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Is Obama serious about climate change?

Mark Mardell | 18:08 UK time, Wednesday, 25 November 2009

President Obama performed the lighter side of his duties today, pardoning a Turkey called Courage ahead of Thanksgiving.turkey_afp226.jpg

He seemed in a good mood, joking: "Thanks to the intervention of Malia and Sasha - because I was planning to eat this sucker - Courage will be spared."

"There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office: and then there are moments like this when I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland," he added, raising a further chuckle.

Next Tuesday will be one of those days when he is reminded of the high seriousness of office, as he announces his new Afghanistan policy before troops at the military academy in West Point.

But where does his environmental policy fit in on this sliding scale? He is going to Copenhagen for the big meeting on climate change, but will leave before the hard negotiations begin.

The United States will put on the table a proposal to cut carbon emissions by 17% by 2020. Many environmentalists think this is pretty unambitious compared to European targets, because it is based on 2005 levels.

Even so, it will be difficult to get this figure - and the cap and trade scheme attached to it - through the Senate. Many influential senators regard it as an assault on American jobs and the American economy, and it certainly won't even be discussed before Copenhagen.

White House officials bridle at the suggestion they are not serious about climate change, and those I have spoken to say in eight months they have made "incredible progress", with historic levels of investment in green technology and new fuel targets. But opinion polls suggest people here are increasingly cynical about the science and the need for action.

It perhaps says something that the White House made the announcement a day before Thanksgiving. No politicians are around to comment, no press releases come from pressure groups. They're all on their way home to see families.

This is America's busiest day for travel and therefore I suppose carbon emission, in America's year. The news networks aren't making a big deal out of the story either.

The president may regard climate change as a pressing problem, but many Americans don't.

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