The silence from the White House and the President on climate change is deafening, leaving observers beyond the inner sanctum to only wonder what, if anything, is really happening. Or might happen next. Or not at all.

The studied silence from the White House and the President on the climate change issue, since first having sounded the alarm bells during the second term inaugural address, has lots of people wondering.

One view is that behind all that seeming inaction and lack of fanfare lurks a hustle of fervent activity. It’s just masked from wandering media eyes by the rich scent of political divisiveness and scandal — IRS, the AP and Fox News leak investigations, and, of course, Benghazi. So behind that veil and sound of silence lurk coming administrative and regulatory machinations carefully geared to moving the meter on public anxiety over climate change. And perhaps even on national or global carbon dioxide emissions, the eventual high-visibility decision on the controversial XL pipeline project be damned.

News Analysis

The other view, no doubt more widely held but not necessarily any more authoritative, is that the muted action, or rather inaction, reflects the realities of a rabidly divisive politics. From this perspective, one sees continued foreign policy and domestic economic headaches, notwithstanding some more promising signs with the latter. And here one also sees the inconvenient truth of weather trends too often inconsistent with inflaming public climate angst among the masses. Who could say definitively that such a view is unreasonable, given the persistent paralysis in Washington and the “gotcha” scandals mentality? No wonder many might conclude this is a time for keeping one’s powder dry on a “generational” issue such as a warming planet: The time is scarcely ripe for plowing ahead on such a major societal undertaking, the earth science ceding once more to the political science. (Nothing new about that, one might think.)

Under this approach, climate and related energy policy matters remain stuck in the long queue they’ve inhabited since the start of the first Obama term, rhetorical inaugural flourishes and all.

“Everyone’s still waiting,” an analysis in Politico recently summed-up. “Instead of taking bold steps, Obama’s environmental regulators are dodging questions about how they intend to rein in the nation’s largest sources of greenhouse gases …. And the EPA has insisted to Congress that it’s not even working on regulations for the next piece of the carbon puzzle — the nation’s vast fleet of existing power plants.”

Politico writers Erica Martinson and Jennifer Epstein reported that climate activists “say they still believe the President’s heart is in their cause, and they’re looking for him to use his executive authority to bypass a long-stalemated Congress. But they’ve also watched issue after issue compete for the White House’s attention this year — from gun control, budget cuts and immigration to Syria, Benghazi and the IRS. And they fear Obama is already running out of time.”

Time. “Obama’s window for taking action will shut soon, advocates fret,” they reported. “Wait too long, they say, and the next President will be making the final call.”

All of which must understandably stick in the craw of Obama green loyalists, who can take heart in the reasoning behind Jonathan Chait’s recent New York Magazine feature headlined “Obama Might Actually be the Environmental President.”

That piece bannered that “Al Gore and just about everyone else” are wrong in calling the Obama climate change policy “an abject failure.”

“What has he done?” Chait asked, answering his own question: “He has done quite a bit, probably far more than you think, and not all of it advertised as climate legislation, or advertised as much of anything at all.” He pointed to the first-term American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic recovery stimulus bill, as “a major piece of environmental reform,” with some $90 billion in green energy subsidies, and also praised aggressive fuel economy standards being phased-in over coming years.

Returning again to that issue of time. Yogi Berra is reported to have whined — when asked about falling behind in the early innings — that “it gets late early out there.”

Early may be exactly what it is in terms of the initial months of the Obama second four-year run. But late is what it’s quickly becoming in terms of mustering the public and political will behind moving forward in a meaningful way on the nation’s energy and climate challenges.

That clock is ticking, and that train about to leave the station.

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is Editor of Yale Climate Connections. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as Assistant Director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission on Air Quality,...