Earth Day

The President's Earth Day Call to Action

New York City -- In perhaps the most significant energy speech he has given to date, President Obama declared his preference today for legislation, not regulation, to address climate change. In his speech, touching on the whole panoply of energy issues, he also highlighted elements of the Recovery Act aiding clean energy, such as money for the smart grid, and discussed new initiatives to harvest offshore wind, tap water currents for energy and encourage states and localities to purchase clean energy vehicles.

A speech on energy and the environment is not unusual on Earth Day. What I found most interesting about the speech, however, is that the President unequivocally stated he is squarely behind a "market based cap" or cap and trade approach to limiting emissions as outlined in legislation recently proposed by House Energy and Commerce Chariman Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey. Saying he supports "comprehensive energy legislation", the President signaled this will be a major priority this year.

The fact is, this is precisely the form of leadership needed to move forward on clean energy. Absent real presidential leadership, the power of incumbency enjoyed by our existing, heavily regulated energy infrastructure could easily stymie efforts to reform the industry.

But reform energy we must if we are to make good on the economic promise of clean energy, let alone the benefits for our climate and security. Today's speech significantly increases the likelihood that America will move toward a clean energy future as opposed to giving into the inertia of the status quo.

Celebrating the Earth

New York City -- Forty years have passed since John McConnell, a peace activist and plastics pioneer, proposed the first Earth Day at a Unesco conference in San Francisco as a way to focus attention on our role as stewards of the planet. In that period, environmentalism has grown into a worldwide passion so ingrained that we routinely recycle bottles, paper and plastics and on Earth Day, at least in my small New York town, walk instead of drive children to school. In that sense Earth Day and environmentalism have been astonishingly successful.

At the same time, however, when we look about the planet it is clear that for all the steps taken so far the climate has actually gotten worse. Environmentalism can celebrate major victories in the United States of cleaning up our air and our water. However, we have meanwhile developed millions of acres of land with almost no regard for the environment. And the rise of China, India and the other rapidly developing countries has virtually doubled sources of pollution. Moreover, science suggests that it has been precisely during the last decade or so of human history that the earth's climate has begun to experience dramatic stress from people as our greenhouse emissions have altered the earth's absorption of energy from the sun.

As an optimist, I belive the world will collectively meet these challenges which are fundamentally about managing growth. The key element, recognized by McConnell when he chose the Unesco conference to propose the idea of Earth Day is global cooperation. The last Administration retreated from working with other countries. The new Administration has redidicated itself to solving climate change but faces immense challenges, particularly, in the weak global economy.

Most major action is precipitated only by crisis. When the threat is is both distant and global rather than local in nature, acting in advance is that much more difficult. The foresight demonstrated at Rio, Kyoto and the other key international meetings on the environment are, therefore, remarkable in history. But science suggests that cooperation is not only remarkable, but also vital to our survival.

On this Earth Day, therefore, I believe we should honor the idea of preserving the planet. But we also honor the key element in achieving that goal, namely working together to solve the problem. Not so coincidentally, 40 years ago, man first landed on the moon and people first saw the famous picture of the earth from the moon. What they saw was a fragile planet, no bigger than a pea in Neil Armstrong's words, but for the first time, the whole earth as one, with one set of challenges, hopes and possibilities and a single destiny.

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