Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was absolutely incredible. Truly inspirational. His oratory skills are unparalleled among presidential candidates since the days of JFK and RFK (although Clinton and Reagan were pretty damn good). Also, I’ve never seen an elected look better in a pink tie (apologies to Mayor Villaraigosa). He even talked about renewable energy, climate change, water quality and lead free toys. By the end of the speech, I was ready to run through walls. I was even ready to apply for any available job in his administration, including those guys at Homeland Security running the metal detectors at LAX. Obama inspired the listeners and viewers to want to be part of history.
However, after further reflection, I thought about the guy on stage before him. No, not Michael McDonald. I was never much of a fan of the Doobies. I’m talking about Vice President, Oscar winner and Nobel laureate, Al Gore. The contrast between the two speeches was striking.
As a mega-eco-nerd, I loved what Gore had to say about the urgent need to wean ourselves from carbon based fuels (reminder – that includes biofuels!!) through conservation and renewable energy. He talked about the fact that the polar ice cap in the Arctic is melting at rates beyond those predicted in science fiction novels. We are in a crisis of epic historical proportions and near immediate elimination of a petroleum based economy relying on foreign oil is essential and will create green jobs, eliminate our need to fight oil wars abroad, and solve the climate crisis. All heady and convincing stuff if you are an eco-nerd that lives for solving environmental problems. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the 84K in attendance acted like they were seeing Feist as the warm-up band at a Radiohead concert.
When Obama hit the stage, the stadium was his. The contrast in abilities to command an audience was striking. Unlike Gore, Obama’s epic speech covered the gamut on domestic and foreign policy issues. He touched all bases and along the way he talked passionately about the Bush Administration’s failed energy policy and America’s need to tackle the climate crisis through investment in green jobs and alternative energy.
However, Obama also clearly identified the role of “clean” coal, biofuels, nukes and even off shore drilling in the energy policy mix, if only on a temporary basis. In this case, the contrast between Gore’s full throttle efforts to tackle the climate crisis head on through eliminating carbon based fuels and Obama’s energy policy based on reducing our dependence on foreign oil was as striking as the difference in their oratory skills. I understand that Obama reached out across all of America from the ethanol belt to the coal laden mountains of Pennsylvania and the west, but his policy of energy independence at the expense of doing what’s necessary to stem the fast increasing impacts of climate change is still a disappointment. Maybe victory will lead to a stronger environmental energy policy.
The anticipation of what John McCain was going to do at the RNC on the environment in response to the enviro themes of the DNC didn’t last long. I was still holding out for the McCain that was one of the lone voices of reason on national energy policy and climate change. However, on Friday he anointed one Sarah Palin, former mayor of the small town (less than 9,000) of Wasilla with a few months experience as Governor of Alaska, as his VP candidate.
Palin served on the state oil and gas commission. She is pro drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and calls anti-drilling foes “extremist environmentalists”. She is a global warming denier despite the fact that approximately 180 Alaskan villages have suffered climate change induced consequences from permafrost melting, sea level rise, and coastal erosion. Also, she is spearheading Alaska’s effort to overturn the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing of polar bears as a threatened species. Also she’s a moose hunter that supports the “sport” of aerial hunting of wolves. She may look like a librarian (although my mother was a librarian — Palin is no librarian) and may single-handedly bring the beehive back, but she is the environmental movement’s worst nightmare.
There is no doubt that McCain is definitely the environmentalist on the Republican ticket. I hope I’m surprised, but right now it looks like the RNC will be a big oil love fest with nary a mention of climate change or other environmental issues.