“What topics should be in Obama’s State of the Union address?”
That is the question posed to well-known thought leaders by the Washington Post. Not a single one of them mention “climate change” or “global warming,” though two (Beinecke, and Townsend) do a ‘clean-energy’ pitch (in the online edition) — a strategy that is unlikely to get us much more clean energy and, as we now know, certain to fail to address the climate problem (see “Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?“)
WashPost asks Maya MacGuineas, Drew Altman, Joseph Califano, Howard Dean, Frances Beinecke, Robert L. Reynolds, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Frank Sharry, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Jamie Radtke, Ed Rogers, Bob Lehrman and Matthew Dowd.
While there’s nary a mention of global warming or climate change, we do get:
President of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a member of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
President Obama must rally a divided nation around the kind of common purpose and collective vision that has the potential to unite us all. A good place to start is by challenging us to do what presidents since Richard Nixon have asked — to break our costly and dangerous dependence on oil.
Doing so will create millions of jobs, as we develop renewable fuels, sustainable communities, and the next generation of energy-efficient cars, workplaces and homes. It will make our companies more competitive and position our workers for success in the fast-growing global market for clean-energy solutions. It will stem oil imports that drain our economy of $1 billion each day. It will make us more secure and less dependent on those foreign oil suppliers that don’t share our values or goals. It will safeguard the health of our children.
This won’t be accomplished overnight; great achievements seldom are. But the BP oil disaster was a shocking glimpse into the destruction we invite unless we change course now in a way that strengthens the foundational protections that defend our water, wildlife, lands and air.
I’m all for it, of course. Most every president has made such a call in multiple SOTUs. The country is already pursuing most of the strategies needed to reduce oil consumption in the near term — an aggressive fuel economy standards proposal by Obama, a biofuels strategy that mixes the unhelpful near-term crop-based biofuels with the helpful but as yet unavailable on a large scale cellulosic stuff, a push on high-speed rail, and a move toward electrification, including a large tax credit for the first million electric cars and plug-in hybrids.
We need to do more — we should amp up efficiency standards and funding for alternative fuels deployment and mass transit. But this strategy by itself can’t stop overall emissions from rising, let alone get them on a sharp downward path. Yes, I’m aware that there is no political possibility of passing legislation to get us on a sharp downward path in the next two years. There’s also no political possibility of passing legislation to significantly increase fuel efficiency standards or clean energy deployment funding.
The point is, if the president states can’t include the biggest preventable threat to the health and well-being of future generations in his SOTU address, how precisely does this issue get back on the national platform in time to act?
Interestingly, the WashPost also got this suggestion:
KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND
Lieutenant governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003
Twenty months after he was inaugurated, President John F. Kennedy had the audacity to proclaim that we could put a man on the moon within a decade. He knew that a great enterprise can unite a country as its citizens work together to succeed and be proud of the outcome. The day that Americans walked on the moon thrilled us as to what science, ingenuity and determination can accomplish. The spinoffs from the Apollo program have benefited American industry and technology for 50 years, and those government workers, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, remain our heroes today.
Some argue that our best days are past, that we should devote our energy to shrinking our government and privatizing our dreams. I don’t believe that. I would like to see President Obama challenge Americans to shoot for the sun, to discover and harness new forms of clean, renewable energy and achieve complete energy independence by 2021. Just as we did 50 years ago, let’s engage the best minds and wills of our generation in a bold venture for the good of the planet.
Well, we don’t really need to harness new forms of energy, just accelerate the deployment of the ones we have, which is presumably what Townsend meant anyway, since she wants complete energy independence in 10 years, which pretty much eliminate anything that isn’t commercial or in the process of being commercialized right now.
In fact, there is no plausible scenario for complete energy independence in 10 years, since that would mean replacing oil in most of our transportation system, which is built around a massive, multitrillion dollar infrastructure of vehicle manufacturing plants and oil production and delivery.
Just to be clear, I think it’s a great idea to have an aggressive call to end our addiction to oil — especially one backed up by strong policies. But if the President is going to make a call for something impractical that the Republicans are going to oppose any way, it really should include preserving and protecting clean air, clean water, and a livable climate for our children — all of which the public considers important.
It must be noted that in the print edition of the Washington Post, which is presumably read by considerably more people than the online edition, the paper did not publish either Beinecke or Townsend — so their readers didn’t see either of these suggestions to make a big push on clean energy.
