Obama’s Coded Climate Politics

Did President Obama blow the dog whistle for fossil-fuel-divestment activists?

National Journal
Ben Geman
Add to Briefcase
Ben Geman
June 17, 2014, 10:02 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama’s cli­mate speech Sat­urday got plenty of press for its lengthy as­sault on glob­al-warm­ing deni­al. But what ex­cited an ag­gress­ive wing of the cli­mate move­ment were just a few cryptic words else­where in the com­mence­ment ad­dress at the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (Irvine):

“You need to in­vest in what helps, and di­vest from what harms.”

Act­iv­ists push­ing uni­versit­ies and oth­er in­sti­tu­tions to dump their fin­an­cial hold­ings in coal and oil-and-gas com­pan­ies be­lieve they heard an un­mis­tak­able White House en­dorse­ment. “People are thrilled about it,” Jam­ie Henn of 350.org, one of the groups lead­ing the di­vest­ment move­ment, said of Obama’s com­ments Sat­urday.

“Stu­dents will be tak­ing the pres­id­ent’s mes­sage to their col­lege pres­id­ents and boards of trust­ees,” he said of the fossil-fuel-di­vest­ment cam­paign, which also in­cludes the En­ergy Ac­tion Co­ali­tion, the Re­spons­ible En­dow­ments Co­ali­tion, the Si­erra Stu­dent Co­ali­tion, and groups on spe­cif­ic cam­puses. The founder of 350.org, Bill McK­ib­ben, a high-pro­file cli­mate act­iv­ist, has been a ma­jor di­vest­ment ad­voc­ate.

It’s Obama’s second ap­par­ent nod to the idea. Dur­ing a Geor­getown Uni­versity speech rolling out his second-term cli­mate plan last June, Obama was even briefer, say­ing “In­vest. Di­vest.”

The “in­vest” part of Obama’s speeches is un­re­mark­able. Obama’s cli­mate and en­ergy speeches are of­ten loaded with ad­vocacy of fed­er­al sup­port for green-en­ergy de­vel­op­ment.

If Obama’s en­dors­ing the fossil-fuel-di­vest­ment move­ment, however, it’s a note­worthy stance from a White House that has ap­plauded boom­ing U.S. oil-and-gas pro­duc­tion that’s un­der­taken by some of the very same com­pan­ies that act­iv­ists tar­get in their cam­paign.

En­dors­ing the cam­paign, which draws in­spir­a­tion from the 1970s and 1980s move­ment ur­ging di­vest­ment from apartheid South Africa, would also be a re­turn to Obama’s earli­est polit­ic­al roots.

In re­marks in South Africa last year when the now-de­ceased Nel­son Man­dela was gravely ill, Obama re­called that his first speech, in 1981, was as an Oc­ci­dent­al Col­lege stu­dent at a rally de­mand­ing the school’s di­vest­ment from the apartheid re­gime.

But were Obama’s brief “di­vest” com­ments Sat­urday really a dog whistle for the fossil-fuel-di­vest­ment crowd? The White House won’t say what, ex­actly, Obama meant on Sat­urday.

In an email ex­change Monday morn­ing, White House spokes­man Matt Lehrich de­clined to elab­or­ate on the com­ment. “I don’t have a pars­ing of the state­ment for you,” he said.

Obama’s latest com­ment drew at­tack from the right Monday af­ter­noon, when Stan­ley Kur­tz wrote on the con­ser­vat­ive Na­tion­al Re­view magazine’s web­site that Obama had “de­clared war” on the na­tion’s con­ven­tion­al en­ergy in­dustry.

Kur­tz urged the press to “force Obama in­to the open” by push­ing the White House to ex­pand on the re­marks, and he sim­il­arly called on Cap­it­ol Hill Re­pub­lic­ans to press for cla­ri­fic­a­tion.

Act­iv­ists, however, already see a clear sig­nal of sup­port for their cam­paign, which gen­er­ally tar­gets in­vest­ment by pen­sion funds, uni­versit­ies, found­a­tions, and oth­ers in the 200 largest fossil-fuel com­pan­ies.

The di­vest­ment cam­paign in re­cent years has won vari­ous levels of di­vest­ment com­mit­ments — or at least re­com­mend­a­tions to in­vest­ment man­agers — from about two-dozen cit­ies, roughy a dozen high­er-edu­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, and oth­ers.

The highest-pro­file uni­versity has been Stan­ford, which in May said it would no longer in­vest in coal-min­ing com­pan­ies.

Henn said Obama’s re­marks will provide the move­ment with mo­mentum to pres­sure oth­er in­sti­tu­tions.

“I think stu­dents will see that as a clear sign that the [Obama] ad­min­is­tra­tion is on their side in terms of chal­len­ging their uni­versit­ies to take this step,” said Henn, one of the cofounders of 350.org.

What We're Following See More »
$618 BILLION IN FUNDING
By a Big Margin, House Passes Defense Bill
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."

Source:
SUCCEEDS UPTON
Walden to Chair Energy and Commerce Committee
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.

Source:
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT
Senators Looking to Limit Deportations Under Trump
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on legislation that would limit deportations" under President-elect Donald Trump. Leading the effort are Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is also expected to sign on.

Source:
REQUIRES CHANGE IN LAW
Trump Taps Mattis for Defense Secretary
2 days ago
BREAKING

Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as his secretary of defense, according to The Washington Post. Mattis retired from active duty just four years ago, so Congress will have "to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years." The official announcement is likely to come next week.

Source:
MEASURE HEADED TO OBAMA
Senate OKs 10-Year Extension of Iran Sanctions
2 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login