photo: Rupert Ganzer/Creative Commons
By now you're likely well aware that despite talking about clean energy and jobs, President Obama made no mention of climate change or environmental issues as such during yesterday's State of the Union address. Which somehow makes it an even more important time to highlight comments that scientist-activist Dr James Hansen once wrote to Obama in advice. Obama Apparently Hasn't Listened to Hansen
New York Times has the entire letter--we don't know if it was ever actually read--but here are some of the highlights, which I personally find important and resonant:
The President should use his ascendancy to the most powerful position on the planet to help set a new sensible course for the planet and humanity. It would have required being blunt and honest about the situation and what was needed to break our addiction and avoid the tremendous inter-generational injustice that the present path will bring to pass. The path to a clean energy future would not be painful for the public, but it requires standing up to special interests who benefit from business-as-usual.
It is both a moral issue and a question of where the United States will stand in the future. Our economic standing is going to become second class this century if we do not move smartly toward a clean energy future.
The other thing not mentioned above is that the most fundamental problem, which I keep repeating, is this: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, somebody will keep burning them -- implication, we must put a rising price on carbon. (Not cap-and-trade! A simple, honest approach -- collect a fee from fossil fuel companies at first sale, distribute that money, 100 percent, to the public.)
Nevertheless, the easiest thing that he could do, and perhaps the best that we can hope for, is for him to give a strong boost to nuclear power.
Unfortunately, he seems to fall prey to Democratic politics on this, rather than being a responsible leader.
Nuclear Energy May Help Greenhouse Gas Emissions, But Not Environment
The reference to nuclear power is something that Hansen brought up earlier in the letter--he called it a "huge mistake" that the Carter and Clinton administrations didn't more support the development of advanced reactor designs.
Personally I'm not sure nuclear power is any better solution to our greater environmental problems than continued reliance on other non-renewable fuels--even if it does address greenhouse gas emissions. And to be fair, President Obama continues to show strong support for clean energy, even if implementation isn't as robust as it could be or is needed to be.
President's Clean Energy Approach Neglects Why It's Important
But the part that is really lacking right now, linking together two things that Hansen advised as symbols of this lack, is President Obama showing or even hinting at moral leadership in establishing Hansen's "sensible course for the planet and humanity" and breaking away from business-as-usual thinking.
Pushing for 80% of US electricity coming from clean energy sources by 2035 is somewhat stepping away from that path, breaking away from the pack of polluters desperately trying to retain their profitable place in the world, but it is simply not enough.
The failure of President Obama to mention climate change, and the utter fingers-in-ears approach of Congress in even acknowledging that climate change is happening (on one side of the aisle) and in even attempting to push forward something that will effectively address it (on the other), just makes Hansen's words about intergenerational injustice all the more poignant.
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More on President Obama:
Obama's State of the Union: 80% of US Should Run on Clean Energy by 2035
Obama Should Talk Climate Change in His State of the Union Address
GE's Jeffrey Immelt, Green Energy Proponent, Becomes Obama Advisor