Innaugural Anniversaery/Remembering We Can

Tuesday’s game changing election in Massachusetts offers a dramatic moment from which to look back on President Obama’s first year in office and consider what a huge difference a year makes.

At this time last year there was uncertainty over which way the economy and the housing market were going to go, the Iraq war was winding down, the Afghanistan war was getting complicated and everybody was wondering about the passage of health insurance reform legislation and energy and climate legislation.

A year later…Wait a minute! IS it a year later? Or was all of 2009 just one of those nightmares where the dreamer is trying to do something but just can’t?

Greenpeace isn’t especially happy about what DIDN’T get done in the way of energy and climate action in 2009. In Yes He Can; How President Obama Can Solve the Energy Crisis, Help Reverse Climate Change and Rescue the Economy, it offers President Obama some thoughts on how he might turn things around.

The concept is simple: More New Energy and more Energy Efficiency. ::continue::

The Greenpeace paper was written before the Copenhagen climate change summit and called on the President to lead the world to a strong and binding agreement to cut emissions. Leaving Copenhagen without an agreement, the paper predicted, would risk “…locking the planet into catastrophic, irreversible climate change.” That the President would leave Copenhagen with a tentative outline of a roadmap to a plan to an agreement to a deal to a treaty to a law was not part of Greenpeace’s 2-dimensional assessment.

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The paper recognized 2009 as a not entirely lost year, thanks to incremental progress in funding New Energy and Energy Efficiency and putting in place stronger auto fuel efficiency standards. But incremental change is not the transformation to a New Energy economy the U.S. needs to meet the urgency of this moment and lead the fight to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) and hold the global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. It is also not the transformational change promised in the President’s campaign rhetoric.

Greenpeace should be applauded for noticing that the strategy of the Obama administration is incremental. Greenpeace has every right to be concerned that the President may not be achieving the big changes that are urgently needed but it cannot fail to see that the President IS getting the change that is possible in the face of a dreadful economy, a disputatiously hostile and obstructionist minority opposition in the Senate and a violently disruptive and insidiously deadly international criminal network aimed at nothing less than the paralyzing of all modernity.

In the face of all that, the New Energies are finding funding and growing, thanks in large part to the administration’s spending. There is a groundswell of Energy Efficiency in new building and retrofitting, thanks largely to the administration’s initiatives and spending. And EPA legal activity is swirling around emissions reductions and fossil fuel controls, thanks in part to the administration’s response to activist initiatives.

The real questions aren’t why and how the President failed but how and why he ever got this far?

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Still, with President Obama’s once idealistic voice reduced to the terms of practicality and incrementalism, it is deeply gratifying to be reminded of the important policy work still to be achieved. Perhaps the quaking election in Massachusetts will shake the President out of his hesitation. Or perhaps it merely makes more vivid why the President has been forced to tread so cautiously.

The U.S. surely needs a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) that establishes a long term market for New Energy by requiring all regulated U.S. utilities to obtain 20%-to-25% of their power from New Energy sources and Energy Efficiency by 2020-to-2025. And the nation urgently needs to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) so that emitters will find it less expensive to turn to New Energy and Energy Efficiency than to go on spewing.

So it is great to hear a clarion call from Greenpeace reminding us what might be if we can remember to believe we can. And if we add courage to our conviction and go on working to achieve a New Energy future.

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This post is based on Yes He Can; How President Obama Can Solve the Energy Crisis, Help Reverse Climate Change and Rescue the Economy, December 2009, Grenpeace.

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