White House won’t say if climate change is responsible for natural disasters

Paul Conner | Executive Editor

Twice in the last week, the White House has deflected questions on whether climate change is to blame for natural disasters like the Colorado Springs wildfires and the Midwest drought.

“I haven’t had that discussion with him [President Obama],” White House press secretary Jay Carney said to reporters Sunday aboard Air Force One en route to Aurora, Colo.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack similarly demurred when asked last week whether climate change had anything to do with the crop-threatening drought sweeping the Midwest.

“I’m not a scientist so I’m not going to opine as to the cause of this,” Vilsack said at the Wednesday press briefing alongside Carney. “All we know is that right now there are a lot of farmers and ranchers who are struggling. And it’s important and necessary for them to know, rather than trying to focus on what’s causing this, what can we do to help them.”

“Long term, we will continue to look at weather patterns, and we’ll continue to do research and to make sure that we work with our seed companies to create the kinds of seeds that will be more effective in dealing with adverse weather conditions,” he concluded.

The stance is not entirely in line with environmental activists who point to the recent East Coast heat wave, wildfires and tornadoes as proof that they are right about humans adversely affecting the climate.

But, “we don’t want to do it in an I-told-you-so kind of way,” Climate Institute President John Topping told the Washington Post, which asserts in its news reports that climate change has been scientifically proven.

President Barack Obama has loudly staked out politically liberal positions on gay marriage, illegal immigration and women’s health care in the waning year of his first term, but he has more subtly affirmed his belief in climate change heading into the election, after efforts toward cap-and-trade legislation failed early in his presidency.

He has not given an ABC News interview to announce his position. Instead, he has reiterated his position from the back door of the White House, so to speak.

He has repeatedly said at private fundraisers that climate change is one of the reasons that his administration has pumped so much taxpayer money into clean energy research and development, even in a down economy and with a spiking national debt.

On the campaign trail, Obama implies that not believing in climate change is absurd. He uses the issue as part of a recurring attack on what he sees as Republican extremism.

“Because back in 2008, there was some overlap between Democrats and Republicans on some important issues. The nominee from the other party believed in climate change, believed in campaign finance reform, believed in immigration reform,” Obama said at a private Massachusetts fundraiser in late June.

His administration, through the Environmental Protection Agency, is dealing substantial blows to the coal industry with the goal of curbing carbon emissions in mind. A late-June statement of policy from the White House called climate change a “serious challenge.” And Obama declared with other G20 nations June 19 that “climate change will continue to have a significant impact on the world economy, and costs will be higher to the extent we delay additional action.”

From the front door of the White House, however, Carney highlighted Obama’s trips to disaster areas to sympathize with hurting Americans.

“[Obama’s] concern is that we, as a people, and that the government specifically, take every action it can to help those who are affected by these kinds of events,” Carney said Sunday in response to the climate change question. “As we also saw in Joplin, the remarkable capacity of the American people to rebound from these events is inspiring, both to the president and I think to everyone across the country.”

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