Photo Courtesy of Foter

Photo Courtesy of Foter

By Hannah Schultz, News Editor

President Barack Obama announced a controversial opinion in his 2015 State of the Union Address. While the world is clamoring over terrorist attacks, faulty airplanes and nuclear proliferation, Obama claims the environment is the most significant problem that faces the world going forward.

“No challenge  poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” he said in his speech. The comment was met with little enthusiasm, as global warming has not been a central issue throughout Obama’s presidency and is not a popular topic for the Republican-controlled Congress.

However, with Obama’s declaration in his SOTU speech, climate change has been put back on the national agenda.

Earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Obama made a historic climate change deal, agreeing to curb greenhouse emissions over the next two decades. The U.S. and China account for over one third of the world’s greenhouse emissions.

“Because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got,” Obama said during the speech. He was referencing a critical UN Climate Change Conference to be held in December of 2015, which will hopefully result in a legally-binding, international climate agreement.

A study was released in early January revealing that 2014 was the hottest year the planet has seen since record-keeping began. The study only adds to warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that predicted the heat to worsen over coming decades. At its current level, it is killing forests around the world, driving plants and animals to extinction, melting land ice and causing the seas to rise at an accelerating pace.

Obama is already making controversial moves toward environmental stewardship. On Sunday, he announced plans for the Interior Department to designate 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including its coastal plains, for conservation. The move would block oil and gas
 production along a major part of Alaska’s coastline, causing tensions to rise between the Obama administration and Republican lawmakers.

For Obama, the battle of environmentalism will be hard-fought. The conservation plan will require the approval of Congress, which Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, made clear won’t be happening.

Other Republican representatives also share Murkowski’s sentiments. “As if on command from the most extreme environmentalist elements, this President and his team of D.C. bureaucrats believe they alone know what’s best for Alaska, but this brazen assault on our state and our people will do the complete opposite,” said Don Young.

Obama appealed to his vision of an environment protected for the future through conservation during his announcement of the plan.

“I’m going to be calling on Congress to make sure that they take it one step further, designating it as a wilderness so that we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations,” he said.

However, a majority of Republican lawmakers cannot see past the impacts on the Alaskan economy, promising to fight the plan with everything in their arsenal.

This is just the first in many environmental battles that Obama will face with a Democratic administration and Republican-controlled Congress. The problem of climate change has never inspired feelings of bipartisan cooperation, but with the threat more real than ever, Obama calls on the U.S. government to drop party grudges and work together to fight this pervasive and deadly issue.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe,” Obama said. “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”