Ok, ok. So we know, it is the State of the Union, not the environment. But as environmentalists ourselves, we couldn’t help but respond to Obama’s State of the Union speech. Obama mentioned the environment several different times throughout his speech. Since his campaign, Obama has pushed that he will increase federal funding for green energy. However, 2010 saw the Clean Energy Bill crash and burn and with a Republican controlled House the outlook was not so great. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, as there were a few encouraging items the President covered in his speech.

To keep with Obama’s theme, one of the “biggest things” we were excited about was his new plan to push America into energy efficiency. Not only did he set a new goal of 80% clean energy by 2035, but he directly mentioned moving funds from subsidizing oil companies and investing them in what he called clean energy. Now, we, of course, totally back such a move, seeing as how investing in energy efficiency and new green technology is smart in this age. What we did not like was that the President lumped natural gas, nuclear power, and even “clean” coal in with real green energy such as solar and wind. We were very disappointed by this since investing in those types of energy is no better than investing in oil. Not to mention there is no such thing as “clean” coal.

Another piece of the speech we appreciated was his historical reference to the Space Race and Sputnik. Being history nerds and all, we are always game for historical parallels that can shed light on contemporary issues.  The President mentioned that the US is falling behind China and several other nations in solar and wind technology. He referred to this as “our Sputnik moment,” meaning we should use this early failure to push us into developing our own renewable energy. These are all positive and encouraging ideas for the future of our country. Within his speech he also mentioned increasing the number of electric cars on the road and developing high speed rail systems.

All of these goals are exciting and we are happy he mentioned them. However, as many have pointed out, he failed to mention Climate Change as something we should address, albeit he did imply the problem by suggesting we invest in green technologies. Still, many environmentalists expected him to at least mention the issue, especially as the weather in 2010 was all over the place and it turned out to be the hottest year on record.

We are guessing his failure to mention this issue had to do with his attempt at “reaching across the aisle,” as they say. It is no secret that many in the Republican party question Climate Change and have been fighting any legislation on it. Since this is such a controversial topic, he might have chose to exclude it. Still, this is no excuse. In the State of the Union speech, he is speaking to the people as well as his political partners and foes.

Overall, we applaud the President for his efforts to bring this nation up to speed in green industry, renewable energy, and alternative transportation. Even with his incorrect “renewable” references and his failure to mention impending Climate Change, we still find this a positive speech, environmentally speaking.  Now, let’s see it get into action! Don’t forget to write your local congress representatives and let them know you want to meet these goals and more!

When I think of nuclear power, two images come to mind: the scheming Mr Burns of the Simpsons and the tragedy of Chernobyl.  Both of these images were born from an era long ago (yes, 1989 is after-all, 20 years ago)! Often nuclear power is thought of a thing of the past, born out of the days of the Cold War. Then why is it that I am hearing so much about it these days? From the President’s State of the Union to mainstream media, it seems to be everywhere. People are turning back to nuclear power in the midst of the impending oil crisis and the knowledge that we need a new way to approach energy in this country and throughout the world.

The world’s first nuclear power plant used to supply electricity opened in 1956 in the UK.  Since then, power plants have been built throughout the entire world and were at their heights in the 1980′s.  However,  the accidents of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have cast a shadow on the energy source, and nuclear power, once the darling of the country has been stunted. The idea of supplying the world’s electricity through nuclear power has been quietly put on a shelf, that is until recent years. Currently, 15% of the world’s electricity is supplied by nuclear power. However, we may see this trend change in upcoming years.

Many nuclear supporters, such as France, have begun touting it as a feasible answer to the oil crisis and some have gone as far as labeling it renewable energy. Supporters of nuclear being a renewable energy point to the fact it produces little or no greenhouse gases. And that current Uranium stocks (how nuclear power is created) are enough to last , at current rates, 2000-2500 years.

Calling Nuclear Power a renewable energy has sparked some huge protests among the environmental community. Most notably, nuclear power is created by Uranium, which must be extracted from the Earth through destructive mining techniques. Also, there is the problem of nuclear waste, which is incredibly dangerous. Although, nuclear power may not produce greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it still produces waste that must be placed somewhere. Where are they going to put all this waste? For decades they have been burying it in containers, hoping thousands of years will reduce its radioactivity, however, if an earthquake or war breaks out containers could spill into the soil and water supply. This waste is terribly harmful to humans and the environment, one just has to look to Chernobyl for an example or that three eyed fish from the Simpsons.

Speaking of Chernobyl, it is clear nuclear power can be dangerous. Although meltdowns are very rare, if one were to occur, it could be horrific and harmful to the environment. The land and water surrounding Chernobyl is still feeling the effects of the meltdown in 1986.   As mentioned these incidents are a rarity, however the nuclear power industry must spend costly amounts on safety within the plants to be certain these will not occur.

