Obama just wrapped up the 2011 State of the Union address, and one of the clear highlights was his call for massive national investment in new technologies -- especially clean energy. Referring to renewable energy, Obama said that "this was our generation's Sputnik moment"; the moment when we realize that we've fallen behind and redouble our efforts. But that wasn't the only notable element of Obama's speech in terms of climate, energy, and the environment. No, also notable was the fact that the president never even mentioned the word 'climate' or 'global warming' once, despite coming off the heels of a year fraught with extreme weather events, that was tied for hottest ever recorded -- and coming off of a decade that was indeed the hottest ever measured. Which is unfortunate (though expected) -- this is a moment when the science is clear and easily digestible, and the American public deserves to understand it.
Nonetheless, the Sputnik moment segment of his speech, which came early on, while many non-pundit people were still paying attention, was encouraging. Obama advocated continuing aggressive government funding of renewable energy research projects, and set a goal of having 80% of American households receive their power from clean energy sources by 2035. He explicitly noted that this would include nuclear, wind, solar, and, somehow, clean coal.
Sitting parallel along that timeline was high speed rail -- Obama said that it was his goal to have 80% of Americans have access to high speed rail by 2035. He also called for further investment in national infrastructure, especially highways and roads. I'll be back tomorrow with further analysis, but for now, here's the pertinent chunk of the speech where Obama makes the Sputnik connection (no doubt inspired by news that China is outspending us mightily in every way, shape and form in the clean energy race):
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon. The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.It's pretty to think so, isn't it?
This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology - an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.