How President Obama’s Climate Speech Could Have Rocked Even More

<a href="http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_102.html">"Earthrise"</a>/NASA

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


President Obama’s speech Tuesday on climate change is getting pretty high marks. Or as Al Gore put it, it was “the best address on climate by any president ever.”

At both the beginning and end of the speech the president invoked the historic “Earthrise” image, taken from the Apollo 8 mission on Christmas Eve of 1968 as the craft orbited the moon. That “blue marble” is the namesake of this blog itself, and was a great inspiration to the developing environmental movement in the 1970s.

At the close of the speech, the president put it like this:

…that image in the photograph, that bright blue ball rising over the moon’s surface, containing everything we hold dear—the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity—that’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. And if we remember that, I’m absolutely sure we’ll succeed.

It looks like Obama here may be channeling the celebrated environmental writer (and longtime Mother Jones contributor) Bill McKibben, who similarly drew upon “Earthrise” to great effect at the opening to his 2010 book Eaarth. Only, McKibben goes considerably further—and arguably achieves a more impressive rhetorical effect—by noting that global warming has literally changed what Earth looks like from space. What this suggests is that the “Earthrise” picture wouldn’t be the same today as it was in 1968 (although to be sure, some of the differences might be hard to notice given the distance of the shot).

Here’s McKibben:

Consider the veins of cloud that streak and mottle the earth in that glorious snapshot from space. So far humans, by burning fossil fuel, have raised the temperature of the planet by nearly a degree Celsius…A NASA study in December 2008 found that warming on that scale was enough to trigger a 45 percent increase in thunder-heads above the ocean, breeding spectacular anvil-headed clouds that can rise five miles above the sea…

And again:

Or consider the white and frozen top of the planet. Arctic ice has been melting slowly for two decades as temperatures have climbed, but in the summer of 2007 that gradual thaw suddenly accelerated. By the time the long Arctic night finally descended in October, there was 22 percent less sea ice than had ever been observed before, and more than 40 percent less than the year that the Apollo capsule took its picture…Within a decade or two, a summertime spacecraft pointing its camera at the North Pole would see nothing but open ocean. There’d be ice left on Greenland—but much less ice.

Barack, Bill—you guys should talk. Between the two of you, you just might move us to save this rock.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.