Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Tuesday afternoon, Mr. President Obama made a speech (long overdue if you ask me) on global climate change at Georgetown University. Hopefully you all were attentively listening and have already formulated your own opinions on what he said… but I figured I would summarize it and share my views as well.
He began by speaking about Americans traveling in space, a classic display of U.S. strength and ability in the field of science; a clever way to pat us on the back and drive home his main message: we can and need to take action. He went on to list some valid facts about global warming, as well as some of our country’s recent achievements in terms of combatting it. Apparently, the U.S. has lowered our CO2 emissions by more than any other country in the world since 2006. I suppose that is pretty impressive, but unfortunately, global CO2 emissions are still on the rise.
He outlined his plan, not forgetting to note our past successes in environmental policies such as the Clean Air Act of 1970. He called for several conditions to help cut carbon emissions including limits on power plant emissions, setting higher efficiency standards for buildings, appliances, and all vehicles, and developing strategies to deal with methane gas release. He also boldly stated his desire to double renewable energy sources, charging the DOI to provide support for creation of enough renewables to power 6 million homes on public land. Good idea Obama! How does he plan on doing this? I’m not really sure either…
The most interesting point for many listeners was likely Obama’s statement on the Keystone XL Pipeline. He said he will not approve it unless it is actually proven that its installation will not worsen carbon pollution. How that will be measured was never mentioned, but I suppose it is a step in the right direction… or maybe not, since it will only further delay the decision on whether or not we will have easier access to this oil or not. But that is an entire different debate and/or blog entry.
A portion of his speech was also (predictably) dedicated to that constant, frustrating barrier known as the economy. Historically, people seem to believe we must choose to help the economy or the environment. Because some Americans tend to be a bit greedy, the automatic response is to support the economy first. It’s just the way we have been taught as Great American Consumers. Yet Obama pointed out that environmental issues used to be bipartisan issues, and past initiatives that successfully made it through congress have improved both the economy AND the environment. Obama said, “See, Congress? It IS possible! Who would’ve thought? So just pass something already!!”
Ok, so he didn’t really say that, but it’s what he truly meant. He pointed out that renewable energy sources will create new jobs (thus boosting the economy) because we need to build and install them. He also said we must continue to stay at the top of natural gas production because it is safe, cheap, lowers CO2 emissions, and creates jobs too. While I don’t think natural gas is the most ideal solution to lowering our emissions, he has a valid argument. If we use natural gas whilst in the meantime establishing better, cheaper renewable sources of energy, perhaps it’s ok for now. Evidently, the environment and the economy can both be helped simultaneously. Too bad the current congress can’t seem to get that through their heads. It amazes me how people refuse to take action when the evidence that things will work out is right there in front of their eyes.
Aside from that, the president set goal years for these carbon solutions, namely 2020 for key CO2 sequestration projects and 2030 for a general 3 billion metric ton reduction in emissions. These goals may or may not be realistic because as Obama himself pointed out, plans of this magnitude take an enormous amount of effort and time to actually implement, let alone show any results.
This lead to his next main point: because these plans take time, we also should be taking preventative measures against the current adverse effects of climate change we are facing. Obama said he plans to provide aid to projects that will help combat natural disasters and other extreme weather events. He also mentioned that all levels of government should provide necessary protective tools and he is willing to support research on new technology to help us adapt to climate change. This is a good thing because even if we could switch to renewables quickly, we’ve got to deal with the consequences of our past actions now. It’s time to get creative and use that American brain power for something good.
The other important point he made was that this is an international issue. Obama noted that he had already worked with China’s President Xi to lessen hydrofluorocarbon emissions collaboratively. He brought up the key idea that developed nations should not be blamed for it, but they are emitting large amounts of CO2. He claims it is our duty to prevent them from making the same mistakes we did in industrializing our nation. He wants to invest in “cleaner” companies rather than coal-burning factories both domestically and abroad. Obama even went so far as to suggest global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology. Sounds good to me!
President Obama concluded his speech with more persuasive rhetoric. He said we have a “moral obligation” and we must act “on behalf of our kids”. He made himself sound almost like John Muir, setting up this romantic view of the Earth, with “the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity”. And then he adds, that this is all “at stake” if we don’t take action NOW. Oh, the drama!
In all seriousness, Mr. President’s speech was very important. He finally came right out and said what the nation needs to hear: climate change is real and our nation needs to do something about it whether we as citizens or congress want to or not. Thank you Obama! Though some of his points were vague, not totally convincing, and/or extremely overdramatic (see above example), his head is obviously in the right place. He did what any good speaker would, drawing in the audience with romantic visions of Mighty America, pointing out our ‘magnificent’ achievements, while still providing valid facts and ideas. Though I am not as enthusiastic as Al Gore (who called the speech the “best by any president ever”), I thought it was very well-written. The plan looks great on paper and sounds nice spoken aloud; the question now is, will anything actually happen? As Obama said, congress lacks faith. Without support from them, getting anything done will be quite a challenge. As I said, the president has his head in the right place, but it remains to be seen whether we can actually make these drastic changes as a country. I sure hope we can for the sake of the people, and most importantly the planet we live on.
In the meantime, let’s all take advantage of what environmentally friendly and sustainable living practices we can. We will be trendsetters for those silly people who refuse to believe the facts. So as always Gettysburgians: Do Great Work, Do Green Work!