U.S. energy independence lies in partnering with business on alternative fuels
U.S. Senator Barack Obama
In Washington, D.C., issues come and go with the political winds. And they are generally covered through that prism: Who's up and who's down? Which party benefits? Which party loses? But in these superficial exchanges, we often lose sight of the real and lasting meaning of the decisions we make and those we defer.
The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we're contributing to the warming of the earth's atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe.
Despite all the ominous harbingers of things to come, we do not have to stand by helplessly and accept this future. In fact, we can't afford to. Climate change may be unleashing the forces of nature, but we can't forget that this has been accelerated by man and can be slowed by man, too. By now, the culprit of this climate change is a familiar one, as is the solution. When I gave my first speech on energy, I talked about how our dependence on oil is hurting our economy, decimating our auto industry, and costing us millions of jobs. Recently, I discussed how the oil we import is jeopardizing our national security by keeping us tied to the world's most dangerous and unstable regimes. And when it comes to climate change, it's the fossil fuels we insist on burning--particularly oil--that are the single greatest cause of global warming and the damaging weather patterns that have been its result.
You'd think by now we'd get the point on energy dependence. Never has the failure to take on a single challenge so detrimentally affected nearly every aspect of our well-being as a nation. And never have the possible solutions had the potential to do so much good for so many generations to come.
As gas prices keep rising, the Middle East grows ever more unstable, and the ice caps continue to melt, we face a now-or-never, once-in-a-generation opportunity to set this country on a different course. So why can't we do this? Why can't we make energy security one of the great American projects of the 21st century? The answer is, with the right leadership, we can. We can do it by partnering with business, not fighting it. We can do it with technology we already have on the shelf. And we can do it by investing in the clean, cheap, renewable fuels that American farmers grow right here at home.
One of the biggest contributors to our climate troubles and our energy dependence is oil, and so any plan for the future must drastically reduce our addiction to this dirty, dangerous, and ultimately finite source of energy. Building cars that use less oil is only one side of the equation. The other involves replacing the oil we use with the home-grown biofuels that will finally slow the warming of the planet. In fact, one study shows that using cellulosic ethanol fuel instead of oil can reduce harmful emissions by up to 75 percent.
But the challenge we face with these biofuels is getting them out of the labs, out of the farms, and onto the wider commercial market. The federal government can help in a few ways here, and last year, I introduced the American Fuels Act with Senator Dick Lugar to get us started. First, this legislation would reduce the risk of investing in renewable fuels by providing loan guarantees and venture capital to those entrepreneurs with the best plans to develop and sell biofuels on a commercial market. Second, it would let the private sector know that there will always be a market for renewable fuels by creating an alternative diesel standard in this country that would blend millions of more gallons of renewable fuels into the petroleum supply each year.
The climate changes we are experiencing are already causing us harm. But in the end, it will not be we who deal with its most devastating effects. It will be our children, and our grandchildren. I have two daughters, aged three and seven. And I can't help but think that they are the reason I wanted to make a difference in this country in the first place--to give them a better, more hopeful world to raise their children. This is our generation's chance to give them that world. It's a chance that will not last much longer, but if we work together and seize this moment, we can change the course of this nation forever. I hope we can start today.
For the Record is an edited excerpt of Illinois Senator Barack Obama's speech on Energy Independence, given in April 2006. Senator Obama is the author of the best-selling book The Audacity of Hope.