05/24/2011 01:13 pm ET | Updated Jul 24, 2011

Winning the Clean-Energy Future

We all know that President Obama ran for election on the promise that America would drive the green economy and lead the world in the development of alternative and renewable energy.  But in the pivotal 10th quarter of his presidency we don't have a roadmap. This is despite warnings from most climate scientists, stunningly bad weather, and with full knowledge that China and other countries are cornering markets on solar manufacturing, rare earth minerals essential for green technology, and even global food supplies. Now that President Obama's approval ratings are up, he has a responsibility to use his new-found political capital to address these threats and opportunities. President Obama should make climate change and energy investment a national priority -- and focus the country on it until it's done.

Last week, President Obama made a speech about our energy future saying that clean energy will help us out-compete and out-innovate the rest of the world: "Clean-energy jobs are the jobs of the future. I don't want other countries to win the competition for these technologies and jobs. I want America to win that competition. I want America to win the future."

So do I. That's why the president needs to use his replenished political capital to push Congress and if they won't move, take it to the people.  Take that political capital and invest it in explaining why America must stay on top.  Let's face it. We practically have to start over.  With close to insane debt, an astonishing deficit, and the public clamouring for deficit- reduction, the Senate still could not agree to end our shameful subsidies for oil. This is in the face of the oil companies' enjoying near record profits.

In the meantime, the Administration continues to promote the nonsense of clean coal and offers massive offshore drilling expansion as a quick fix to rising gasoline prices. If that weren't bad enough, the Administration is now dusting off Winston Churchill's century old advice on oil as the way to promote energy security today. At the Latin America Energy Conference in La Jolla, David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary for Policy & International Affairs, applauded the recent increased oil production in the Western Hemisphere, quoting Churchill's famous 1915 exhortation that "safety and certainty in oil lie in variety and variety alone." In other words, continue to rely on oil and get it everywhere we can.

In this obvious vacuum, democracy requires us to speak out, to organize and keep our leaders focused on our priorities, and if they won't, to take action ourselves. When it happens, citizen action can be powerful. In some places, the coal industry is giving up in the face of new regulatory demands accompanied by effective local civil actions.  On Mother's Day, 16-year-old Alec Loorz and 49 other kids filed simultaneous law suits in all 50 states under the public trust doctrine, alleging (correctly) that the federal government has "failed in [its] duty to protect the earth's atmosphere as a public trust to be guarded for future generations." 

But honestly, it would be so much easier for all of us if our elected officials actually led, and weren't distracted by red herring attempts to separate energy security from today's climate crises. We have the opportunity and the responsibility now to reinvent ourselves through green technology.  I think the President has the persistence, the tenacity and the polling numbers to get it done.  If not, I guess we will just have to do it ourselves.