Most viewers of the 2014 State of the Union address, delivered last night by President Barrack Obama, should be praised for having the wherewithal to persevere through such a sleep-inducing collection of strung together sentences — although, among the mind-numbing were a fair share of surprisingly spritely, humorous notes.

Regardless, for those green enthusiasts out there, hoping to learn more about initiatives in the way of sustainability, clean energy, and alternative fuels, there was relatively little mention of such, and with even less value behind it.  Far from a laughing matter.

View the enhanced speech on demand –which is by far better than the
live broadcast– if you don’t believe me (tune in around the 15:40 mark).

Unfortunately, the most prolific takeaway for such enthusiasts was a regurgitation of the All-Of-The-Above Energy Strategy, originally introduced several years prior.  And let me be clear (pun intended) — by “regurgitation” I don’t mean Mr. Obama repeated himself per se, but I do mean that it was just a simple spewing of what “we” have already accomplished over the past several years’ time.

Some of the facts and statistics used in the accompanying supplemental presentation seem randomly curated and desperately included, almost in some form of a last-ditch attempt to appear arguably progressive.  And be careful not to blink when watching the address, you may miss the just-over-four minutes the Pres took to speak to the notions of this All-Of-The-Above plan.

Nonetheless, a brief recap is in order, to point potential non-viewers in the direction of the few notions splayed upon last nights audiences:

  • America is closer to energy independence today than we have been in decades.  I hope this is self-explanatory.
  • Natural gas is being extracted safely. This was an obvious reference to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, something we have written about in the past and something which environmentalists everywhere denounce.
  • Companies are planning to build new plants that use natural gas.  President Obama made clear the fact that he wants to promote this via tax and other programs for these manufacturers who indeed increasingly move toward natural gas as a replacement means of production (instead of oil).
  • America will continue “strengthening protection of our air, our water, our communities,” and “protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations” to come.  By definition, probably the closest we’ve come thus far to targeting sustainability, but still not compelling.  This just seems like some general commentary that could have been used years ago to describe our state, and which seem to be added only because they sound better to the heart than to the mind, once processed.
  • We are becoming a global leader in solar — “every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar.”  This is a great stat, assuming its factually accurate.  Bravo, Mr. President.  And his use was impeccable, directly relating solar’s ongoing push to economic job growth by referencing that men (and women) physically installing pieces of such equipment is not outsource-able.
  • GOAL: continue to invest in fuels of the future.  Check.  This should go unsaid — it’s something that would be done regardless of who is in office, be it oval or congressional.  Next.
  • We can continue to reduce energy we consume. He referenced the new standards for the auto industry, implemented after the bailout, to make vehicles more efficient.  Good example, yes, but we have been there and done that, so where else could this be actionable moving forward?  Another prospective example would have been beautifully refreshing.
  • The US is the leading nation in reducing carbon footprints.  Impressive, but how about we explore how we will maintain that role modeling… right?
  • We need to legislate new standards on the amount of pollution our power plants are permitted to dump into the air.  Air pollution is important, I get it.  And as we’ve seen in places like Mexico City and eastern Chinese cities like Beijing, it can quickly get so out of hand as to realizably affect the day-to-day quality of life for area inhabitants.  The future can only get worse, if not attended to, so let’s hope something of action can become of this verbiage.
  • “The debate is settled: Climate Change Is A Fact!”  Again, self explanatory, but a headline-grabbing quote all enthusiasts can be mildly happy about.

Now, that brief recap above contains literally every point I could imaginably pluck from the whole discussion of ecological sustainability, and most of it spoke solely of vague past accomplishments and emptily bottomless comments surrounding the overall direction we are headed. Personally, as someone truly interested in hearing what particulars could lay on the horizon, I was extremely underwhelmed by the President’s words, or complete lack thereof with respect to true governmental policy.  This could have been a chance for Mr. Obama to openly target specific goals and initiatives on one of the broadest stages possible, to really put the pressure on Congress to do something about the potential headliners — an opportunity blown.

