I've said this a thousand times. There are incredible opportunities in our climate change/dependence on foreign oil/economic crisis. I hold this true on both the individual and cultural levels.
In part, that's because creativity loves constraints. If we are constrained by the need to use less fossil fuel, we have the chance to create an entirely new way of generating and using energy that can both make us happier and healthier, reduce our damage to the planetary habitat that we depend upon, and increase national security and economic stability by depending less on foreign oil.
And since the world is going to move to sustainable energy either way, the United States can drag its feet until it is forced to buy its sustainable energy from elsewhere, or it can become the leader, ensuring the millions of jobs that will come with making our economy energy efficient and exporting sustainable technology to the rest of the world.
Each of us can do our part individually. I know. I've been trying for more than a year. Not as much as some, but all the same, trying. The thing is, to really get this kettle boiling, we also need a President and a Congress who are willing to apply some heat.
Individual action is hugely important, but individual action does not just mean lifestyle change. It also means political engagement. I want to help get the right president, and I want to help give him or her the electoral mandate to put our hugely promising climate/sustainable economy/renewable energy opportunities at the top of the agenda.
So who should be president?
If you want a quick answer, all I can really tell you is this: it's not John McCain. Sorry to the Republicans in the crowd. I'm not trying to be politically divisive. I'm just analyzing the candidates' energy/climate/renewable opportunity policies and their apparent priorities. If you want, you can do it yourself by reading Obama's energy plan here, Clinton's here, and McCain's here.
Also, I have boiled down the League of Conservation Voters' somewhat problematic summary of the candidates readiness to launch our economy into sustainable stability in the table below (you can also go here for Grist's chart comparing the candidates).
|LCV lifetime score*||96||90||26|
|Mandatory emissions cap||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|100% auction of emissions permits||Yes||Yes||No articulated position|
|At least 80% reductions by 2050||Yes||Yes||Authored bill reducing emissions 65% by 2050|
|At least 40 mpg fleetwide standard in 10 years
||52 mpg by 2026||40 mpg by 2020/55 by 2030||Supports increased efficiency/ No specified target|
|20% renewables by 2020
||25% by 2025||25% by 2025||Opposed 10% standard in 2005 and 20% in 2002|
|Reduce energy consumption 10% by 2020 from current levels
||50% reduction in energy
intensity by 2030
|20% reduction from projected levels in 2020||Supports efficiency/ No specified target.|
|Moratorium on all new coal plants unless they capture and store carbon emissions
||Would consider if caps don't slow new plant construction||Phased in requirement to have new coal plants capture and store||Supports use of coal|
|Oppose any development of liquid coal
||Supported investing in liquid coal if it reduced carbon by 20% over gasonline in 2007||Supported investing in liquid coal if it reduced carbon by 20% over gasoline in 2007||No articulated position|
*LCV lifetime score measures percentage of a senator's votes that fall in line with LCV's environmental positions.
Why do I call the summary problematic? Because it contains only the candidates tightening of the energy belt policies without telling us much about how the candidates will take advantage of the tremendous opportunities in our crisis.
Because right now, I want to be inspired. I want to see how the candidates can motivate a somewhat indifferent electorate to endorse environmental policies that can prove to be a boon for this country and the entire world.
For that, for the inspiration, for the hope, for the opportunities, I have turned to the candidates' plans themselves.
A couple of paragraphs that give me hope from Obama's plan:
- "Obama will invest $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial scale renewable energy, invest in low emissions coal plants, and begin transition to a new digital electricity grid. A principal focus of this fund will be devoted to ensuring that technologies that are developed in the U.S. are rapidly commercialized in the U.S. and deployed around the globe."
- "Over the longer term, we know that the amount of fuel we will use is directly related to our land use decisions and development patterns, much of which have been organized around the principle of cheap gasoline. Barack Obama believes that we must move beyond our simple fixation of investing so many of our transportation dollars in serving drivers and that we must make more investments that makeother transportation alternatives."
And a couple from Hillary's:
- "A $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, paid for in part by oil companies, to fund investments in alternative energy. The SEF will finance one-third of the $150 billon ten-year investment in a new energy future contained in this plan."
- "Hillary’s plan lays the foundations of investment and incentives to encourage private sector innovation that can move us toward this jobs goal. The U.S. has an opportunity to lead in the development of new green technologies, creating new companies, spin-off enterprises, and entrepreneurs who are creating wealth while moving us toward a carbon free future. Hillary’s plan will help catalyze an efficiency revolution in buildings, homes, appliances and utilities; spur rapid growth in the domestic renewables industries; and invest in energy innovation and R&D, all of which will drive productivity and additional job growth. And her plan will help the private sector create “green collar” jobs—in research and development, manufacturing, construction, engineering, consulting and a variety of other areas—that will help ensure strong growth of America’s middle class over the next decade."
What I'm left with here, when confronted with the only two candidates who I think will actually grasp the nettle when it comes to the climate/renewable energy/sustainable economy opportunities, is not many differences by which to differentiate them. When it comes to the Democrats, it turns out, I'm spoiled for choice.
Grist's political columnist David Roberts, who also thinks we're spoiled for choice, writes:
"It comes down to these questions:
- Who will be more effective at getting a green agenda past the many obstacles it faces?
- Who will do more to help downticket races and usher more Democrats into Congress?
There's been a lot of chatter about "theories of change" this election, but if you ask me, personal style matters a hell of a lot less than the number of reliable votes in Congress. So who'll get more downticket Dems elected? I think, as his recent endorsement by a string of red-state Dems attests, Obama will. He's got broader appeal with the Independents and wavering Republicans that will make the difference in close Congressional races."
What David doesn't mention, though, is something that I discussed with Bill McKibben by email the other day. Whether Obama or Clinton have the policies or win the election, there will be incredible pressure for them to turn their attention to other, business-as-usual issues. We still need to make sure that they make our tremendous opportunities in sustainable, stable economics one of the top three agenda items of the next presidency.
And I can think of only one way to do that: good old-fashioned political engagement. Those of us who look forward to the future with the same tremendous hope and optimism as I do, need to become 1960s-style activists all over again. What we need to believe that what we say makes a difference and that our voices, if we use them, will be heard.
Some think of the 60s as a flop. They weren't. Because of the work of the idealists of the 1960s, we won huge progress in civil liberties. We won progress in civil rights. And with the legacies of the Clean Air and Water Acts, we won the chance for healthier and happier futures.
Let's win more chances. Let's call our representatives. Let's call our candidates. Let's call them every day. Let's gather on the streets. Let's join the 1Sky campaign, where we can, with one, easy click, write to the candidates. And let's convince Obama and Clinton that we will support the centrality of their energy policies in order to help take us into a future of hope, happiness and well-being.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.