joe biden state of the union

Peter Dykstra: SOTU, IPCC, AWOL, and an OMG

An avalanche of major news stories kick climate and environment to the curb. Again.

Joe Biden broke with tradition in his State of the Union address by offering more than a throwaway platitude or two on climate change.


Here are three past examples from consecutive decades:

  • In 1984, Ronald Reagan said “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it's common sense.”
  • In Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union speech in 1993, the Democratic president was moved to speak ill of a blockbuster environmental law. "I'd like to use that Superfund to clean up pollution for a change and not just pay lawyers."
  • And in 2006, George W. Bush looked America in the eye and pronounced his nation “addicted to oil.”

Those are my favorites among many broken SOTU vows. Of course, Reagan’s call for eco-unity came when he had already appointed uber-divisive souls like James Watt at the Department of the Interior and Anne Gorsuch at the Environmental Protection Agency. Clinton’s Superfund vow is still largely unfulfilled by either party.

And Bush’s oil addiction? Puh-leeze.

Climate crickets

On Monday, the scientists on the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) served up their most stark, incontrovertible, poop-in-your-pants outlook on the certainties of the climate crisis.

The world filed it behind Ukraine, COVID, and other more recent hair-on-fire issues on the action list. And maybe that’s where it belongs—for a couple of weeks at most.

The next AWOL

We’re just now coming to terms with the plastic crisis, as nations signed on to the beginning of a treaty process that will stop kicking the PET bottle down the road in 2024.

In the meantime, one estimate says we each ingest a credit card’s worth of microplastics each week. Think of a stack of 104 credit cards in your innards until the treaty kicks in ...

And finally, a big OMG

I’ve had an occasional, surprisingly good-natured back-and-forth with Senator Jim Inhofe, unofficial Dean of the Congressional Climate Denial Caucus.

To be fair, Inhofe can be courtly and good-natured, even in dialogue with those who think his views on climate change are based more on hallucination than on science. And maybe it’s in that spirit that he accepted my request for an interview on what he calls the climate “hoax.” On Friday November 17, 2034, at 10:30am ET, assuming we’re both alive, I’ll interview the ex-Senator on the occasion of his 100th birthday as to how the hoax is going.

Perhaps understandably, Inhofe’s announcement last week that he’s leaving the Senate at year’s end was a full fledged OMG. He’ll turn 88 before heading home to the only American state with an oil derrick on the Capitol’s front lawn.

Maybe he’ll take the time to notice that Oklahoma is the only state, as the hit Broadway musical tells us, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo credit: Joe Biden/Youtube

President Joe Biden climate change
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his proposed budget for fiscal year 2024, Thursday, March 9, 2023, at the Finishing Trades Institute in Philadelphia. (Credit: White House Photo by Hannah Foslien)

Op-ed: Biden’s Arctic drilling go-ahead illustrates the limits of democratic problem solving

President Biden continues to deploy conventional tactics against the highly unconventional threat of climate change.

Howls of outrage met the Biden administration decision to allow Arctic oil drilling at the same time it pursues the most climate-friendly agenda of any American president. How can this conflict in priorities be explained?

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
climate biodiversity trees arbor day
Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash

A grove of tree books for Arbor Day

These 12 books capture the wonder, tell the history, and predict the climate-changed future of the trees with which we share the planet.
zero-deforestation slaughterhouses meat
Photo by Joshua Tsu on Unsplash

Zero-deforestation pledges by slaughterhouses actually work

Researchers found that existing pledges have already reduced Amazon deforestation by 15%—if implemented across all companies, that number shoots up to 51%.

​A more climate-resistant coffee rises in Africa ​

As global warming threatens the two main varieties, coffee growers in Uganda are betting on a type that can stand up to heat, drought and pests.
Mitch Lettow climate michigan forests
Photo by Isaac Wolf on Unsplash

‘If trees had feet’: Tree migration brings climate resiliency to Michigan forests

Conservation groups and tribal experts are testing which more southerly tree species may thrive further north to face the challenges of climate change, woodland disease, and invasive species.
anchorage wildfires climate
Photo by Egor Vikhrev on Unsplash

Climate change sparks fears in Anchorage of wildfires becoming more routine

This is the new reality, where a series of recent wildfires and the hottest day on record have sparked fears that a warming climate could translate into serious blazes like those in the rest of the American West.

Could AI save the Amazon rainforest?

Conservationists in the Brazilian Amazon are using a new tool to predict the next sites of deforestation – and it may prove a gamechanger in the war on logging.

From our Newsroom
Partha Dasgupta economics of nature

An economist's 'answer to everything.' Hint: It takes nature

Economist Partha Dasgupta takes issue with our failure to account for the cost of Earth's destruction

oil and gas wells pollution

What happens if the largest owner of oil and gas wells in the US goes bankrupt?

Diversified Energy’s liabilities exceed its assets, according to a new report, sparking concerns about whether taxpayers will wind up paying to plug its 70,000 wells.

Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich: A journey through science and politics

In his new book, the famous scientist reflects on an unparalleled career on our fascinating, ever-changing planet.

oil and gas california environmental justice

Will California’s new oil and gas laws protect people from toxic pollution?

California will soon have the largest oil drilling setbacks in the U.S. Experts say other states can learn from this move.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.