As one US News and World Report describes fairly well, the State of the Union was predicted to be and then turned out to be unsustainable.  The article describes, quite adequately, that sustainability is the focus of making sure our living our lives does not hinder the ability of the generations to come from living theirs.  While the State of the Union contained moments wherein the glimmer of hope for the future verged on addressing some social or economic sustainability, environmental sustainability was not allowed to shine in its full brilliance.  There was clearly insufficient forethought and future initiatives relayed from the President — no true future plans were outlined for environmental policy.

All of this being said, I must concede that it is not all President Obama’s fault, that the entire State of the Union address seemed monotonous and archaically pointless.  In actuality, it is just that, and by inevitability.  The State of the Union was originally put into policy as a way for the President of the United States to relay his views on the current status and future agenda of the country to the US Congress.  This is especially needless in today’s society of technological advancement, what with all the instantaneous newsfeeds at our constant disposal via push notices to our pocket devices.

Overall, Obama’s address was only half-baked, nearly ignoring future sustainability, clean energy, and alternative fuel plans altogether.  But that’s just my opinion.

Got some time to share your opinions?  We’d love to hear them!

As the recovery and rebuilding from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy continues in the northeastern region of the United States, so must rethinking the plausibility of living close to waters.  While it is understandable that the city flooding in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut was unavoidable and qualifies for federal funding for repairs, maybe this is an opportune time to reconsider living in beachfront communities.

It appears that the realization of the burdensome costs of storm damage in beachfront communities is in the crosshairs of the Obama administration.  This past summer, President Obama signed a bill that makes changes to the National Flood Insurance Program.  This law allots $105 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the administrative agency for the National Flood Insurance Program, to update flood plain maps and to “adjust federal flood insurance premiums to reflect real risks”.  This law also includes provisions for efforts to remove vacation homes and repeat claims from the protection of federal insurance.

While programs such as these face opposition by long-time residents in flood-proned areas, they are supported by liberal officials because they represent acknowledgement of the reality of climate change and its effect on global warming.  Also, conservatives support these measures because they reduce federal spending.  It is important to note that the federal government is not restricting citizens from living in flood-proned areas.  Rather it is transferring the overwhelming financial burden of storm damage, which is expected to occur at greater frequencies, from all taxpayers to the residents in these communities.

During the 2012 presidential election campaign, we witnessed FEMA and its huge deficit become a point of contention.  While it is mandatory that federal monies be spent for natural disasters, consideration must be given to the argument for the necessity of some controls along these lines.  At the time the last transportation bill was signed, FEMA was $18 billion in debt.  Hurricane Sandy has pushed this debt closer to the agency’s cap of $20.8 billion.  The conversation to reduce the federal deficit and to address the looming fiscal cliff must include compromise on both sides of the aisle, and Congress would be remiss to not include measures to address the costs of devastation to communities by violent weather.  Of course, states and localities could adopt legislation to build sea walls to protect residents living near water and/or to provide state insurance funds to pay for rebuilding after storms, but this cost can no longer fall totally on the shoulders of the federal government.

Living a green life requires making choices, some of which are difficult but necessary.  To protect our families, communities, businesses and our very existence, let’s live green, be green.

Sources for this article:

FED - FEMA | Federal Emergency Management Agency

FED – FEMA | Federal Emergency Management Agency (Photo credit: Inventorchris)

Despite the criticism of skeptics and conservative politicians, the green job movement is moving forward and progressing.  In fact, a report issued last week by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) states that the growth and benefits of green jobs are even stronger than previously expected.  After its analysis of employment data from the Brookings Institution and the Pew Center on the States, who undertook the task of categorizing green jobs on a detailed industry and occupational level, the EPI concludes the following:

  • Green industries are growing faster than the overall economy, at a rate of 2,5 times as fast as other jobs.
  • States with green jobs withstood the recession and fared better than those without green jobs.
  • Approximately 20% of all green jobs are in the manufacturing sector, which is great for the economy because roughly 5.5 million jobs in this area have been lost since 2000.
  • Green jobs offer pathways into the middle class.  These jobs tend to require less education but pay better wages.  This is good for people who cannot afford to go to college but still need good jobs that pay well, enabling them to support their families in a wholesome and healthy manner.

