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“All of the Above” Still a Big Disappointment

Greens largely unexcited by State of the Union

About a third of the way through tonight’s State of the Union address, as he tackled the issues of climate change and the environment, President Obama proclaimed, “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way.”

True enough. The transition will take time, and it will force some hard decisions. But the problem here, as many environmentalists see it, is that the president doesn’t seem willing to make those touch choices. Instead, he’s doubling down on his “all of the above” energy strategy. And “all of the above” isn’t a choice – it’s a more like an all-you-can eat policy buffet that punts the hard decisions into the future. Until President Obama starts making those tough choices – begins genuinely confronting the oil and gas industry – we’ll still be failing to confront the massive threat of climate change.

The president disappointed greens almost from the get-go. He opened his speech with a litany of recent American accomplishments, and on the list was this gem: “More oil produced at home that we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly 20 years.”

That elicited predictable groans from the environmentalists among the Twitterati.

twitter feed

twitter feed

From there, the president’s remarks on climate and the environment felt like déjà vu all over again, a repeat from the natural gas love poem he delivered in 2012. Indeed, the natural gas industry was the big winner from tonight’s speech. Sure, the president had nice things to say about the burgeoning solar industry, telling listeners that, “Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can't be outsourced.” And he went on to call for an end to the $4 billion in government subsidies the fossil fuel companies receive annually.

Still, that was nothing compared to his full-throated celebration of the natural gas industry:

“If extracted safely, it's the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.  Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas.  I'll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas.  My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities.”

Once again, environmentalists were disappointed.

twitter feed

twitter feed

If there was any eco-silver lining to the speech, it was the preacher-like fervor that the president displayed when he slapped down the climate science deniers.  “The debate is settled,” the president said.  “Climate change is a fact.  And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

The good folks at the liberal Center for American Progress almost immediately created a Facebook-friendly photo with those words overlaid. But, again, many greens expressed polite disappointment, displaying dismay that such rhetoric hasn’t been matched with bold action.

twitter feed

twitter feed

The State of the Union speech – like so much in our Politico-ed political system – can feel overanalyzed and hyper scrutinized, an exercise in the kabuki theater of managing expectations. I think it’s fair to say that most environmental activists went into tonight’s speech with modest expectations – expectations that, as low as they were, the president didn’t exceed. By way of proof, just check out this lukewarm post-SOTU statement from NRDC. Talk about damning with faint praise.

The team at 350 – being 350 – were much harsher. Here’s the statement from 350 executive director May Boeve:

“President Obama says he recognizes the threat of climate change, but he sure doesn’t act like it. ….You can’t say you care about ending cancer and then go buy a carton of cigarettes–and you can’t say you care about the climate and then go dig up more fossil fuels. We need real leadership from this President, not more lip service.”

And that, I think, just about sums it up. The president clearly gets that climate change is an important issue. But it doesn’t seem that he fully grasps the scope and scale and of the threat.

If he did, he wouldn’t be trumpeting his “all of the above” energy strategy. Instead, he’d be rallying the country to get all hands on deck to preserve a stable planet.

Jason Mark, Editor, Earth Island JournalJason Mark photo
Jason Mark is a writer-farmer with a deep background in environmental politics. In addition to his work in the Earth Island Journal, his writings have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, The Progressive, Utne Reader, Orion, Gastronomica, Grist.org, Alternet.org, E magazine, and Yes!  He is a co-author of Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots and also co-author with Kevin Danaher of Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power.
He is writing a book about wildness in the twenty-first century, to be published next year by Island Press.

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