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Emily Zankman

In this article, Nate Silver expresses his surprise about the specificity of President Obama’s second term goals in his second inaugural address, particularly the fact that he devoted an entire paragraph to discuss the need for climate and energy policy changes
Silver states that at least some of the public is on board with these kinds of changes.

According to polls, 78 percent of respondents believe that “the planet has warmed over the past 100 years, and 49 percent said that they thought global warming would be a “very serious” problem for the United States if left unaddressed”. Further, 57 percent believe the government should enact new policies to combat global warming and 57 percent said “global warming was increasing the likelihood of storms like Hurricane Sandy”.

It is positive that the American public is starting to realize global warming is a serious problem (after 99 percent of scientists have agreed on this issue for years). However, one must ask: will it be too little too late? If we are to combat these environmental issues, we will have to take radical action. However, how much will the American people sacrifice in order to do so?

Sommer Ireland

Having followed the presidential inauguration in one of my german classes through the eyes of Germany (or rather most of Europe), I think it's topics like this which are the reason President Obama is so well liked overseas. Being environmentally efficient, especially when it comes to energy usage is really important in Europe, and so when the president addresses climate change and energy policy changes, Europe rejoices, while America is ho-hum about it. Even though not everyone agrees to the fact that the planet has warmed in the past 100 years, the evidence proves that it has. I do believe that more and more Americans are realizing the implications of global warming and the threat it poses. However, that's not all Americans, and most just don't see it as one of the pressing issues.
Having lived in Germany for six weeks last summer, evidence of green living and energy conservation are everywhere. My host mother greatly emphasized turning off the lights, making sure the windows were closed, and there was no dryer to dry my clothes - everything was hung out to dry. They are so energy efficient because energy costs so much, and that's something that I believe we need to see in America. We are not paying the full price for our energy like they do, and that's seen not only in electricity and water bills, but also at the pump. The sad fact of the matter is that people are so less likely to care, unless it hits their pocketbooks. Obama was right to include climate change and energy policy in his address, because it's about time Americans start caring about these matters.

Daniel Molon

In this article, Nate Silver examines the attitude of Americans regarding climate change. This point has become prevalent as President Obama dedicated a significant part of his inaugural speech to the matter, and during the presidential race, polls found that a majority of respondents thought that global warming posed a problem for the United States, and that the government should do something to combat it. With results as convincing as the polls cited in this article, in which 80 percent of Americans thought that global warming presented a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem for America, and 57 percent wanted some government action, the government should respond appropriately and initiate some tax on greenhouse gas emissions.
So, in the manner of Pigou, there are certain steps that must be followed to decide whether a Pigouvian tax is needed. First, we must identify the externality, which Americans in the polls believe that storms, like Hurricane Sandy, is one of the externalities of global warming, and a storm cannot be avoided. So, the last assessment in whether or not to implement a Pigouvian tax is what is the cost of the policy? Even though we do not know what the cost of the policy is, given the information available in this article, considering a vast majority of Americans believe this is a serious problem, and most Americans want some government intervention, it can be believed that the cost is not too severe if so many people desire it.

Brett Murray

Although Nate Silver discusses Obama’s specificity when regarding the global climate change crisis, I still wish that Nate provided a specific reference to President Obama’s paragraph that he devoted to raising concern for global climate change and energy related policies. What exactly did President Obama say about the urgent need for policies to help reduce our country’s carbon emission before we continue to rapidly increase our carbon emissions? Did he use specific references to our country’s current and estimated future carbon and GHG emissions? Did Obama explain that if our country does not enact legislation soon to help encourage the reduction of our emissions, then the country’s overall emissions could rise to levels that far exceed the U.N.’s goals for carbon emissions and that would make it much more costly to bring our emission levels back to the U.N. standards? My point is that the author describes Obama’s specific goals related to the U.S.’s need for policies to address issues related to climate change and energy production, yet he provides no example of Obama making a specific reference.

