He will ascend the rostrum in front of federal government and the nation and proceed to tell us how our country is doing. Within the first five minutes of the speech, President Obama will say the health of our nation is strong – because what else can a President say? The State of the Union address is largely an exercise in tradition. So, why then does it matter what he says?
It matters because behind all the ritual rhetoric lies a pretty good indicator of what the president will focus on in the coming months.
Which is also exactly why so many political pundits have been theorizing about the President’s speech for weeks now. Speculation has reached a fever-pitch with the stunning yet not surprising election of Senator-elect Scott Brown (R-MA) and the equally shocking Supreme Court decision last week, which some have argued, gave corporations the right to basically buy Congressional seats. Every public interest group in Washington is hoping – praying really – that their issue will rise to the level of a “shout out” from the President. We all desperately want the President to acknowledge (via his SOTU speech) that what we each work on is a top priority.
You can be certain that is what the community working for clean energy and climate solutions is hoping for – a shout out.
There have been many predictions in recent days about the death of a climate bill. Those predictions could be turned on their heads and dispelled with just a few sentences on Wednesday. In my ideal world, this is what President Obama would say:
1. “Investing in clean energy and climate solutions will generate jobs for Americans.”
President Obama has already hinted he will talk about job creation in his address. That’s no surprise: it is the most urgent priority for American families right now.
One of the best ways to get Americans back to work is to give them the job of building a clean energy economy and rebuilding American infrastructure. As soon as we set limits on global warming pollution, we will unleash billions of dollars in private investment for low-carbon solutions like energy efficient windows and batteries for hybrid cars.
That investment will create jobs–nearly 2 million, according to economists at the University of California.
2. “We are losing jobs to our overseas competitors everyday.”
We are getting the pants beat off us by our international competitors. According to the Green, Inc. blog over at the NY Times, “At the beginning of 2009, Chinese solar companies supplied 21 percent of the market; by year’s end their stake had more than doubled.” They are winning in the pricing game: “A Chinese module maker with little name recognition in the United States, Yingli, has captured 27 percent of the California market thanks to low pricing, the report said. Suntech, China’s leading module-maker, has a 10 percent share in California.” We need to get ourselves in gear if we are going to compete.
3. “Our dependence on foreign oil is unpatriotic.”
I am a mom with an SUV (granted a Honda CRV, but nonetheless, a SUV.) I love my SUV – I can shove kids, tricycles, backpacks, extra clothes, groceries, and even a box for Goodwill in the back and still have room for a family dog. But I can’t pretend that my choice has no repercussions to our national security.
Every time I fill up, I am lining the pockets of those who hate America. Almost all of us “soccer moms and dads” in our SUVs are in the same boat. We need to drive something functional that doesn’t feed terrorism. I don’t think that means that we need to buy tinier cars (although that may be part of the solution) – I think it means that we must make more efficient, cleaner cars. And the best way to do that is to give Detroit and other automakers the incentives they need to get the job done.
4. “An energy bill alone is not enough.”
This weekend the NYTimes notes in an editorial about climate, “The jobs argument should impress the Senate. Yet many Democrats as well as Republicans seem willing to settle for what would be the third energy bill in five years – loans for nuclear power, mandates for renewable energy, new standards for energy efficiency. These are all useful steps. But the only sure way to unlock the investments required to transform the way the country produces and delivers energy is to put a price on carbon.”
We keep writing checks for clean energy investments but we aren’t getting the most bang for our buck. If we don’t place a price on pollution, we will only see some of the benefit. In order to get the most for our money, we need to let the market work – and that means making those who pollute pay for their fair share
5. “Addressing climate change must be more than just a sound bite – it must be a process by which we will commit to get a bill passed this spring.”
Luntz also found that the public overwhelming believes that climate change is occurring – even 66% of Republicans think that global warming is likely happening – so now it is time to stop fighting about it and do something.
If you look on most Senate websites, you will find a statement about how climate change exists and we should do something about it. We need to turn that lip service into action.
Is the President likely to say all of this? Maybe not. But if he even gets half way there, I think we will be able to repeat that great Twain quote when it comes to a climate change bill: “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”