Friday, January 25, 2013

Climate Change Advances to Next Level

“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.”

President Barack Obama
2013 Inaugural Address

This week environmentalists became giddy when those two little words “climate change” were heard in President Obama’s second inaugural speech.  Words that are on the lips of nearly everyone else were clearly not part of Obama’s vocabulary when he first took office four years ago.  He talked a great deal about change back then, but the climate did not appear to be on Obama’s list of things to transform.

Inaugural speeches are often filled with grand ideas but offer little substance to support them.  Obama’s second inaugural speech was no exception.  However, Obama may have made a contribution to the cause for our environment even with the few words he devoted to the topic in this second time at the inaugural podium.

The words of John Kennedy in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” became a mantra for patriotic endeavor.  The words have been referenced by every president since.  I did not hear any turn of phrase in Obama’s speech that is likely to embed so deeply in the cultural fabric.  However, that does not mean that the President Obama’s words on climate change cannot be a source of inspiration.

That climate change finally made it to a position of such prominence in the political paradigm, represents a success of some sort.  After all the inaugural speech is a seminal event in our country for which there were only fifty six others on record before Obama stepped up to the microphones.  More importantly Obama’s words reflected as much challenge as promise of policy change.  In my humble opinion, a challenge has potentially greater value in effecting ‘change’ as policy. In our culture, individuals not policy makers have long been the real masters of accomplishment.

The idea is not new that we must make changes in the way we manage our natural resources, consume energy or handle wastes.  This week though, a president of the most powerful nation in the world advanced the environment to a whole new level of play.

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