Furthermore, in regards to the surveys that includes in this article, I felt that these surveys could have been made much more precise and informative. For example, the author states, “78 percent of respondents said they believed the planet had warmed over the past 100 years, and 49 percent said they thought global warming would be a “very serious” problem for the United States if left unaddressed.” This question could have been improved by including the assumption that “anthropogenic causes” are responsible for the warming of the planet over the past 100 years. I feel that many people have accepted global warming as a scientific truth, which definitely highlights a sign of progress in recent years. Although, I bet that a significant portion of this 78% (perhaps around 20-35%) would claim that global warming has not occurred over the past 100 years due to human activities, which makes this survey statistic significant for a different reason than the author provided. It is this 20-30% of the population that continues to remain undecided and wavering between the sides of serious government intervention and minimal government intervention in order to alleviate some of the effects of climate change.

Some of the other statistics definitely are positive signs of progress as most Americans accept the need for action to combat the serious effects of climate change. Again, I am not sure how much useful information some of these surveys provide because in my experience it has been shown that most people are not sure what they think about the issue of climate change. During my semester abroad in Australia, I was able to attend a teleconference where a scientist recently conducted a study that focused on identifying how the public perceives climate change. The results of the study showed that a large majority of citizens do not have a strong, unwavering opinion on the global climate change crisis. For example, respondents in the study might respond with a particular answer on one question, and then respond completely differently to almost the same question that had been asked earlier with minor changes to the wording of the sentence. The ultimate conclusion of the report is that people are not confident with their opinions regarding climate change, and in many cases, respondents were shown to change their answers/opinions on particular topics multiple times throughout the course of the survey. Despite some of the signs of progress identified in this article, I do not think that this article focuses or provides any new information or ideas that I would deem as groundbreaking by an means. He seems to simply state some facts/statistics, and then arranges these results to support his original claim that Obama is stepping up the government’s commitment to climate change and other energy related policies.

Katherine Rush

I missed Obama's second inaugural speech when it was televised, so I'm glad this article prompted me to read the transcript. In the paragraph that Nate Silver discusses, President Obama begins boldly saying "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations". He goes on to link anthropogenic sources of pollution with wildfires, droughts, and storms, and urges America to be the world leader of the transition to sustainable energy. The President ends his message about climate change by linking it to the economy, arguing that new technology related to reducing pollution will create jobs and revitalize the economy.

The statistics that Nate Silver cites in this article prove that American citizens are on the path to agreement that climate change needs to be addressed. But despite the increasingly convincing scientific evidence that human activity is accelerating global warming, I don't think any of those statistics will ever reach 100%. Not everyone will be happy about the policies that Obama intends to implement, but that doesn't mean they should be avoided.

Courtney Ridenhour

When I first read that 80 percent of Americans believe global warming would be at least a somewhat serious issue if left unaddressed, I was a little surprised. Most articles about global warming frame the subject as a two-sided issue that remains unresolved. But that is the nature of how news is presented.

In a number of my journalism classes, we’ve discussed this very subject. As Emily points out, 99 percent of scientists acknowledge that global warming is a serious problem, but the other one percent still gets media attention. The reason? Journalists are repeatedly told to present both sides of an issue. It is done in the name of neutrality. But what if the dissenters are in a clear minority? What treatment should they be given? This problem is frequently mulled over in the field of journalism ethics. It’s an interesting question to ask. In this case, coverage of global warming can be misleading to the public. Hence my initial reaction to the figure Silver presents. That being said, disproportionate media coverage may be a factor influencing the 20 percent of Americans who do not see global warming as a threat if left unaddressed.

Holley Beasley

I completely agree with Brett when he says that Silver's article does not provide any new information and I would not deem it as groundbreaking either. Silver does not provide us with enough information about his statistics, causing me to question their validity as evidence in his argument and to suspect that he is using them more in a manipulative manner to support his own claim. Reading his article, I felt as if those numbers were taken out of context and so they do not give me the whole story I need to fully understand the environmental issues we have facing our nation's economy and our world's economy.