Now we need to adopt the appropriate governmental policies on all levels–local, state and federal–to support the positive movement in the green economy.  This includes investing in storm water infrastructure and supporting energy efficiency programs in cities and states.  We need long-term commitment to businesses involved in solar and wind energy.  Most importantly, we need a change in mindset.  Only through education and technology with demonstrated successes in improvement of air and water quality and reduction in adverse health conditions attributed to pollution will we reverse our dependence on coal and fossil fuels, which are so detrimental to our environment.

A green economy is a win-win situation for everyone.  We can keep moving forward by practicing healthy living, educating our families and communities on green initiatives and demanding that our elected officials support the green movement through public policy.  We know that these strategies are important ingredients in the recipe to live green, be green.

Green economy pays off

This week’s NBC Education Nation was touted as a must-attend/must-see event for anyone interested in the education of America’s youth.  This summit, hosted by NBC in New York’s Rockefeller Center brought together more than 300 leaders in education, philanthropy, government and the media.  Guest speakers included President Barack Obama, Presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and a host of other CEO’s, politicians, journalists, etc.

I have followed this summit online, reading excerpts from town hall meetings and blogs, as well as watching reports on the local news stations.  A lot of problems with the education system have been mentioned, but the subject noticeably avoided was green initiatives.  In fact, some of the suggestions offered may conflict with the green movement.  Primarily, there is an emphasis on technology in education, which endorses equipping students with tablets, laptops and smart phones to be used in the classroom.  While this may sound like a great idea on the surface, one can only imagine the magnitude of the negative impact of this huge amount of electronic debris on the environment.  Of course, such ideas are great for Microsoft and other computer and electronics manufacturers, who make large notations to schools or who sell these products to students at a discount, thereby reaping large financial gain and tax credits.  Their bottom line is different than that of the green movement.  Also, one must question the equity in this suggested program.  To effectively address the issue of education, any program would need to be inclusive of all children irrespective of station in life.  It would be unfair for students in the poor school districts to be left out of these programs because they do not have access to Internet or other systems necessary to support the use of these devices.

Another topic not addressed at the summit was learning environment.  To be successful in school, students need access to physically healthy structures.  This summit seemed to ignore the fact that there are a lot of “sick” school buildings still in use, once again predominantly in poor communities.  Many children in this country attend schools that are polluted with mildew, mold, outdated structures or inadequate/no heating system or air conditioning, thereby making learning difficult or impossible.  The provision of a suitable learning environment has to be part of the education nation dialogue.

A third topic of the summit was online learning.  There are two sides to this story also.  Access to online courses is beneficial to some people, but it should not replace the traditional classroom, which presents a valuable opportunity to ask questions, and more importantly, to hear the questions and comments of other students and instructors.  I can recall times that a student did not ask a question, but a teacher recognized a confused look and addressed concerns of that individual.  Online courses potentially remove the ability of a teacher to recognize the need for additional help from a student who may not be able to verbalize this need.  Any online course programs definitely should incorporate a hybrid component, which require some face-to-face group meetings.  Additionally, school attendance presents an opportunity for the school systems to guarantee healthy meals for breakfasts and lunches.  This is important for so many children and must be continued.

The issues discussed here represent only a few of the issues that needed to be addressed at the NBC Education Nation Summit.  There was some discussion of curriculum, but the Summit should have included experts in the green movement, as these individuals are well aware of the environmental issues that need to be addressed through education.  Discussion could have included the need for commitment to develop and implement educational programs to build the workforce to find solutions to green issues threatening the planet.

