Fossil fuel addiction Gulf of denial
Fully one-third of the Oval Office speech is about America’s addiction to fossil fuels.
But while that is undeniably courageous, given the unforgiving mood of the wounded United States electorate, the reasons that President Barack Obama gives for that addiction being a problem, are all about America.
Not once is the atmosphere, which is global, mentioned.
President Obama knows full well that the greatest damage being done to the planet from fossil fuel use is not the devastation to the Gulf of Mexico, as devastating as that is, but by global warming. He knows this because he appointed the Nobel Prize-winner Dr Steven Chu as his energy secretary.
It is hard to imagine images more grotesquely haunting than those of crude oil –coated pelicans. But as graphic as that is, anthropogenic global warming has already doomed to extinction countless species (and entire states), never mind individuals. James Hansen calculates that our current course of burning all remaining fossil fuels will literally cook the planet and extinguish life.
This, clearly, is an inconvenient truth too far for the president, who otherwise derides the lack of political courage that has allowed fossil fuel addiction to burgeon unabated.
Notwithstanding its silence on global warming, the third of the Oval Office speech not about the spill is reason to believe that America can learn from its grievous self-inflicted wound and act to end its nationally and globally ruinous addiction:
But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20% of the world’s oil, but have less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean—because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.
For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked—not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.
The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.
We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny.
This is not some distant vision for America. The transition away from fossil fuels is going to take some time, but over the last year and a half, we have already taken unprecedented action to jumpstart the clean energy industry. As we speak, old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows, and small businesses are making solar panels. Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, and families are making their homes more energy-efficient. Scientists and researchers are discovering clean energy technologies that will someday lead to entire new industries.
Each of us has a part to play in a new future that will benefit all of us. As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of good, middle-class jobs—but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment. And only if we rally together and act as one nation—workers and entrepreneurs; scientists and citizens; the public and private sectors.
You know, when I was a candidate for this office, I laid out a set of principles that would move our country towards energy independence. Last year, the House of Representatives acted on these principles by passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill—a bill that finally makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses.
Now, there are costs associated with this transition. And some believe we can’t afford those costs right now. I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy—because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater.
So I am happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party—as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels. Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power. Others wonder why the energy industry only spends a fraction of what the high-tech industry does on research and development—and want to rapidly boost our investments in such research and development.
All of these approaches have merit, and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead. But the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is somehow too big and too difficult to meet. You know, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is the capacity to shape our destiny—our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how to get there. We know we’ll get there.
The final 300 words, of obligatory god bless, are ommitted lest they distract from this timely call to arms.