President Obama surprised a lot of people by elevating the climate threat into the top tier of his second-term priorities during his recent inaugural address:
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries -- we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
Words are no substitute for action, but this could be the beginning of what many of us have been demanding for years: a serious national conversation about how we're going to mobilize to address the gravest threat ever to face humanity.
Two months ago, President Obama took heat for using his first post-election press conference to perpetuate the myth that addressing the climate crisis will somehow hurt the economy and cost jobs. Here's what the president said then:
I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody's going to go for that. I won't go for that.
But the real story is what he said next, which received scant attention. It was actually quite remarkable:
If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that's something that the American people would support.
That one sentence, combined with the president's inaugural climate pledge, created an opening big enough to drive a biodiesel semi through. It was a coveted invitation by the president of the United States to renewable energy leaders to make their case that a U.S.-led green industrial revolution is the answer to much of what ails America and the planet.
One would think President Obama's unprecedented invitation would have sparked, at minimum, a flurry of media statements by the nation's leading solar, wind and geothermal trade associations. One would be wrong. A column I wrote nearly three years ago challenging these three industries to step up and lead, "Leading the World's Green Industrial Revolution," has not budged from the front page of my website for the simple reason that it is as relevant today as it was in 2010. If these green industries have not delivered bold plans to the president's desk by his February 12 State of the Union address, we should all be asking why.
President Obama opened the door. America's green energy pioneers now need to walk through it before the fossil fuel lobby slams it shut.