Monday, January 21, 2013

We Made Ourselves Anew

While it seemed the inauguration crowd was pretty subdued today, the President's speech included many hopeful ideas.  From a sustainability perspective, the lines that will most likely stand out are these:

"We the people still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations... The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it." 

It was great to hear Obama continue to break the climate silence.  The first big test to see how much substance is behind those words is coming up with how he approaches the Keystone Pipeline, and other proposed alternative pipelines - and whether or not he has the courage, strength, and wherewithal to take a stand and own up to the science, which says to really "respond to the threat of climate change" we must leave that tar sands oil in the ground. The civic engagement of "we the people" on this issue is building - with Keystone protests (Feb. 17), an upcoming action in Portland ME (Jan. 26) to protest a Northeast pipeline, and the growing "Idle No More" movement among First Nations groups in Canada.

But while many still associate "sustainability" with energy, climate, and environmental issues, it is as much about people, health, safety, and social issues.  The focus in Obama's speech on civil rights, gender equality, gay rights, poverty, community, and civic engagement were all strong sustainability statements.

For me, the most sustainability relevant parts of the speech were those that referred to leadership and active engagement in transformational change. In reference to eliminating slavery, the President said: "We made ourselves anew." To create a sustainable society we will now need to make ourselves anew once again.

He emphasized the need to work together throughout the speech and articulated how consistent principles can guide us through constant change:

"But we have always understood that when times change so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action."

We must make great changes -- to our energy systems, production systems, lifestyles, laws, policies, and perhaps most importantly, our mindsets. And we must engage in this tough work together. Regardless of how we get there -- whether it be through strong government leadership and policy, or elegant market-driven solutions -- we must all keep the bigger picture in mind: that we'd all like to see humanity continue on and flourish without destroying this beautiful home with which we are completely integrated, and which we rely on absolutely for our survival.

Stay going.

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