Huffpost Green
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Joan Michelson Headshot

What About Us?

Posted: Updated:

The president's climate action plan that he recently outlined at Georgetown University has something in it for almost everybody.

The Georgetown University audience of mostly young people applauded several times during the president's speech. Their applause is a good sign for the President because his approval among this 18-29 year old cohort dropped 17 points in June according to a CNN/ORC survey.

They applauded in the beginning when he declared, "I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing. And that's why today, I'm announcing a new national climate action plan and I'm here to enlist your generation's help in keeping the United States of America a leader -- a global leader -- in the fight against climate change."

How did he "enlist" their "help"? He called on them "to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends... Speak up." That's it; that's all he asked them to do.

Something For Almost Everyone

Environmentalists seem delighted with the bulk of his initiatives:

(a) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will develop carbon emissions standards for new and existing power plants, which represent 33 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA (2011);

(b) He will decide whether the Keystone Pipeline will go forward based on its environmental impact;

(c) He will "green light enough private, renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than six million homes by 2020;"

(d) He implored Congress to "End tax breaks for big oil companies;"

(e) He ordered a 20 percent reduction of energy consumption by federal buildings within seven years.

(f) He will invest in improvements that will protect our vital infrastructure from the ravages of climate change; and

(g) He will use the levers of international agreements to have America "lead international efforts to combat a changing climate," so that developing countries don't "repeat all the same mistakes that we made."

Oil and gas companies are probably pleased the president spoke so highly of natural gas, and didn't make them out to be villains. (They also know that the chances of Congress pulling back their tax breaks any time soon are slim.)

The private sector and investors are likely smiling about the financial incentives to invest in clean energy technologies.

State and local governments were probably happy to hear about the President's infrastructure investments and "toolkit" to help them better prepare for, and mitigate the damage from, extreme weather events. This includes pilot programs in already-ravaged areas, such as New York and New Jersey that are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

What The President Left Out

While all these initiatives are welcome and important, what President Obama did not ask the audience -- us -- to do is examine our own choices.

Every person has a role in this war on climate change. Every person's choices matter and we are not doing our part, even at the most basic level.

We don't recycle much, despite the seeming ubiquity of recycling bins. The EPA reports that, "only 8 percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2011 was recovered for recycling." Not every U.S. city and town offers recycling. Paradise Valley, Ariz., an affluent suburb of Phoenix, for example, has no home recycling pick up and it kills me every time I visit my sister there and see plastic and glass tossed in the garbage.

A mere 3.83 percent of cars driven in the U.S. are electric or hybrid electric vehicles, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association. Only 5.3 percent of all workers use public transportation to commute to work, according to the U.S. Census in March 2013.

Thomas Friedman wrote in his recent New York Times column that "most (people) want to live like Americans, with American style cars, homes and consumption patterns." If they do so, we'll "smoke up, choke up and burn up this planet so much faster than anyone predicts."

Why Not Go Big?

While I hail the president's climate initiatives, he had a golden opportunity to be bigger and bolder. He could have inspired Americans with his trademark soaring oratory to "live green, work green, earn green," as we say at Green Connections. But he didn't. Why not?

Combating climate change requires each of us to act every day in our own communities, putting our money and actions where our values are.

President Obama could have called for national clean energy standards that so many energy and climate change leaders and scientists say are required to truly reduce carbon, and inspired his pro-environment audience to pressure lawmakers to adopt these standards.

Earth Day Network achieved their "Billion Acts of Green," calling on every day people around the globe to declare their "act" to help combat climate change and protect the environment. The president could have done something similar.

"But along with collective responsibilities, we have individual responsibilities," President Obama told Morehouse College graduates recently, and implored them to act accordingly. Too bad he didn't say that again at Georgetown.

From Our Partners