Coincidentally, the NYT poses a similar question to Elliott Abrams, Tom Daschle, Andrew C. Revkin, Alice M. Rivlin, Michelle Rhee, Jon Cowan, Jim Kessler, Robert B. Reich And Dan Savage, asking “what they would like to hear him say.”
That all of them but one ignore the issue entirely is not surprising. The issue of the moment is jobs and the economy, you don’t get a lot of space — and most of the pundits are chosen for their economic expertise. Still, it’s notable that only one of the NYT pundits, Andy Revkin, “writer of the blog Dot Earth for nytimes.com” and former lead NYT climate reporter, mentions energy at all, in a piece titled, “Energy for the Economy“:
FACING a public focused on economic revival, a hostile House and the lowest level of voter concern in a long while on human-driven climate change, President Obama could easily punt on energy this Tuesday. But this would actually be the ideal time for him to introduce an energy quest as a keystone 21st-century American imperative. Only by expanding our menu of nonpolluting energy choices can we hope to ameliorate a variety of social, geopolitical, climatic and economic risks facing the country and the world.
Mr. Obama’s first step should not be to announce a predetermined list of policies to transform our energy system, but to use his State of the Union address to commence a yearlong American conversation on the merits and shape of such an effort. Modeled on the president’s health care summit meeting last February, this conversation would play out in public televised events attended by the president or his cabinet, along with politicians, experts, scientists and American workers, in places ranging from the White House to coal country, from the grounds of a potential site for a new nuclear reactor to the boiler room of a primary school looking to cut emissions and energy bills.
The result, by the next January address, would be an action plan endorsed by business and by some of the dozens of Nobelists who have been lobbying the White House to renew American investment in relevant areas of science after decades of bipartisan neglect.
Parts of the plan could well be supported by the array of liberals and libertarians seeking an end to market-distorting energy subsidies, perhaps even by some of the conservatives seeing the patriotic merits in a revenue-neutral gasoline tax. And the effort itself would challenge proponents of the status quo, either in Congress or in the public, to demonstrate why acting to fill the global energy gap is a bad idea.
Kudos to Revkin for mentioning climate change and the importance of taking steps to ameliorate climatic risks.
There’s nothing wrong with having another year-long conversation with Americans — but Presidents (other than Obama) have been having this conversation for three decades and doing little. Obama has taken a number of strong steps on fuel economy and clean energy funding and EPA regulations that distinguish him from his predecessors. He did failed to aggressively pursue the crucial climate bill (see “The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2“).
We all know what the policies that are needed to reduce emissions. So whenever Obama puts them on the table, the Republicans will oppose them. Remember, there really are no ‘centrist’ ideas anymore, at least not when Democrats advance them. Republicans put forward the idea of the individual mandate for health care reform. When Democrats introduced it as a centrist way to deal with healthcare reform, Republicans denounced it as a socialistic government takeover.
Republicans put forward the idea of cap-and-trade to deal with environmental problems, most notably under President Bush’s father in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments and again when McCain teamed up with Lieberman to propose climate bills in the last decade (see “The GOP flip flops on cap and trade“). But when a coalition of businesses and environmental groups and progressives and Obama embraced the idea, again, it was demonized as socialistic big government “cap-and-tax.”
None of the ideas Revkin poses will fly with this nihilistic Republican Party that is under the thumb of the Tea Party and corporate polluters. They want no taxes of any kind and no decreases in subsidies for big oil (which in their spin would also be a job killing tax increase), and they even oppose the strategy that has long been most popular with the public — increased R&D for clean energy (see “The Chamber of Commerce is so extreme they oppose research and development into renewable energy!“). In fact, they now want to cut that R&D (see “Republican Study Committee proposes unilateral disarmament to China in innovation, clean energy“).
No, the point of talking about energy and climate in the State of the Union address isn’t to lay out a bunch of policies that are going to become enacted into law in the next two years. The point is to make sure the American people understand ALL the major issues facing the country. And the point is to draw a line in the sand.
Beyond whatever he says about jobs and the economy, the President should say he will veto any bill that cuts clean energy funding since it is a direct threat to our national security and as a direct threat to our ability to compete against China and the other countries of the world in what is quickly becoming the biggest job creating sector of the economy. The president should say he will veto any bill that blocks the EPA from doing its basic job, as supported by the US Supreme Court, to preserve clean air, clean water, and a livable climate for our children and generations to come. Otherwise, really, what is the point of the speech?