March 6, 2009

An Antidote Called Hope

By Javier Sierra

“May you live in interesting times,” says the Chinese curse. And these times of ours can be called anything but boring.

The worst economic crisis in 80 years, the melt down of financial markets and a recession that is obliterating millions of jobs throughout the world have infused fear in all of us. You actually have to gather some courage every morning to read the dreadful headlines.

Against this disease called fear, nevertheless, there exists an antidote. It’s called hope, and in his address to Congress, President Obama gave us all a huge dose of this medicine.

In his speech, President Obama walked decisively and confidently on a tight rope, balancing both rising the spirits of a demoralized nation and explaining the true magnitude of our crisis.

“We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal,” he said. “Now we must be that nation again.”

And to get out of this hole, he outlined a detailed plan sustained by three pillars, including, for the first time, a clear clean and renewable energy policy that can take the U.S. back to its former status as a world leader.

“Thanks to our recovery plan,” he said,” we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history - an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science and technology.”

The Hispanic community will be an important beneficiary of these investments. Out of the $25 billion dedicated to energy efficiency, more than half will be used to help weatherize a million homes belonging to low-income families. Some $20 billion will be used to advance alternative sources of renewable energy, such as solar and wind. This initiative will help create millions of jobs in industries on which many Latino workers depend.

But President Obama insisted that “to truly transform our economy, protect our security and save our planet from the ravages of climate change,” renewable energy must be profitable. That’s why he asked Congress to send him an energy bill that put a price on global warming emissions.

In other words, polluters would not be able to dirty our air with impunity. They will have to look for alternatives, which will unleash an unparalleled torrent of investment in clean, renewable energy.

These are important steps for the fulfillment of two of my four wishes to “The Other Santa Claus,” as outlined in my recent column: reduction of the levels of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas; and a shift toward clean, renewable energy.

President Obama has completely fulfilled another of my wishes. In January, he ordered the EPA to re-evaluate a waiver to the Clear Air Act that would allow California to set standards on car emissions 30 percent higher than the existing ones by 2016.

Nearly 20 states wish to follow California’s example, which means that by the time the EPA grants the waiver, a step that is taken for granted, more than half of the country —where 80 percent of Latinos live— will take a giant step toward curbing our oil addiction and global warming.

To the environmental movement, the first month and a half of the Obama presidency has meant much more than a letter to Santa Claus. The New York Times calls it “an astonishing turnaround.”

Specifically, the paper was referring to the work of new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, who besides accepting the revision of the California waiver, has reversed or revised three Bush administration directives aiming at delaying even further any action against global warming.

But that’s not all. The Obama administration has also:

—Opened the process to classify carbon dioxide as public danger that needs to be regulated.

—Ordered to re-evaluate the Bush administration decision to expand oil exploration on our coasts.

—And cancelled the permits for oil exploration close to national and state parks in Utah and the West.

Yes, the world is living through interesting times. But after Jan. 20, we all can count on an antidote called hope.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Visit www.sierra

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