Our VoiceNews & Politics

POTUS’s Stance on Climate Change will Erode”Validity” of Immigrant Blaming


Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone • Dec 11, 2012

During the entire election season, President Obama made so few remarks regarding climate change that only two made it into the news cycle: during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention he said that “climate change is not a hoax,” and during his victory speech he stated that the “destructive powers of a warming planet” must be countered.

Obama’s comment in his victory speech only served to highlight the dearth of environmental campaigning that had gone on before his re-election. Climate change was barely mentioned during the presidential race, partly because it is perceived as a losing issue, but also because it is a problem that requires a level of global communication and cooperation for which most countries are not equipped.

Despite the conventional campaign wisdom that rendered climate change a resoundingly silent issue, Obama’s first climate change remark at the DNC was received as one of his top applause lines. As it turns out, recent polling data shows that climate change has the potential to be a politically effective tool. Record temperatures and droughts, not to mention the manifestation of a “Frankenstorm” have all jerked climate change back into the national consciousness. Sadly, it took a massive natural disaster to demonstrate how woefully unprepared we are for what is likely coming down the line.

Though it seems obvious that climate change should be on the national agenda, it is constantly superseded by other items on which “Americans agree.” The rhetoric surrounding healthcare, the economy and immigration is carefully honed to partisan perfection, while climate change remains something that all people really should agree on, regardless of their political affiliation.

By allowing climate change to dissolve into a non-issue, its inherent prominence is replaced by issues that masquerade as being equally important. Most notably, a subjective portrayal of immigration stands to gain from centering certain environmental issues within its messaging.

Often, anti-immigrant advocates utilize environmental messaging in an attempt to woo liberal or progressive activists to their cause. Conflating immigration and environmental degradation in an effort to popularize a xenophobic immigration agenda takes up political space that should be dedicated to real environmental problems, like climate change. Unfortunately it is much easier to blame immigrants for littering than it is to tackle climate change.

If the president chooses to take a strong position on climate change legislation, he will accomplish two important goals at once. Obama can shape the “Americans agree” rhetoric to focus on climate change, which will lend necessary popular credibility to scientists and environmental justice advocates who are forced to battle against well-funded and politically powerful climate deniers. In invoking that rhetoric to use toward something as inexorable as climate change, Obama will also be able deflate the anti-immigrant network’s use of “greenwashing;” that is, using environmental issues as a vehicle to forward xenophobic and racist legislation. Groups like Progressives for Immigration Reform will not be able to hide behind their “green” facade for very long once climate change takes national precedent over blaming immigrants for drinking too much water.

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