It seems likely that many nuclear power supporters and industry are looking to promote it as a renewable source to benefit from the tax cuts and subsidiaries that are awarded to true renewable energy sources.  You can just see Mr Burns putting those bony fingers together and hissing “Excellent.”   So far, even with the President backing it, nuclear power has not been included in the definition of renewable energy.  For instance, the International Renewable Energy Agency has yet to include it. And nuclear power has seen an even greater backlash here in the States. Vermont’s Senate recently voted not to renew the state’s Nuclear Power Plant contract another 20 years. Without a contract, the plant is likely to close in 2012.

Labeling nuclear power as renewable seems like a far stretch to me and to most of the environmental community. Instead of focusing time and energy on labeling an incredibly expensive and waste emitting source, it would be in our best interest to focus on real renewable sources. This includes wind, solar, and even geo-thermal. We need to be funding and devoting new technologies to these renewable sources instead of wasting our time on a debatable source of energy. We must figure out a way to produce more energy at cheaper rates through sources such as sun and wind.  It is time we become focused and actually forge a sustainable energy plan to ween ourselves off this nasty oil addiction, and nuclear power just isn’t the answer. Ask the victims of Chernobyl or that three eyed fish, if you don’t believe me.

-Gina Williams

Regardless of whether or not you are an ardent fan of President Obama or among his harshest critics, you would be hard pressed to deny this man’s undeniable gifts as an orator. Last night’s State of the Union Address saw Obama doing what he does best, making an eloquent speech that not only outlined numerous policies but included a  firm scolding of both  the Democrats and Republicans seated before him. The President even squeezed in a few well-placed zingers to punctuate certain points and to take the wind out of the sails of certain naysayers,  stating, “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.” as he addressed Environmental issues during his State of the Union Address.

Even with a peppering of comic relief, Obama’s discussing of his future approach towards clean energy left many environmentalist without a smile on their face. The State of the Environmental Union was a mixed bag at best. Here are the highlights, lowlights and “What?“ lights of the President’s speech, from an environmental perspective.

The Good:

“We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities–and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient–which supports clean energy jobs.” 

“…it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year,. And this year I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.” 

President Obama smartly outlined  the importance of green energy through the lens of economic recovery. Touting Green Energy as an industry that could create jobs, and therefore an industry that should be encouraged,  Obama touches on how these changes could be implemented through tactics such as rebates to encourage energy efficiency among American Citizens. Obama’s praise of congress for passing the Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009 and gentle encouragement of both parties in the Senate to follow suit, highlights actual action that is being taken towards this environmentally responsible behavior. While the bill, which focuses on a cap and trade system wherein limits are set for greenhouse emissions, is supported by many environmentalists, it also has its fair share of critics, ranging from those who claim that the bill is not radical enough to those who believe that it is too radical. 

 I believe that at the very least, this shows that this administration is being proactive when it comes to addressing environmental issues, but what has myself and others worried is the amount of concessions that seem to be filtering into these policies under the guise of promoting bipartisan politics. Which brings us to…

The Not So Good:

“But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives” 

So far so good, I can get behind incentives and jobs and green energy, continue, Mr. President.

“And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means  making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.”

(Record screeching)… “Say what!?”, me.

(Enthusiastic applause)- Congress.

What happened to harnessing the awesome power of the wind? Nuclear power  has never been so directly addressed by President Obama as a viable option for renewable energy as it was last night.  There is much debate over the nuclear power’s qualifications as a renewable energy source, with critics pointing out that from the harnessing of uranium to the construction of nuclear power sites, that this form of energy is hardly carbon neutral. This mention coupled with the shout out to offshore drilling seem to paint a picture of a President willing to make concessions in order to encourage bipartisan participation on the creation of a economically beneficial green economy. 

Whether or not these concessions will result in an end that justifies the means remains to be seen. President Obama, in one short statement ,seems to have leaned even further towards the middle. These compromises may backfire-alienating eco-minded individuals wondering if the environment is really the best area to make compromises on and could also lead  republicans to believe that  they can make Obama bend to their insistences as fast as they can utter, “Tea Party!”

Despite the bitter sweetness of President Obama’s State of the Green Union, one can only hope that he knows what he is doing and that his gamble will pay off. Hopefully, the Green economy the President foresees will become a reality throughout the remainder of his term as Commander-in-Chief.. As he said, “The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. American must be that nation.”  The economy and the environment are both suffering and perhaps the president is correct, their futures are intertwined and the only way either can flourish is with the help of the other. As sad as it may be, if Green energy is not profitable it will not be embraced by the majority of American citizens or its politicians. 

-Meghan Hurley

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