Thursday, January 28, 2010

Time to Step Up

Yesterday, January 27th, 2010, was an inspiring day for me: as a veteran and member of Operation Free, as an aspiring clean energy entrepreneur and businessman, as an environmental advocate, and as a proud American. On the morning before President Obama’s first State of the Union address, national leaders in the business community, the labor community, veterans and national security experts, faith leaders, farming leaders, and more came together at the Clean Energy, Jobs, and Security Forum in the Capitol building to discuss the importance of comprehensive climate and energy legislation, how quickly we as a nation need to respond to truly act in time, and showing a first step in the bipartisan direction that the President called us to take.

There are so many highlights of the day, it would be impossible for me to recount them all, but imagine a conference with opening remarks by Senators John Warner (R-VA, retired) and John Kerry (D-MA), two retired general officers discussing the national security threat posed by climate change, and a keynote lunch address by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy. We discussed the destabilizing force that climate change has in already weak states, how to engage and benefit from the work of the large US agricultural sector (and not merely with promises of corn ethanol!), and how by addressing the risks that a changing climate brings to all facets of our lives, we can seize the reins of the global clean energy economy — one in which China is already outspending us by laying out $9 billion a month to develop their own clean energy sector. Sen. Graham described the costs of doing nothing very well:

"A word of caution and warning: Doing nothing, in my view, does put the planet at risk. Doing nothing continues an irresponsible practice of sending $440 billion year overseas to buy oil from people who don’t like us very much. Doing nothing allows China to own what I think will be the most exciting economic opportunity of the 21st century: the green economy. As we talk, as we argue, as we try to find 60 votes in America, China is doing."

Certainly, the President’s first State of the Union address was a worthy cherry on top, eloquent as always, and full of what I thought to be a heartfelt and serious message. He doesn’t claim to have all of the answers, but claims we need to come together as a nation and try to find them. That seems to me to be the right approach, especially for such difficult problems as the financial, economic, and climate crises that we are facing. We are all going to need to make changes, to adapt the way we have lived and worked in the past to the new realities of the future, and thus it is us as a people who need to shoulder much of the burden of that work.

At the end of the day, feeling good after the President spoke — though waiting for my friends in the environmental community to be up in arms about the calls for offshore oil drilling, nuclear power plants and clean coal — I am perhaps still most inspired by the words of Senator Graham presaging the call the President would make later that evening: “We are trying to find a way forward… but there is no substitute for citizen involvement.” And Secretary Chu: “Policy changes happen when the American people give courage to their representatives.”

Wayne Gretzky, perhaps the greatest hockey player of all time, once said about his abilities in the rink, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it’s been.” We know where the puck is going to be. Step up, America, and get there.