WALKING THE WALK: Step It Up, Mr. President. No Time to Fall Behind

05/25/2011 01:35 pm ET

By Jessica Hobby Catto

President Obama talks the talk on energy conversion but it is time to start walking the walk. And I don't mean stroll. I mean training for a marathon. Time's a-wasting.

While the topic is not at the top of the list of everyone's preeminent worries, it soon will be, and then all the horses will have left the barn for higher ground. Right now most of the big industrial countries agreed in Italy to limit the earth's temperature to a 2 degree rise Celsius. China and India are not holding hands with the group yet, but it is only a matter of a little more time. The Chinese are ever more aware of what their own pollution is doing to them.

So, right now, and I mean right now, call the five largest oil companies (Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP America, ConocoPhillips, Chevron), coal companies (Peabody Energy, Rio Tinto Energy America, Arch Coal, Foundation Coal, CONSOL Energy), and utility companies (Excelon, Southern, FPL Group, Dominion Resources, Duke Energy) to Washington in August before you go on vacation. Start with lunch at the White House. Have National Science Advisor John Holdren address the group with the facts about carbon emissions: the fate and cost we face if we do nothing, and the options we have to ameliorate the situation. He is a most persuasive speaker and can answer any questions with authority and knowledge.

Ask Jane Lubchenko, who heads National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to go over the state of the oceans with lots of visuals and graphics. Ask the companies to step up and do something big for their country. Make them part of the solution, not the problem. Enfold them in your arms. Make the hug snug.

For twenty years, I have sat on various environmental boards and in seminar discussions with many of the chief executive officers and chief operations officers of the energy companies. Most of them genuinely want to be helpful. A President can do a great deal more to effect converting words to actions than any NGO. Ask each of them to come up with a game plan to reduce emissions in their own companies by 20% in eight years, more if they can.

If the companies do it together, there will be no advantage for one or more to hang back. Appeal to patriotism first, and then offer tax incentives with heavy emphasis on their renewable energy departments. The carrot first and....well, Rahm Emmanuel can think up the stick part. A little Lyndon Johnson arm-twisting would go a long way.

At the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, conferences on U.S. energy vulnerability abounded. As did talks about how to sequester or store carbon in order to protect the earth from the effects of higher and higher carbon emissions on our daily bread, water, and air. Or the more green we protect on earth, the more carbon is gobbled up by the green expanses and the more protected our air and water.

When we talk of health care, we should factor in the effects of climate change: heavier storms, floods, drought, dirty air, water and food shortages, not to mention migrations from sea level rises and lack of food. These problems may seem far off, but only to people on a boat called the Queen of the Denial.

Urgency is here. It is hard for us to understand that fact because we cannot see foul air or suffer the consequences yet of water shortages. But this is going to be a global campaign. We need to mobilize our citizenry, our military, our energy companies, our schools and churches. We need to do many things, not just one, and we need sustained leadership from our President.

The military can help by keeping in touch at the highest levels with the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture Departments for guidance on how to keep the 29 million acres of land our armed forces own green and unspoiled. Climate change probably has been studied more carefully by the Pentagon than any other department, except for NOAA and NASA. They could be great partners and collaborators in slowing the climate crisis.

Schools can help by teaching methodologies for energy saving and the science behind earth's rising temperature. We can help by using LED lights, insulating, watching our gas consumption and energy efficient appliances. Our churches can help by emphasizing God's gift of earth to us and our need to honor and cherish it.

Now, the drum roll, please. This is the hour for rebirth of energy sources, just as it was at the turn of the 20th century. This is the time for new fortunes and a new future. Time is short and our situation precarious. The critical conversion from fossil fuels to renewables must take place in the hearts and minds of entrepreneurs and investors as well as in the factories. Leadership and vision from the President is fundamental.

Mr. President, act now and act with your special brand of fluency. If you assign the energy companies a leading role in climate control, you will have slam-dunked the biggest ball in the biggest game of all time.