This writer thinks the NBC Education Nation has earned an F for its grade for this year’s summit.  Our very existence mandates that we learn green, live green, be green!

Green initiatives were not well represented in 2012 NBC Education Nation Summit

After spending a considerable amount of time browsing the Internet, reading magazines and researching “green” initiatives, I am convinced that most people are aware of measures they can take to promote a greener life.  I also believe that most people do some things, either voluntarily or as a result of demands made by employers, neighborhood associations or government mandates that impose taxes or even penalties for failure to comply with environmental regulations.  However, I have noticed some extreme practices or procedures that are being investigated through experiments now but may become a reality.

  • Some scientists have proposed putting a ring of sunlight-scattering particles around the equator to reduce the radiation effects of the sun hitting the planet and thereby reducing greenhouse gas effects.  This idea would be tried in the most extreme circumstances and would cost trillions of dollars.
  • Other research has focused on the ocean and includes the manipulation of plankton growth through fertilization to create larger growth to suck up excess carbon dioxide or even “stirring” up the ocean with large pipes to bring rich nutrients to the surface to feed and produce huge algae blooms that would in turn suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and bury it on the ocean floor.
  • Some local jurisdictions, such as the city of Los Angeles, have worms in bins in eating areas.  The worms eat discarded food particles and turn them into compost that is used in gardens.  Imagine worms becoming a kitchen staple.
  • Researchers have consistently emphasized the impact of changing our diets and exercise regimens. Statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization indicate that the meat industry is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse emissions through the use of fertilizer, animal manure, energy used to transport food.  If all Americans between 10 and 74 walked a half hour a day, carbon emissions in the U.S. would be reduced by 64 tons.  Eating less red meat also would help.
  • Most jurisdictions are looking towards banning the use of plastic bags and incandescent light bulbs.  We all are becoming accustomed to the transition to fluorescent light bulbs.  Also the use of paper bags or reusable cloth bags is gaining momentum in most communities.
Going green ranges from practical to extreme solutions to protect the environment.  Maybe if we all read the Live Science countdown to craziest ideas, we would be more motivated to incorporate practical green measures to avoid resorting to extreme measures down the road.  Let’s be practical– live green, be green!

I read an opinion piece earlier today by Columbia University faculty member, Steven Cohen, entitled The Transition to a Sustainable Economy May Happen Without the U.S. Federal Government.  Several strong and sometimes witty points are addressed in the article, all of which are of reasonable importance.  Overall, however, the piece points out the ever-increasing need for further developments in the realm of environmentally conscious change, through not only personal choices of society members, but through official government policies.  The latter of which, we have surprisingly found to be almost entirely lacking in the U.S., despite further research on the matters that may very well affect the future. 

One highlight of the piece that I do consider to be one of the more important elements, is a referenced letter from the co-CEO’s of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), a major global investment firm.  Although working predominantly within the financial industry, even KKR and its leaders strongly believe in higher levels of sustainability practices.  Among other things, they mention that such initiatives will lead to a better use of resources, as well as a more profitable business.  It is essentially a win-win situation, so long as adequate effort is put into it. 

A major distaste for the U.S. government’s lack of response to trending issues on limited resources and needed sustainability is openly expressed by Cohen as well.  To be honest, he is rightfully disappointed.  However, as I continued to read on and hop around the Huffington Post website, I did come across a slideshow list of the Greenest Celebrities.  I usually find such things hard to stomach, but in this case, I was immediately drawn in.  Some of the members of the list came as no surprise, but others I found to be quite the opposite.  I think its worth checking out and reading up on each of the celebs, but no matter how you view the issues, it can give a little more hope to the cause – although government officials seemingly refuse to take steps forward, perhaps with high profile individuals like celebrities pushing for advancement and programs, the green movement has large-scale hope yet.