I, like Silver, was pleased by the significant paragraph Obama dedicated in his speech to the environmental issues associated with climate change. However, I still feel slight pangs of bitterness when I reread that same paragraph. On one hand, it's a great step forward and appreciate Obama valuing the issue enough to give so much time to it. On the other hand, I see it like Emily said earlier as too little too late. After spending so much time in both Environmental Studies and this class learning about the topic, one measly paragraph seems hardly sufficient. It's nice that Obama is publicly recognizing the issue and encouraging the nation to lead the transition towards sustainable resources, but it would've been a lot nicer if he didn't even need to address it at all. In his first inaugural address, four years ago, he declared, "We will restore science to its rightful place...We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories". He mentioned these words in between his declarations about healthcare and university funding, both of which are also important issues, yet we can't let our politicians undermine the gravity of our environmental issues just because it is not as pleasing to the public.

Justin Meyers

Well guess what, Nate Silver, I wikipedia'd your butt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nate_Silver). I wanted to learn about you so that I could find flaws in your stance (just because I'm in a cynical mood), but I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked a lot about you.

For those reading this post who don't care to read the wiki article, Silver's an avid sports fan/scientist, has been rated one of America's most influential people by Time magazine, and is a very successful political analyst. While I enjoyed learning these things about Silver, I was able to learn that he is, however, largely criticized for his not-subtle, left-leaning tendencies. Therefore, I decided to base my post in that same line of critique (just for kicks):

Mr. Silver is too quick to gush over President Obama's 'specificity.' While Silver's own political beliefs may lean him towards supporting the current administration, saying that President Obama was specific in his inauguration speech is laughable. I have nothing against Obama, in particular, but I dislike the way politicians speak (in addition to many other reasons I dislike politicians, but alas, a topic for another day). President Obama mentions that he wants to address global warming, but how will he correct that externality? What emissions will be targeted? How much should we curb pollution by? How can we measure the damage we humans have done? How should we make such decisions regarding policy? Do we incentivize firms or individuals? Do we act on the federal, state, and/or local levels? ........ My point is that there was barely any specificity in President Obama's speech. The inauguration speech was a rah-rah, unspecific, funding-creating, inspirational one, designed to garner him favor with the public.

Overall, I believe politicians almost never speak in specific terms because they must be able to wiggle out of any statement at the request of public opinion or corporate interests so that they may remain in office. Therefore, I believe Mr. Silver has gotten swept up in excitement for the continuance of the democratic administration and this has led him to exaggerate the specificity of Obama's words even when Obama pulled a classic politician's move: saying a lot without saying anything.

Callie Deddens

As the leader of our country, it is naturally pleasing that President Obama would bring up vital environmental issues in his inaugural address. However as other people have already commented, I too found Obama’s comments somewhat lacking. In a Spanish class on discourse and power, we have examined the specific language the president used in his speech and how it relates to political goals.

One of the only concrete things President Obama mentions in regards to environmental goals is the development of sustainable energy sources. I would wager that many Americans don’t have a clear idea of what this actually means and it certainly doesn’t sound very controversial. If that is Obama’s specific long term goal regarding environmental issues, no wonder a large number of Americans are behind it.

My reading of his speech has been changed by my understanding of the relationship between words and objectives and through most of the address he uses rhetoric intended to unify the American public around his specific aspirations. With that in mind, I find the results of the polls unsurprising.

Hank Hill

Surveys have become a viable and effective way for scientists, including econometricians, to formulate realistic and understandable assumptions of any country's culture. These recent surveys and polls concerning climate change perhaps hint at a sort of reversal in the American psyche. It's no secret that we're typically regarded as a consumption-centric culture that devours resources without a single thought to its repercussions. I remember my professor in England always joked about how we eat massive meals, drive massive cars, and pump massive fumes into the environment. This viewpoint is commonly held throughout Europe, and I'd assume most of the rest of the world. These polls suggest that, maybe it's changing.

There is a definite benefit to this potential cultural change. Though I'm not a proponent of moral suasion as a viable means to reducing pollution, I do believe that a change in the mindset of the American people will definitely help, regardless. If the American people fear global warming, or at least regard it as a negative, then we will hopefully consume less and/or demand that the firm pollute less. If the politicians actually serve the American people, then a change in the American mindset will result in the American people demanding political action. This demand for political action could lead to a tax on firms, such as the ones we've talked about in class.

