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Climate Change and Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address

By now, everyone is aware that climate change and clean energy featured much more prominently in President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Speech than most were expecting. Hurricane Sandy and severe droughts in the Midwest have bumped the issue up the political priority list. The test will be whether these words will be followed by meaningful actions.

Here is what the President said:

A Statement of our responsibility to protect and preserve the environment for those who come after us:

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

A message for the climate denier – you can deny the science if you want but the world is burning, crops are failing and storms are ravaging our cities. The subtext has to be it’s time to act whether you like it or not:

“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

A glimmer of hope that a second term in office will see the Obama administration face down opposition in developing a mature and effective clean energy policy:

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.”

A sign that the administration is aware that America has been allowing advanced technologies to be championed and developed elsewhere, losing potential jobs and economic growth:

“We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.”

This last point was taken up in a press release yesterday by the The Strategic Materials Advisory Council. The Council is appealing to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to heed the President’s words and prevent A123 Systems, involved in advanced lithium-battery technology, from becoming Chinese-owned.

After the words come actions:

Sarah van Gelder in the Guardian asks for specific statements of intent on climate change with clear explanations of what is at stake. She asks that subsidies and tax breaks should be channeled away from fossil fuels in favor of renewables. It has been asked for many times and yet fossil fuel companies continue to do an amazing job of convincing people that they receive no such unfair advantage.

350.org tells us: “80% of the fossil fuel now in the ground must stay there if we are to stabilize an increasingly chaotic climate.” If you believe this, then you do not need to be told that time is short. Words are now not enough. If you do not believe it, does it matter? Is it worth the risk when we are talking about a dirty, dangerous, finite resource to which there are real, viable alternatives crying out for the type of investment which made the harvesting of fossil fuels possible in the first place?

We will hear more about what the President intends to do. The State of the Union is next month. We need to know what, how and when. We need to know that the words will not simply melt away.

Here is the complete section of the speech dedicated to climate change and clean tech:

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

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