WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Al Gore harshly criticizesPresident Obama for lack of leadership on climate change in a magazine essay published online Wednesday, saying that he had barely moved American policy on global warming since assuming the presidency from George W. Bush.
But Mr. Gore charges that in the face of well-financed attacks from fossil fuel industries and denial and delay from Republicans in Congress, Mr. Obama has failed to act decisively to alter the nation’s policies on climate change and energy.
Addressing climate change on a national and international level will require forceful American leadership, Mr. Gore says.
“Yet President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis,” Mr. Gore writes. “He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.”
The White House had no immediate official response to Mr. Gore’s comments, but one aide noted that much of the article was devoted to criticism of the media and the Congress and that it was not solely aimed at Mr. Obama.
Mr. Gore’s extended outburst of frustration signals something of a public turning point for him. He has generally been supportive of Mr. Obama’s efforts on climate change, and he helped the White House and the Democratic leadership in the House pass far-reaching global warming legislation in 2009.
Mr. Gore, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his climate advocacy, praised some of the president’s actions on climate change and energy, including a significant increase in automobile fuel efficiency standards and billions of dollars in new financing for clean energy technology projects. But in recent months Mr. Gore has privately expressed growing frustration with what he sees as Mr. Obama’s failure to act or speak more forcefully on the issue of climate change and environmental issues more broadly.
He has told friends that the president has been too timid on the issue and allowed himself to get distracted by the other challenges of the presidency. Mr. Gore has also told friends that he does not believe that the White House has been sufficiently supportive of Lisa P. Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who has tried to advance greenhouse gas regulation against stiff Congressional opposition.
Much of Mr. Gore’s essay is devoted to criticism of the news media for failing to report accurately on the scientific consensus that climate change is real and that it is most likely caused by human activities. He says that the media have been cowed by an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign financed by the oil, gas and coal industries, or has presented ideological entertainment in the guise of news reporting.
He also claims that the American political system has been corrupted by the fossil fuel lobbies. He refers to the Senate as “broken” and “controlled lock, stock and barrel by the oil and coal industries.”
Mr. Obama has tried to move the country away from fossil fuels, and has made the connection between oil imports and national security, Mr. Gore writes.
“But in spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change,” he writes. “After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority.”
He continues, “He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that ‘drill, baby, drill’ is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil.”
“I entirely disagree with Gore here,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former White House and Congressional aide for the Clinton administration and communications director for the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Obama has consistently made a compelling case for climate action based on the science and has fought in Congress and internationally for robust policies to cut emissions and promote clean energy. The administration’s failing on climate has in fact been political.”
After slamming the media, Mr. Gore turns to public officials of both parties: “Many politicians, unfortunately, also fall into the same two categories: those who cheerlead for the deniers and those who cower before them. The latter group now includes several candidates for the Republican presidential nomination who have felt it necessary to abandon their previous support for action on the climate crisis; at least one has been apologizing profusely to the deniers and begging for their forgiveness.”
Mr. Gore does not name them, but Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts; Jon M. Huntsman Jr., former governor of Utah and ambassador to China; and Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, have backtracked on their support for state and federal action to address global warming. Mr. Pawlenty has publicly called his support for such policies a mistake and has apologized for his earlier views.
Near the end of the article, Mr. Gore acknowledges that he may be hobbling a president who is trying to do the right thing in a difficult environment.
“All of his supporters understand that it would be self-defeating to weaken Obama and heighten the risk of another step backward,” he writes. “Even writing an article like this one carries risks; opponents of the president will excerpt it and strip it of context.”
But he says that he feels compelled to speak out because the stakes are incalculable.
“The climate crisis, in reality, is a struggle for the soul of America,” he concludes, using the voice of prophet and pedant that he has assumed on this topic for more than 20 years. “It is about whether or not we are still capable — given the ill health of our democracy and the current dominance of wealth over reason — of perceiving important and complex realities clearly enough to promote and protect the sustainable well-being of the many. What hangs in the balance is the future of civilization as we know it.”
By JOHN M. BRODER
Published: June 22, 2011