The Wake Up Call

click here for WAMC Audio for “The Wake Up Call”
Wamc June 15 2010
Dr Steven Leibo is a professor of International History & Politics at the Sage Colleges
“The Wake Up Call”

So there I was sitting in a large auditorium at Columbia University a few months ago taking part in an extraordinarily impressive seminar entitled “State of the Planet 2010.” A day long seminar that featured live video conferencing from around the world, when an especially accomplished Columbia University scientist who specialized in climatology commented cynically that America that would not wake up to our impending climate and energy crisis, the result of our century plus harvesting of fossil fuels for energy. Or, perhaps I should say, the mishandled harvesting of the very hydrocarbons that help regulate the heat of the planet until something really tragic happened. Rather like the old fashioned city governments that won’t put up a stop sign until enough citizens get killed at a dangerous intersection.

Which is why I listened especially closely Tuesday evening, hoping that President Obama would have the courage to connect the dots from the current hemorrhaging Of the Gulf of Mexico’s ocean floor, “Spill my ass” to the reason we have found ourselves taking such chances with the lives of millions in order to extract the very last drops of oil from some of the world’s most inhospitable locations

Because, at least for those of us who don’t have our head in the sand. For those of us who care enough about our children to study the conclusions of the world’s best scientists about the dangers of continuing our present addiction to fossil fuels. That hemorrhaging well, 5000 feet below the surface of the Gulf isn’t not just another accident. It’s not just about the Gulf or even the worst environmental spill in American history; but the wake up call to the dilemma humanity has gotten itself into by not coming to terms with the emerging end of our fossil fuel era.

Therefore, I was delighted that the president, after first responsibly taking on the tragedy of this particular disaster. After announcing the necessity of forcing B.P. to create an independently run escrow account to compensate the latest victims of America’s fossil fuel driven energy crisis Went on to cite the tragedy as yet another symbol of the price we pay for not moving beyond the fossil fuels that produced so much wealth in the last century.

But that are now increasingly becoming, a key drag on the economic life of our new century. Moreover, the absolute necessity of moving deeper into that economically rich world of green energy, and doing so fast enough that we can gain the rewards of helping the rest of the world to do so as well.

Sure, there were elements of timidly in his talk. He seemed to have listened too closely to those who think presidents should focus only on the present in this case the gulf hemorrhage itself rather than helping guide us forward. He failed to mention the absolute necessity of putting a price on carbon pollution. That center piece of any effort to produce an economic environment that can make it profitable to use energy intelligently rather than its absurd opposite that prevails today

Yes, the president was willing to hint at how finite oil really is while shying away from one of the biggest reasons we need to move beyond fossil fuels. The fact that they are not only becoming harder to find and more expensive to extract but about how much more we learn every day about their ability to destroy the earth’s heat balance. A difficult fact to ignore these days as 2010 is emerging globally as the hottest year since record keeping began.

But that is just nit picking. The President certainly does understand the real meaning of the gulf hemorrhage. And in the coming days there will be plenty of time to expand his challenge to the American people to transition ourselves into an energy future appropriate for this new century.

After all, as the Chinese so often say A Journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step, or as the president has said “to ensure that we will not only control our own energy, but once again control our own destiny.”

About Steven Leibo

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