As promised, here’s the second half of this week’s Green New Deal round-up, featuring none other than the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama.
Yesterday afternoon, the relentless pace of thinking and doing that usually characterises life at nef headquarters was momentarily put on hold as we gathered to watch the inauguration speech. Murmours rippled around the office whenever Obama mentioned a topic which strayed into new economics territory. Early on, Obama spoke of the “greed and irresponsibility” which has brought the economy to its knees. Cue nods from those researching ethics in the new economy. Obama later described how “all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness”. Some whispers from our well-being team. But the new President received the most oohs and aahs from us whenever he touched on climate change and the environment. The issue wasn’t centre stage, but after eight years of denial and ignorance, we finally have an American government which is ready to make progress on these issues.
Which is just as well really: James Hansen – NASA climate scientist extraordinaire – has already warned Obama that he has only four years in which to act if we are have any chance at all of stopping extreme climate change. Hansen’s admonition is even starker than nef‘s One Hundred Months campaign, which gives us less than 95 months – or just under eight years – to make the necessary changes. But whether it happens in his first term, or his second, it’s clear that Obama is going to be the most pivotal figure in the fight to stop global warming.
Although the phrase has been repeatedly associated with his economic and energy policies, Obama has been blowing hot and cold on the subject of a Green New Deal. Shortly after being elected, he seemed to rule out a New Deal-style programme by saying that “to simply recreate what existed back in the 30s in the 21st century… would be missing the boat”. But many of his promises to create jobs by rebuilding American infrastructure have certainly echoed Roosevelt’s earlier programme. And his address yesterday leaned further towards the Green New Deal, describing how the new America would “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories”. Let’s just hope that ‘soil’ translates as geothermal energy rather than biofuels. Check out BBC environment correspondent Richard Black’s very thorough dissection of the green content of the address at his blog.
Perhaps the most moving moments in the speech came towards the end, as Obama compared our situation today with that of America’s founders: “a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river” in 1776. He then quoted the words of Thomas Paine:
“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”
Our ‘common danger’ today is not so singular: it is a triple crunch of climate change, energy depletion and economic meltdown, with all the associated conflict, famine and social upheaval which those crises fuel. But the broad point remains: the existence of a ‘future world’ very much depends on the decisions we make right now. Let’s make them good ones.