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Solar Oregon President Ron McDowell comments on President Obama’s speech on Climate Change – June 25, 2013

Solar Oregon President Ron McDowell comments on President Obama’s speech on Climate Change – June 25, 2013

Beijing China on June 25th 2013

by Ron "Mac" McDowell
Originally Featured in Sustainable Business Oregon's Voices Blog

Today, rather quietly in front of a small audience at Georgetown University, President Obama announced he's issuing a presidential memorandum to launch the first-ever federal regulations on carbon dioxide emitted by existing power plants. He articulated that his climate strategy will focus on three key areas: cutting the amount of carbon pollution in the U.S., preparing the country for the long-term effects of climate change, and leading global efforts to combat it.

Speaking to a predominately student audience, the President said, “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that is beyond fixing … I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the USA a leader, a global leader, in the fight against climate change.”

It was fitting that President Obama chose to give his speech before a group of young people who face a daunting future.

“It was important for me to speak directly to your generation”, Obama said, “because the decisions we make now, and in the years ahead, will have a profound impact on the world that all of you inherit.” He continued, "The question is not whether we need to act … the overwhelming judgment of science has put all that to rest. So, the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And, how we answer will have a profound impact on the world we leave behind, not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren. As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say – we need to act!” 

As a renewable energy advocate, and someone who is concerned with destructive behavior towards our own environment, I’ve been waiting to hear this kind of message from a sitting American president for almost twenty years.  I pray it isn’t too late.

Warning us that climate change threatens the health of the planet is vitally important, but will the President’s message be a game changer?

After his announcement today, some may believe that America will finally begin to take appropriate action and move faster toward climate solutions. They want to believe that this administration will stand up to the fossil fuel industry and resist developing new infrastructure investments such as the Keystone XL pipeline and coal export facilities.

I suspect this isn’t going to be the case.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the President for taking leadership on this issue (albeit five years into his administration), but this situation shouldn’t be left up to his administration itself to solve. We are all in this together. We citizens are all caretakers of the future and what we need in this fight right now are thousands more citizen leaders at every level of our society. This is a defining moment in our history.

Opposition to the President’s announcement will be fast and furious. It started before he even gave his speech for heaven’s sake. Critics from both sides of this issue have commented that his speech was simply pandering to environmentalists for his administration not acting sooner on climate change; or that this is no more than a ham-fisted attempt to sooth greenies because the Obama administration is planning to approve the controversial Keystone XL project.

Republicans and the established energy industry criticized Obama's climate change plan saying it will lead to higher utility bills and less development of reliable energy. House Speaker John Boehner stated, “ these policies will shutter power plants, destroy good-paying American jobs, and raise electricity bills for families that can scarcely afford it."

Yawn. This is the same tired refrain we’ve heard for the past thirty years anytime the fossil fuel industry feels threatened.

The fact is that no climate proposal from President Obama will get past Republican opposition, so our greatest chance for a climate legacy lies in empowering American citizens to take control — with our voices, our votes and our dollars — and especially taking control over our own energy future.  Unlike the countries cited by Obama as global leaders in the clean energy race, like China and Germany, this is how it will get done here in America. 

President Obama must already know this. He challenged us in his speech by saying, “I’m directing the EPA to develop the standards in an open and transparent way, to provide flexibility to different states with different needs, and build on the leadership that many states and cities and companies have already shown.”

Regardless of speeches and the good intentions of the Obama administration, I believe the solution to addressing climate change will rely heavily upon individuals, organizations and local governments.  Climate-protecting energy policy succeeds when communities can keep their energy dollars local by directly owning and profiting from investments in renewable energy. This is being proven every day, both here and abroad.

I’m proud to say that the solar energy industry is uniquely poised to be part of the solution. America’s solar energy industry is already ushering in a new era of clean energy and providing opportunities and jobs.  Despite what critics say, this isn’t a choice between clean energy and a robust economy. We can have both – and solar power is showing the world how to make that possible.

As President Obama declared, “A low carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come, and I want America to build that engine, I want America to build that future, right here in the USA, that’s our task.” 

Well, that starts with change in our own behavior and in our own backyard. And, it takes leadership.

As President Obama himself said, we can’t win it, if we’re not in it. He asked the Georgetown students … can we imagine a more worthy goal? As a president, as a father, and as an American myself, I cannot.

Ron “Mac” McDowell

President, Solar Oregon

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