However, I would like to see surveys above 1,002. Though it's above the threshold for credibility, I believe the global warming issue warrants a survey of thousands and thousands of Americans. Ideally, the American people will become more attune to the environmental problems we're facing, and that mindset change will start the domino effect, leading to political action against the firms incessant pollution.

Nick Cianciolo

I agree with Callie that it is nice that the President, the supposed leader of the free world, brought up some important topics in his second inaugural address. Topics like education, global warming, and national debt are all important to be addressed. Unfortunately, as Callie also rightly pointed out, the President (like so many other politicians) did not make developed points and talked mainly in generalities, as if still campaigning. I am encouraged to see that many Americans now believe that global warming is an issue our country needs to tackle head on. However, we need to see real substantive reform ideas touted by politicians before Americans from both sides of the aisle and both fringe elements will come together and work towards a solution. Until pursuing green technology doesn’t just mean throwing money at your biggest donors, and until it becomes mainstream for Republicans to accept climate change is an issue we will not see positive progress no matter how much money we throw at it. The positive sign is that more Americans are beginning to have an issue with climate change. I doubt we will ever see Americans and American firms making the “first attempt” at green reforms, however, as it becomes widely accepted, the changes become easier to legislate.

Shawn Swaney

I think Sommer makes an excellent point by bringing in the fact that when we use the term "public", it does not solely refer to Americans, but to everyone (although the surveys and polls in the article are domestic). I spent three years of my life living in Austria, where they were incredibly conscious about the environment in a time where it wasn't as big of a hot button issue as it is currently. From the outside, a lot of people view the United States, a country that is responsible for a significant portion of the world's pollution, as a place that doesn't care about the environment and the repercussions our actions have on it. I would have to agree with Sommer when she states that situations like these, where Americans bring topics like the environment into a public forum, are a huge reason as to why President Obama is well liked in many foreign countries. Obviously the environment is one issue in a myriad of issues that can be discussed.

I find the poll stating that "Fifty-seven percent of the 1,002 adults surveyed said the United States government should do “a great deal” or “quite a bit” on global warming" interesting as well. Given that these polls were taken soon after the Presidential Election, it would be interesting to see how people had voted and see if the candidate they voted for lined up with their ideology on the environment.

Chris Nault

In his second inaugural address, President Obama presented his vision and ideas for his second term, one of these ideas being addressing climate change. I have no doubt that climate change is something that the Obama administration is concerned with especially since the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, has said that he will address climate change concerns during his tenure at the post. Addressing climate change is obviously a very serious matter that must be dealt with in the decades to come, however I believe that lowering unemployment and getting our economy back on the right tracks are things that must be done before tackling climate change. The polls in this article do show that Americans are concerned about global warming and the threats it may have on our future, however I believe that if Americans were polled on which issues facing our country they believe to be most important and urgent, climate change would not be at the top of the list.

Kate LeMasters

Previous students have sufficiently addressed Obama’s emphasis on climate change in his second inaugural speech, and it specifically relates to Chapter 7 on a larger scale. This chapter speaks about climate change, specifically the increase in global warming and greenhouse gas emissions, and addresses different ways to sufficiently combat it. While raising taxes and other measures can be taken to reduce the environmental externalities and rapidly increasing climate change, that is not the whole picture. While climate change is most often considered a domestic matter, there are many global pollutants that are not contained on a local level and should not be addressed in a domestic context.
Obama stated that global warming could be a serious problem for the United States, but that does not mean that it can only be addressed amongst ourselves. Global pollutants impact the environments of other countries and well being of other human beings. Many pollutants are not kept in our bubble, and we are fooling ourselves if we believe that they are. International agreements must be reached in handling pollution on a large scale, because although climate change is an issue in the United States, we will not solve our problems if we approach the problem through this lens.
Climate change should thus be taken in context of foreign policy as well as domestic policy (as there are indeed still local pollutants). While I am sure no drastic slow-down of climate change will come within Obama’s next four years, simply due to time constraints, beginning to think about this issues in an international arena will provide us with the needed momentum to address climate change on a global scale.

