Quantcast

Fascinating Timeline: 30 Years of History of Climate and Energy in State of the Union Speeches

Climate

Climate change hit the mainstream in the U.S. after NASA scientist James Hansen told Congress in 1988 that the world was warmer and mankind was to blame.

It was an influential moment, but America’s presidents took a while to catch on.

Every year, the U.S. president fulfills his constitutional duty to provide a State of the Union address, where he updates Congress on the condition of the nation and outlines his legislative agenda for the coming year. All these addresses since George Washington are listed on the American Presidency Project.

But despite the warnings of Margaret Thatcher in the late 1980s, a hefty report from the UN’s science panel in 1990 and a new UN climate treaty in 1992, climate change was not explicitly included in a State of the Union address until 1997, when it was brought up by Democratic president Bill Clinton.

President Obama, also a Democrat, will deliver his final State of the Union address today, and it is expected to include climate change, which he has increasingly prioritized throughout his presidency.

Carbon Brief has created a timeline summarizing how climate and energy feature in all of the State of the Union addresses since 1989. This encompasses the entire presidencies of George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama.

We have also included key events that have shaped how the world, and in particular the U.S., sees the topics of climate change and energy.

The last three decades have been eventful for Americans. They have witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the war in Iraq and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the 2008 financial crisis.

Despite few specific references to climate change, energy and environmental issues have appeared in almost every State of the Union address since 1989.

And it’s not just Democratic presidents that have championed the cause of cutting greenhouse gases and promoting renewable energy and clean technologies.

The rhetoric emerging from leading Republicans today gives the impression that the party stands against taking action on climate change.

All candidates for the 2016 presidency have expressed skepticism about the science of climate change to varying degrees and have sought to downplay the impact of the UN climate deal recently signed in Paris. Congressional Republicans have attempted to block foreign climate change aid and Obama’s landmark Clean Power Plan.

Carbon Brief’s timeline shows that the last two Republican presidents have supported environmental protection, with George HW Bush promoting the Environmental Protection Agency to Cabinet rank and his son George W Bush calling for an international deal to reduce global emissions and a “clean energy technology fund” to support developing countries.

Scroll through our timeline to explore almost 30 years of presidential pronouncements on climate change and energy.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

EPA Scientists Call Foul on Fracking Study, Say Findings ‘Inconsistent With Data Presented’

70 More Earthquakes Hit Oklahoma, Averaging Nearly Three a Day in 2015

Porter Ranch Is Only Tip of the Iceberg Exposing Catastrophic Impacts of Natural Gas

Nicaragua Joins Clean Energy Revolution, Vows 90% Renewables by 2020

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

DESIREE MARTIN / AFP / Getty Images

Wildfires raging on Gran Canaria, the second most populous of Spain's Canary Islands, have forced around 9,000 people to evacuate.

Read More Show Less
Wolves in Mount Rainier, Washington. Ron Reznick / VW Pics / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The last four members of an embattled wolf pack were killed in Washington State Friday, hours before the court order that could have saved them.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Plateau Creek near De Beque, Colorado, where land has been leased for oil and gas production. Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post / Getty Images

By Randi Spivak

Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
Global SO2 Emission Hotspot Database / Greenpeace

A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about donations to the Amazon Fund. LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Read More Show Less
Gina Lopez, the Philippine secretary of the environment, at a meeting with residents affected by a mine tailing disaster. Keith Schneider

Gina Lopez, a former Philippine environment secretary, philanthropist and eco-warrior, died on Aug. 19 from brain cancer. She was 65.

Read More Show Less
Trump speaks to contractors at the Shell Chemicals Petrochemical Complex on Aug. 13 in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

Thousands of union members at a multibillion dollar petrochemical plant outside of Pittsburgh were given a choice last week: Stand and wait for a speech by Donald Trump or take the day off without pay.

Read More Show Less