for President Obama to make the speech that he did. In a few years, maybe the possibility of passing legislation won’t be so far off.

Janelle Tupper is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.

Photo: Praying for creation, Tyler Olson /

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