In the State of the Union yesterday, President Obama proned fiscal responsibility and set to rebuild America's infrastructure. He also used this opportunity to set a new target for clean energy production : 80% by 2035! In the absence of new international agreements, it was the most encouraging declaration that the clean-tech community could hope for. It followed a series of announcements during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit last week in Washington DC.
Many experts expressed however their skepticism. By comparison, the current Kyoto agreement calls for 20% of energy consumption to come from renewables. The White House expanded today on its plans to achieve clean power goals. Facing a new Congress more hostile to environmental regulation, President Obama mixed nuclear, natural gas, "clean coal" with renewables sources like wind and solar. Yet, reducing traditional coal power plants to 20% of energy production is a very challenging goal, even a quarter century from now, according to a recent study from the US Energy Information Association.
The Republican response to the State of the Union carried a different tune by focusing on fiscal discipline and cutting Government spending in the short-term. Understandbly keeping the tone cordial in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, the Chair of the Budget Committee nonetheless disagreed vehemently on the task at hand. Reflecting on the world that we want to leave to our children, the Republican rhetoric continues to use fear to influence policies.
In contrast, Obama's discourse was a message of hope despite of the alarming effects of climate change. It had the merit to inspire the country to reach higher and put the light on the need to promote innovation and higher education. The US only ranks #9 among nations in the proportion of the population holding a college degree. When President Kennedy announced that a man would walk the moon by the end of the decade, it seemed highly unlikely and many were skeptic. But it happened.
In 1957, the Soviet Union stroke a chord in the American spirit by launching the first man-made satelite. Today, Obama visited a number of clean energy companies in Wisconsin, coincidently close to the place where a part of Sputnik fell after it was launched. Fifty years later, the White House is clearly using the symbolic location to call for a new era of innovation and prosperity.
In the Republican response, the opposition explained that the Deficit was accrued over time and that no particular President or House bared a larger responsibility. I first thought about the Reagan Presidency and agreed. The Reagan Administration created record-level deficits at the time but ended the Cold War and restored confidence in the American spirit. President Reagan did what had to be done. Thirty years later, President Obama is in similar situation: "shoot for the stars" despite a difficult economy.
Unfortunately, I could not stop there and thought about the Clinton and Bush Presidencies. The Bush Administration took the country to war in Irak, on shaky grounds to say the least, and failed to continue the fiscal discipline set by his predecessor. The Bush Administration is by and large responsible for the current state of the Deficit.
The International Community made no mistake and sanctioned the "policy of fear" by giving the Peace Nobel Prize to Al Gore who worked to educate on climate change with the scientific community. America needs "a little more education" to embrace the challenges ahead and compete with China. By referring to a "Sputnik moment" President Obama highlighted the need to change the course, whether triggered by a threat or a challenge.