Curtis Jay Correll

I find it encouraging that such an important issue would be brought up in such a public setting as Obama's inauguration speech. I am still skeptical that significant change will come. Unfortunately, American businesses will be put at a global disadvantage compared to global firms in countries such as China and Brazil if America ever does pass serious environmental regulations. That is certainly not a justifiable reason for Americans to vote against environmental responsibility, but it seems unlikely that profit maximizing firms will willingly submit to leading the way towards sustainability and a healthy world. With corporate donations fueling both parties, it seems unlikely that anyone will successfully push through serious environmental changes.
As crazy as it is that an issue recognized by approximately 78 percent of the population is being largely ignored, this seems to demonstrate that the people on the whole are somehow not being properly represented. It would be interesting to do a study on whether the average citizen is not being properly represented by their Congressmen, not getting out and voting, nominating the wrong candidates out of ignorance of the political system, or is not being adequately represented for some other reason. Whichever it is, I see no serious change in sight, though one can only hope that massive global changes will someday bring about environmental responsibility.

Account Deleted

I don't have a ton to contribute here because I think a lot of people have made a lot of good points. What I found most interesting about this article was the fact that ~78% of individuals believed the earth had warmed over the past century. Pretty sure that this is an objective measurement. It happened, so the percentage estimate just seems odd to me. It also makes me question many of the other results of the survey and overall gave me a general concern over the public's level of knowledge about the issue. While I know that I don't know a ton about the issue, that W&L students as a whole are typically pretty different from national averages, and that part of the reason we're taking the class is because we want to know more, this survey and those like it make me question to what extent these surveys should be acted on by policy makers

Gyung Jeong

President Obama did a great job talking about climate change and energy in his second inaugural address. As we learned in class, increase in price of an object means that the item is scarce. For the past few years, as we know, the price of gasoline has risen tremendously, which, one can argue, is a sign that we have to find another source of energy soon. Some might argue that the increase in price is due to OPEC and its oil policies, but, regardless, we need to find another source of energy to keep the cost low. Because of this reason, it is extremely important that President Obama talked about it in his speech. The planet has been warming up over the past 100 years, and global warming has become a serious problem for the whole world. Some argue hurricane Sandy, which devastated a portion of Northeastern US, was heavily influenced by global warming and climate change. These climate changes can affect our lives heavily just like hurricane Sandy. However, according to the PollingReport.com database, not everyone is concerned about this problem. Although 57% thinks US government should do something about global warming, not everyone actually cares about the problem. We wait until the problem actually begins to have an effect in our lives to start addressing it; however, at that point, it might already be too late. We need to begin working against this issue now, in order to overcome it.

Katja Kleine

I liked Kate's comments about how Global Warming and climate change need to be international issues. I applaud Obama for mentioning and addressing climate change in his speech, but I would also like to see some actual change in policy. My worry is that issues like the economy and healthcare many times seem more urgent that climate issues, which is why they so often get pushed back. Additionally, I assume that the polls are subject to hypothetical bias. Many Americans I think say that the climate change is an important issue, but if the question was who would support higher taxes to achieve a healthier climate, I do not think the numbers would have been as high.

Sasha Doss

I thought Obama’s speech was surprisingly unspecific as it concerns climate change. The worth in its mention is that it is a promise, an acknowledgment that the United States will attempt to address the problems of “raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.” At first, I saw this paragraph on climate change as progress. Despite its lack of specificity and punctuality, it is a start. Then, I read Obama’s first inaugural address. Below are a few highlights:

• “With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.”
• “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”
• “…nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect.”

He even mentions climate change as an indicator of crisis. This was four years ago. I don’t think his mention of climate change in this year’s inaugural address is progressive, rather its evidence of a stalemate. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a residence life of 500 years. Even if we stopped using carbon altogether, the effects of our actions today will resonate long after we’re gone. The world will continue to get warmer and there will be more sporadic and severe weather events. As far as the general public is concerned, the surveys are promising, but still leave a lot to be desired. Clearly, we can talk the talk, but at some point we have to walk the walk, and our future generations would prefer sooner than later.

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