I liked Obama’s State of the Union Address, and I liked the fact that a lot of other people seemed to like it. He made strong and positive statements about energy.
Imagine what we could accomplish … A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world….
Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values….
… and his comments about traditional energy called for greater use of natural gas, which if used correctly, provides some advantages over coal and even oil, as it is shipped (usually) without the use of fossil fuels, is cleaner, and is often otherwise wasted during recovery of oil.
His call for opening up new oil reserves was tempered with a reality check.
I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy…. I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here. We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.
And, he talked about conservation.
At one point, Obama revealed that he is directing the Executive Branch, partly in the form of the military, to develop energy conservation and alternative energy programs.
… tonight, I will. I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.
Which is a biggish drop in a very large bucket, but will serve as proof of concept, and which will probably have some positive spin offs.
Having said all of that, there was one sentence in the State of the Union Address which should give us all pause. Obama refers to something we all already know, and something that we should all be very concerned about, and which is probably the one single thing we should all have on the top of our priority lists as we parcel out our own personal and political energy over the next year or so:
The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.
True. Troubling. In fact, infuriating.
Obama put his finger on the reason that the United States Government can not effectively, or even ineffectively, address climate change: The political difference between the left and the right. Or, really, the left and the center vs. the right. This is not a difference in perspectives from climate science or the engineering of energy technology. It is not a (legitimate) difference in interpretation of the science. It isn’t even a difference in what people would like to see as the outcome of widespread implementation of Fossil Carbon-Free energy technologies. It is, rather, a simple difference in power, and by power I don’t mean electricity. And just as importantly, the usual polarization, whereby a Republican automatically wants the opposite of what a Democrat wants, is strongly accentuated by the knee-jerk reaction (with emphasis on “jerk”) that the Right Wing has against anything Obama wants, and to put a slightly finer point on it, and to be completely honest, the reaction by the Right Wing to anything that our first Black President wants. (See: President misidentifies “The defining issue of our time …” for more discussion of climate change and the SOTU Address.)
Obama probably did the right thing in sidestepping climate change, and admitting that we need to side step it for the time being in order to get other things done. Those of us who do not subscribe to that view would have preferred, perhaps, a fire and brimstone demand to step up our national efforts to address Global Warming and the other issues related to the high rate of release of fossil Carbon into the atmosphere. We might have liked to have seen some of the victims of aridification, tornado swarms, regional drought, parasite-affected forestry and agricultural failures in the US and elsewhere, in the gallery seats where real people sit as emotional sidebars in every State of the Union Address. But, President Obama chose to not do that, and it is easy to see why he made this choice.
There is a way to fix this. The current election cycle in the US involves not only the office of President, but also, every single member of the House of Representatives and a bunch of Senators and other officials. Candidates are being chosen now, and party platforms are being written. In the next State of the Union Address, we need the President (who will be, hopefully, the same guy as gave the address last night!) to be able to make a strong statement about addressing climate change. The way this can happen is if more members of congress are on board with this, either because they drop the facade of pretending we can put this off for any longer, or because they are actually engaged in implementing real science-informed policy.
Find out who is running for nomination to Congressional office in your area. Find out which candidates, if any, support science-based policy. Tell them that you like this about their candidacy, volunteer to work for their campaign, and send them 25 bucks. If there are no candidates like this in your area, contact the campaigns of those that are running and tell them you want them to engage in science-based policy. Don’t send them that 25 bucks unless they show promise, and seem sincere. If you live in a district or state with an anti-science Representative or Senator, work against them and do so with the explicit overt intention of working against the anti-science representatives we have now in Congress.
One way to enter into a conversation about science-based policy (including climate change) with your representative is to ask them if they’ve signed The American Science Pledge. From the Science Pledge web site:
We need candidates of both major parties who will lead on these tough science questions, and who will reassert the primacy of knowledge and science as the best basis for informed, effective, and fair public policies in a diverse nation.
In order to reflect candidates’ commitments to basing public policy decisions on knowledge, versus opinion or belief, we need a vehicle. The Contract from America, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, and the No Climate Tax Pledge all seek to restrict reasoned debate. We need a pledge for reason, equality, transparency, and freedom. A pledge that expands reasoned debate. We need an American Science Pledge.
The American Science Pledge asks candidates to commit to the kind of civic-minded leadership citizens are owed in a democratic republic. It seeks to separate freedom lovers from authoritarians, data-based decision makers from those governed by “but faith, or opinion,” and independent thinkers from ideologues.
You might also have a look at this talk by Shawn Otto (he’s behind the Science Pledge), and listening to this interview with Shawn, or even buying his book. And no, I’m not Shawn Otto in disguise trying to hawk books. It’s just that Shawn’s book and his talk are very current and perfectly represent my position on Science Policy.
If you happen to live in the Third Congressional District in Minnesota, please also consider supporting, and by supporting I mean attending the Caususes, candidate Sharon Sund. I’m very impressed with her position on the issues, and she is a fully science-policy oriented candidate. In fact, she’s an actual scientist!
Sharon double majored in College in Biology and Chemistry, and has a Master’s degree in Technical Communications, and has been working in the high tech industry, including alternative energy, since college.
And of course there is more that you can do, but this is a start. Do something!
Here’s the “enhanced” version of the SOTU Address:
Photo of Obama from the White House site; Photo of Sharon Sund from her campaign web site.