After a long and arduous election cycle, it’s no surprise that Americans who care deeply about climate and energy are impatient. We’re impatient with the toxic relationship between politics and climate policy. We’re disillusioned by the energy debate during the election season that revolved around which candidate would expand gas and oil drilling more eagerly. The silence on climate change was deafening and Fresh Energy called out both parties for their complicity.
But when the October surprise turned out to be a storm named Sandy, all of that changed. You joined Governor Christie and Mayor Bloomberg on a national stage littered with the debris and destruction of a storm made more probable and intense by climate change.
Last week, you promised a “wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what we can do to make short-term progress in reducing carbon.” This is a welcome change from the silence of the campaign cycle, but it falls far short of what the American people deserve. Yes, we do need a conversation that engages engineers, scientists, business leaders, and yes, we’re in desperate need of a widespread, science-based public education campaign that demonstrates how deeply serious this crisis is. But it’s not enough.
America is calling on you, Mr. President. A series of polls conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications throughout the presidential campaign found that three-quarters of Americans think global warming should be a priority for the president and Congress. How can you expect Americans to deeply engage if you won’t look us in the eye and talk about how serious and urgent this is? How will we explain to our children that we knew it was happening, and we let it get worse and worse? We call on you to explain in a nationally televised broadcast what’s unquestioned, starting with the basic carbon math that Bill McKibben is explaining in his town hall meetings and in July’s Rolling Stone.
There’s a pressing need for leaders of both political parties to escape the silly climate denialism and obfuscation that a small band of well-funded contrarians have championed for the last decade. The country needs you to explain the link between our fossil fuel dependency and our climate crisis and what you plan to do about it. Michael Northrup’s post this week shows how you can exercise your executive authority to lower emissions, build markets for clean energy, and invest in infrastructure for a low-carbon economy. Most compellingly, Mr. Northrup rebuts the framing that acting on climate would harm the economy:
There is no greater economic opportunity for the U.S. One analysis from the international bank, HSBC, suggests that the low carbon economy today is already worth $500 billion a year, and that it will easily be worth more than $2 trillion a year by 2020. Where else are we going to find three more $500 billion economies over the next 8 years?
Building a low-carbon future can be the foundation for our long-term economic renewal.
Mr. President, please use your bully pulpit to explain that our energy crises are ones of our own making: that we’re too dependent on too few energy sources; that oil is being depleted in a few short decades; that our coal dependency drives changes that will make our climate unrecognizable; that the change is more precipitous than scientists thought; that our reliance on fossil fuels makes our economy vulnerable, distorts our foreign policy, and suppresses innovation; and that technology and infrastructure can solve all of these economic, international, and environmental problems. Americans will rally around you.
The states have a special opportunity—as they always have—to lead the way. Fresh Energy will continue to work with Governor Dayton and the policy makers at the Capitol for innovative policy solutions. State-based innovations have the ability to scale up, clear barriers, and create market opportunities for solutions that accomplish all of our goals.
Four years ago, the night you clinched the Democratic nomination, you gave a speech in my hometown of St. Paul. You told us that we’d look back and know that “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” With your current term, you can now set our nation on a course toward a brighter future that cannot be reversed.