Saturday, January 17, 2009

Thoughts on the Inauguration

There has been so much exciting talk about the inauguration over the past few days – millions descending on Washington, including Obama, retracing part of Lincoln’s train route to the capital, celebrations and concerts, personal stories and elation. It seems like despite the violent ‘perfect storm’ around us – 2 wars, the tragic conflict in Gaza, the ever looming threat of climate disruption crashing over us, while we continue to fuel its growth, the undermining of a functioning (though fundamentally flawed) free-market economy by ideological zealots (who we trained and revered in our finest institutions), inexcusable toxic pollution being sold to and thrust upon all of us (but particularly the poor and marginalized) by our most powerful corporations, misguided policies and ideologies fueling the threat of terrorism – despite all that, and the confusion this complexity brings, there seems to be a surprisingly high level of general consensus emerging amongst us:

  • We must get off fossil fuels
  • We must create a green economy
  • That economy must be inclusive and enable millions to lift themselves out of poverty
  • Obama and the change he represents is necessary, but nowhere near sufficient – this will take an incredible amount of hard work and dedication by all of us
  • The party’s winding down and that’s ok – actually it’s welcome – it’s time to find more meaning in our lives than the empty, dictated placebo of hyper-consumerism
  • All the issues are not the separate, discrete, competing interests we thought they were – they’re all interconnected and influence each other – we can no longer afford to “problem solve” or apply “quick fixes,” we must take a whole-systems perspective and identify the leverage points where the positive can build on the positive, to get us out of the trap we’ve gotten ourselves into where the negative reinforces the negative
  • All of this will take a deep reconnection with and re-expression of our core values, and dedication to a more highly evolved global consciousness that starts inside each of us

We’ve been working on getting a Green Education, Schools, and Jobs Program into the stimulus package with the leaders of the ACUPCC, which has led me to follow the process to some degree. The transition team has their framework for the package, and the House released its legislation on Thursday, it’s got to go through the Senate, and will no doubt continue to change along the way. But Obama is serious about getting it done and out quickly – the original target of having it ready for inauguration day has been pushed back a bit, but it will likely go through by early February. By and large, the components of the packager are excellent. A year ago I would have found it very hard to imagine that the language and strategies outlined in the package would be under such serious consideration at such a high level with so much funding so soon. The focus on demand reduction is phenomenal ($6.2 billion to weatherize low-income homes, $2 billion for RE and EE research, $6.9 billion for block grants for EE strategies by local governments (fertile grounds for collaboration between Climate Protection Mayors and ACUPCC Presidents), and much more). $11 billion towards a smart grid is also a smart move to set up a scalable renewable energy system. Some tax credits and the like. I haven’t seen anything addressing pulling back subsidies to fossil fuel industries – but this is a necessary step as well, though one that will certainly meet some serious resistance.

We’ve been pulling for more focus on funding education for sustainability initiatives – in terms of operations, education and research – as (1) the job creation potential is huge (surprisingly so – 23.1 jobs created per $1 million spent, among the highest ratios for employment returns on spending), (2) the money goes to support arguably our most important and indeed institution – education, (3) there is huge deferred maintenance at most schools, colleges, and universities, (4) green retrofits will address that, but also cut GHG emissions, serving as role-models and demonstration projects, (5) those same activities turn campuses into “living labs” with huge educational value, (6) that experiential learning in hand with directed green jobs training and general education for sustainability builds the workforce we need for the green economy.

The main point though is that we’re a whole lot closer to getting on the right track, and this stimulus package holds huge promise to give us a boost to get started. I expect the inaugural speech will focus on all of the economic stuff, but more so on our role in it. The expectations and hope for Obama are sky high, and I expect him to wisely throw those expectations back on us. A good time for another viewing of the “yes we can” video. And a newer one (below) by, that reinforces that this is our change to create, our better world to create. All that's really changed is that at least now we don't have a president who was perhaps well-intentioned, but guided by inherently misguided and simplistic worldview, too often influenced by and ruling for the self-interested few at the expense of many. So, let’s enjoy the moment, it is historic, and gear up for the real work ahead.

Stay going.