A message for President Obama: go green, baby, go green

February 12, 2009

Newly appointed Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele won’t push his party in a new direction. This is the man who coined the phrase “Drill, baby, drill,” so often attributed to Sarah Palin, and whose acceptance speech lacked any real substance. As head of the RNC, Steele will be as backward-looking as that oil-thirsty phrase sounds to anyone with a clue about our energy future and humanity’s relationship with the planet.
Though Michael Steele may well be the GOP’s answer to Barack Obama, the two are in no way compatible. Unlike Steele, Barack Obama places a premium on science and on a thoughtful consideration of what the facts say about the state of planet Earth.
Most scientists predict a 5-7°C warming by 2100 if we stay on our current emissions path. If that figure doesn’t scare you, it should—such a rise would wipe out many of our coastal cities, cause the desertification of much of the world’s arable land, and force more than 100 million people to emigrate from their communities. Even more would starve or face a shortage of clean water.
That’s why it’s important that we get started on correcting the Bush administration’s failure to act. Obama has already taken some big steps; his choice of Stephen Chu for the post of Energy Secretary was probably the most noteworthy, but there are other prominent Greenies in his cabinet who should help pave the way for the United States to take the global lead in climate change.
Obama understands that green policies also bring economic benefits; his stimulus package includes $75 billion in energy spending, which will help us move from reliance on dirty coal and more on newer, cleaner sources of energy. Harnessing the energy of wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal power represents the next great global industry.
The mainstream media let it slip under the radar, but Obama’s team has already nixed several new coal plants that had been planned by the outgoing Bush administration. They understand that “clean coal” is nothing more than a myth; though coal companies talk about sequestration of carbon dioxide, the process remains theoretical. As of right now, any talk of “clean coal” is nothing but a clever marketing ploy. The quicker the general public realizes it, the better.
Nuclear power will have a role in our energy future, and the stimulus package includes $50 billion in loans towards nuclear development. However, beyond the fact that these initiatives are likely to fail to produce viable forms of alternative energy, any large-scale implementation of nuclear power would likely require $6-8 trillion of investment capital, an amount of money that nobody can afford to spend, given the state of our economy.
Outside of energy generation, Obama’s willingness to let states establish their own emissions regulations will force Detroit to build a progressive and more competitive vehicle fleet, further rehabilitating a fundamental pillar of our economy while helping reduce our impact on the environment. With more stringent miles-per-gallon requirements, GM, Ford, and Chrysler will have no choice but to make more efficient cars that appeal to the increasingly green middle class.
Ultimately, of course, Congress will have to be convinced before any major environmental legislation is passed. This legislation is crucial—without it, our nation’s wasteful and damaging behavior will continue unchecked. With it, companies and individuals who damage the environment will pay for the externalities they create. That’s why, as great as it makes us feel to use reuseable bags at Vittles or install super-efficient light bulbs in our townhouses, we need to spread awareness among our friends, family, bosses, and our Congressional representatives.
We need legislation, and we need it soon. It doesn’t get said enough, but the people running our country are going to die before we will, and they won’t see the devastation that we will have to face. Now is not the time to pass our environmental woes onto the next generation. Now is the time to responsibly address the damage we are doing to our planet before it’s too late. Our children deserve better.

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