Monday Morning Presidents
While President Barack Obama has done much to foster alternative energy, there are still a lot of environmentalists--including many here at the Sierra Club--who can't get over the feeling that the BP oil-spill disaster was a missed opportunity. Wasn't it his own chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who famously said "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste?" Yet what did we get for this one? A temporary ban on deepwater drilling, and a vague call for cleaner energy:
For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked--not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.
That lack of political courage was very evident when the Senate declined to bring climate legislation to a vote. Obama mentions the desirability of a national renewable energy standard, which would increase the percentage of electrical power coming from renewable sources, but the Senate wouldn't vote on that either. His remaining items--increasing efficiency standards for buildings, and new funds for energy research and development--are small potatoes indeed.
What's missing is any indication that deterring global warming and preventing future oil-spill disasters might involve non-trivial changes to the "American way of life." That discussion was effectively removed from the table in 1980 when Ronald Reagan made Jimmy Carter a one-term president. As my cycling friend (and sometimes Sierra contributor) Andrew Leonard recently blogged in Salon, the destruction of Carter's presidency that was started by the hostage crisis in Iran was completed in his famous "malaise" speech of July 15, 1979. In it he called for Americans to end their dependence on foreign oil--not just through the usual federal programs, but through individual action:
I'm asking you for your good and for your Nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense--I tell you it is an act of patriotism.
It, uh, didn't go over very well. What Americans wanted to hear, it turned out, was that it was "morning in America." Watch military scholar Andrew Bacevich talk about this turning point with Bill Moyers:
So don't look to Obama to call for sacrifice. The word has been purged from the American political vocabulary.
--by Paul Rauber