Obama: Green Enough?

Yuri Ahuja
By Yuri Ahuja November 16, 2011 20:55

President Obama delivers a speech at the 2009 Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen. Photo courtesy of today.brown.edu.

In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama made the move toward green energy and environmental sustainability a cornerstone of his campaign. Promising to invest billions in green energy initiatives and a skilled clean technologies workforce, embark on the path to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050, expand locally-owned biofuel refineries, and restore US leadership on climate change, among many other initiatives, Obama set ambitious standards for his administration on this pressing topic.

But just how successful has President Obama been at living up to his green energy goals? From a recent analysis of media coverage, it would seem that energy reform has been more a source of embarrassment for this administration than one of tangible progress. The bankruptcy of Solyndra, the California solar equipment manufacturer in which the administration invested $528 million and precious political capital, has been undeniably costly, bolstering congressional Republicans’ claims that the administration’s green energy project has been little more than a fiscal black hole. As Darrel Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, stated in an interview with the New York Times, “A green jobs fuel recovery is a theory, and is yet unproven. There is a lot more green, in the way of cash, and a lot less energy and jobs than anticipated.”

Although many of Obama’s reforms seem to have been plagued with financial difficulties, it does not necessarily reflect their faults. Indeed, the current state of the economy has not been particularly conducive to Obama’s green energy ambitions. Most economists have concluded that investments in green technology have not promoted higher employment rates. In a time of recession with the unemployment rate at a staggering 9.1%, creating jobs has understandably taken precedence over promoting energy reform. In the budget proposal President Obama recently submitted to Congress, clean energy was nowhere to be found.

However, the administration has indeed made some significant advances in green energy promotion that must not be overlooked. For example, the administration established the Biofuels Working Group to advance and intelligently invest in alternative energy sources. In addition, the administration has more than doubled federal spending on green technologies, invested $60 billion in incentives for green energy solutions and $2 billion in solar panel production, and increased funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. The administration is heavily invested not only in the research and development of green technologies but also in the promotion and incentivization of the use of energy-efficient practices by consumers. In addition to spending billions on larger projects, the administration has created many tax and spending incentives to adopting a greener lifestyle.

In restoring US leadership on climate change, however, the administration has enjoyed less success. At the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009, Obama disappointed many in the international community by failing to commit his administration to a more active and progressive stance on climate change, not only domestically but abroad as well. Following Obama’s speech at the summit, the environmental conservation group Friends of the Earth responded in a statement to The Guardian, stating that “Obama has deeply disappointed not only those listening to his speech at the UN talks, he has disappointed the whole world.”

Solar and wind power are two of many alternative energy sources in which the Obama administration is heavily invested. Photo courtesy of www.raleighpublicrelations.com.

Nevertheless, despite some negative publicity, the Obama administration has certainly made tangible progress. Contrary to Representative Issa’s assertions, the money invested in green technologies has indeed had positive results. For instance, greenhouse gas emission dropped 6.1% between 2008 and 2009. Wind and solar power generation in the United States have increased 39% and 52% respectively in the past few years. Moreover, the administration’s new fuel-economy standard for cars is expected to decrease gasoline carbon emissions 21% by 2030. According to one study, the US is on track to build almost 5 million charging stations for electric cars by 2015.

Overall, the Obama administration has done quite a significant amount to make the United States “greener.” It goes without saying that the administration has done more than any prior to this effect. Not only is the government heavily invested in green energy solutions, but climate change is now beginning to become an important subject of debate in Washington. Despite the scrutiny and criticism of the partisans and ideologues, one fact is certain: the United States has and is continuing to become greener under the Obama administration.

Yuri Ahuja
By Yuri Ahuja November 16, 2011 20:55