We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.
–Barack Obama, President of the United States, Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013
Yesterday, we watched the 44th president of the United States sworn in on the steps of the Capitol Building. The crowd was far fewer than four years ago, and possibly not as strident. President Barack Obama painted his vision for the next four years of his administration. The crowd responded warmly, as you would expect from a partisan crowd. (The woman in front of us noted to her daughter Paul Ryan’s startling resemblance to Eddie Munster.)
Four years ago, the crowd went wild I think because there were those who wanted to celebrate Obama as our first African American president and there were those who just wanted to be done with the George Bush era. In this inauguration, the people around us wanted to look forward to the possibility of the next four years.
You may recall that four years ago Obama trumpeted three pillars for his new administration: health care, education and energy. The administration dithered on developing a comprehensive energy policy, leaving it to Congress to bury any chance of moving forward because of partisan wrangling. Possibly Obama learned his lesson on energy and when it came time to advocate for health care reform was much bolder and showed more leadership.
Unfortunately for those who wanted to see a comprehensive energy policy, the chance for an energy policy withered on the trees in the first Obama administration. Two years ago, there was a small window of opportunity to recast renewable energy in the cloak of a jobs initiative, but that effort did not get very far and most believe that there is little appetite to restart the debate—which made Obama’s speech all that more interesting when he laid out a forceful vision on addressing climate change.
Climate change got top billing over foreign affairs and world peace. The Administration is going to have a lot on its plate over the next six months, the critical time to set the agenda and seal the Obama legacy. Will Obama take on Congress not only on immigration reform, gun control, maybe gay rights—and climate change?
Many will argue that the train has already left the station on competitiveness in the renewable energy field and we have already lost the competitive edge. It is all that much harder to get the ketchup back into the bottle in a second term presidency. This is particularly true when you consider the there is no economic imperative to do so: read shale gas. Leading the transition to solar energy and other renewable just does not seem to be a high priority.
If we are going to claim the promise of leading the world in developing ways to efficiently capture and use renewable energy, Obama is going to have to use all of his political skills to work his magic on Congress with some competing coalitions of interests. President Obama has little time to give teeth to his vision to “claim [the] promise” and the lead on the road to sustainable energy. The energy industry and indeed the entire world will be watching his efforts very closely.