Obama's Climate Change Speech: A Youth Leader's Perspective.

This is a guest blog post written by ACE New England's Youth Rep, Srijesa Khasnabish.

Obama Climate 1How many of you saw Obama’s speech on climate change? If you missed it, no worries - you can check it out here. Before I go on to blog about the points in this speech that stuck with me, I have to take a minute to acknowledge  why this event is such a huge deal to our generation. First of all, it shows that our efforts have paid off - Obama realized that climate change is a serious issue that needed to be addressed by the government. This was truly a milestone in the climate movement!

During Obama’s second inaugural speech, my eyes lit up with excitement when he pledged to “respond to the growing threat of climate change for the sake of our children and future generations.” The president followed through with this statement this week (the 25th of June), when he addressed climate change directly and shared his ambitious plan with the nation.

Obama kicked off his speech by addressing the promise he made around 2005 in Copenhagen – to reduce the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions by 17% from the 2005 levels by 2020. But his address today took this pledge to the next level because it emphasized how the US is a role model that developing countries follow. First, he talked about the importance of cutting US carbon pollution by using clean energy and wasting less – something I’m sure many students across the country (like you!) have already initiated. Remember the Biggest Loser Energy Challenge – well if you took part in that project, hats off to you! Obama even acknowledged our progress when he claimed, “It’s time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the nation.” He also talked about how the EPA would create new standards with people and the environment in mind. For example, 40% of carbon pollution is from power plants, so the EPA is going to work on enforcing a limit on the amount of carbon these plants can dump into our atmosphere. Awesome, right?

Of course there are skeptics who claim the transition to wind or solar power will harm the economy, but as Obama said, we Obama Picture 2know that’s so not true. Let’s rewind to 1970, when the Clean Air Act was passed: the auto industry was having a heart attack! But look where taking the environment into account has gotten the auto industry today – it made room for invention of smart cars and Priuses. I could continue to list the many instances where making a change for the sake of our planet was beneficial to businesses and the economy in general, but the main point is this: the evidence is in the history. America is a versatile nation, full of innovative scientists and engineers who work hard to find ways that we can adapt to our changing planet. In short, Obama made it clear that we “don’t have to choose between the health of our children and the health of our economy.”

For me personally, the highlight of Obama’s speech today was when he mentioned the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. While he didn’t directly say that he was going to reject KXL, his words did give me hope. In a nutshell, he made it clear that KXL would only be built if it didn’t “exacerbate” the carbon problem. Now I admit, I was hoping that Obama would dismiss KXL right away, but I hope that if not now, then soon.

Besides cutting carbon, Obama stressed the understanding that climate change isn’t a problem that can be solved in a blink of the eye. The effects we’re witnessing today – melting glaciers, extreme weather conditions, extinction of wildlife, etc. – have been caused by actions initiated long before we were born. This also means we’re may not actually see the benefits of cutting carbon, recycling, composting, and other environmentally-orientated actions in our lifetime. But to me, that’s okay. Why? Well, it’s because I I know that all of my climate friendly actions will lead to a brighter future. I have pride in knowing that I tried as hard as I could to mitigate and adapt to climate change and spread this universal cause with everyone around me. Honestly, the president said it best: “we may not live to see full realization of our ambition, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that the world we live to our children will be better off for what we did.”

Obama Climate 3Now, before I wrap this up I want to tell each and everyone of you something extremely important: CONGRATULATIONS! Why? Well because the recycling campaigns you’ve spearheaded at your schools and the green fashion shows you’ve worked tirelessly to organize and have conveyed the urgency of climate change! Now, the president is on board with this social and environmental movement that youth have sparked and is implementing policies with the climate in mind. Even if Obama didn’t address every single sub-issue under the umbrella of climate change - like something about composting or zero net energy buildings - this is an amazing start, a sign of true progress. So, please keep up the good work - it empowers me to read about the creative ways you’ve greened your schools and (apparently) it has swayed our president as well! Let’s keep building this movement because honestly, there’s no limit – I have confidence in our generation, and even believe that we could convince Obama to reject KXL!