In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama emphasized his commitment to transforming America’s energy policy, with initiatives to move our nation away from killer fossil fuels. Although he called for doubling “clean” electricity in the United States, he argued only that this was important to keep America competitive and “win the future.” Climate hawks were dismayed that the president did not even make passing mention of global warming — either the dark future of a superheated planet or the present turmoil of catastrophic weather, fueled by coal and oil pollution. Nor did he defend the thousands of scientists whose work has come under attack by nearly the entire Republican Party. Today, Obama briefly recognized the reality of climate change as he announced an initiative to cut energy waste in our homes and buildings:
Right here at Penn State, a university whose motto is “Making Life Better,” you’ve answered the call. Today you’re preparing to lead the way on a hub that will make America home to the most energy-efficient buildings in the world. Now, that may not sound too sexy, “energy-efficient buildings.” But listen. Our homes and our businesses consume 40 percent of the energy we use. Think about that. Everybody focuses on cars and gas prices, and that’s understandable. But our homes and our businesses use 40 percent of the energy. They contribute to 40 percent of the carbon pollution that we produce and that is contributing to climate change. It costs us billions of dollars in energy bills. They waste huge amounts of energy.
The good news is we can change all that. Making our buildings more energy-efficient is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to save money, combat pollution, and create jobs right here in the United States of America. And that’s what we’re going to do.
Reflecting many of the idea’s in the Center for American Progress’s Rebuilding America proposal, the president’s goal of increasing building energy efficiency 20 percent by 2020 is tied to new tax incentives for commercial building retrofits, expanded loan guarantees, a new competitive grant program for states and municipalities, and new training program and extension service for businesses in energy efficient building technology.
With his strong clean-energy jobs push, President Obama is addressing the crises facing this nation. Steering America to fight climate pollution is his great unmet challenge. He missed the opportunity to teach Americans about the true nature of the severity of the climate crisis in his first two years in office, even as Nashville, Fargo, Russia, Pakistan, Australia, and the rest of the world were pummeled by the hottest, wettest climate on record. He must do more than mention “carbon pollution” in passing before a friendly, collegiate audience, but it’s a start.