Will Obama be able to deliver a better world, or is he just another politician/lawyer in the pocket of big bucks whose wooly cover is beginning to slip?
Our world seems increasingly chaotic. We thought we were going to be rescued from the mire of the Bush boondoggles (war, unchecked business practices, a contaminated environment on a path toward global warming and a tanking economy); our hope for change was riding high. Many changes have been made, but most Americans aren’t feeling any relief yet. Instead, our financial picture just gets worse. Obama’s supporters are questioning whether his actions are really designed to help us or if he’s just pandering to industry by shoveling money and benefits to Wall Street, banks, coal and nuclear power.
Yet I see a glimmer of sustainability on the horizon.
Perhaps those who have been railing against the government for decades are just having a hard time giving up their stance as agitators now that support is finally appropriate. Obama has taken small steps in multiple directions to begin to repair the massive damage that has been done to our country over the past decades. He’s being challenged by the status quo – power and money – and he’s employing unprecedented diplomatic skills to forge alliances, rather than allow the end result to be the icy stand-offs of the past.
Obama has asked us to restrain our criticism and give his economic plan more of a chance to prove itself. “We inherited a total mess; we’re working hard on it; and we’re not going to get out of it overnight,” he said in his weekly address Saturday. “Here’s the deal: The key to what this year is about is rescuing the economy from falling off the cliff and trying to put in place the building blocks of recovery.”
Let’s take a look at what our nation is dealing with and what kind of progress we’ve made in the past six months.
Since taking office in January, Obama has:
- Implemented an effort to protect the nation’s economy by rescuing the biggest financial giants on Wall Street, a plan hastily constructed by the outgoing Bush administration which held responsibility for the colossal failure, slightly tweaked by the new White House administration and Congress before being used to bail out big banks.
- He moved to close Guantanamo and established that the United States will no longer engage in torturing prisoners, even in times of war.
- He’s moving us out of Iraq but into Afghanistan in an effort to root out Al Qaida.
- The U.S. is making an effort to protect Afghan citizens from the line of fire, thus avoiding the debacle of tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens caught and killed during the U.S. invasion under Bush.
- He’s placed administrators who care about the environment at the EPA, and they’ve initiated a plan to clean up the asbestos mess in Libby, Montana.
- He’s directed the FDA to better protect consumers from cigarettes, and directed the FDA to increase protections on food production.
- He’s initiated a conversation among health care providers, insurance companies and Congress to find a way to reduce our health care costs.
- He’s initiated regulations on credit card companies and mortgage companies to help consumers cope with escalating debt and avoid foreclosure.
- He’s extended unemployment benefits.
- He’s overseen a Clean Energy Bill which is far from perfect, but which represents a new era for U.S. responsibility and regulation of green house gases.
- He has approached leaders of the countries most antagonistic toward the U.S., extending an olive branch to help repair international relationships worldwide.
- He has negotiated a deal with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons with the stated goal of eliminating these weapons which have the power to destroy the world.
- He and his wife have planted an organic garden on the White House lawn, ironically only to discover that a 1990’s application of sewage sludge masked as fertilizer left a residue of lead which will contaminate their harvests.
This is an impressive array of initiatives to tackle a broad spectrum of problems. Yet each step is diminished by the power of industry and money, using lobbyists and lawyers to influence politicians. Will business-as-usual be allowed to prevail? Will we lose this opportunity to create a new paradigm?
Obama reached out to prevent the collapse of Wall Street, but should all our resources be dedicated to saving these corrupt and destructive institutions? What if we just let them fail? What will our world look like when industry, Wall Street and governments fail? Maybe we can safely go ahead and pull down the ivory towers.
Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, writes, “This economy can’t get back on track because the track we were on for years — featuring flat or declining median wages, mounting consumer debt, and widening insecurity, not to mention increasing carbon in the atmosphere — simply cannot be sustained.”
The time has come for a new, sustainable economy, and it is up to all of us to create and develop it.
Even amid the misery and disarray, we are already making steps toward a more sustainable society:
- We’re working less hours, spending less money, buying less crap and reducing our waste stream.
- We’re spending less on fuel for our cars and energy for our homes – energy conservation can play a large part in creating a more sustainable economy and environment.
- We’re spending more time on pursuits of higher value and with our children – we have more time for love and creativity.
- We are establishing a new paradigm for our economy, investing more in new energy resources and local foods than in the GDP and “stuff.”
- Independent media is creating more transparency and accountability between governments and citizens.
- Religious and educational institutions are calling for more ethical leadership.
- Inflated governments and businesses are being forced to downsize to less-expensive models.
- People are pairing up. Love is comforting, but will love save the day? It just might help.
Now is our chance to recreate our world into a place where we would like to live. Instead of disparaging the man we thought would carry us out of the mire of misery, let’s figure out how we can support the efforts of his administration. We can help this new dawn rise.
We need good leadership, but leaders need the support and direction of the people. We can begin by demanding that our government cuts its ties to lobbyists, as Bill Moyers suggests.
If you’re displeased with the Clean Energy Bill, let your senators know that nuclear energy is not renewable and coal isn’t clean. Ask them to put more resources toward truly renewable resources – wind and solar – and to require polluters to pay for their CO2 emissions rather than giving them credits for free.
The Washington Post says it well in an editorial: “It’s not too late to hope for a cleaner cap-and-trade bill — such proposals are circulating on Capitol Hill — or a properly designed carbon tax that would send the right market signal to spur green-energy innovation while also leading to vital changes in behavior…it’s too soon to settle for something that falls so far short of ideal.”
If you’d like to see businesses provide healthier products, stop buying unhealthy products: boycott water in bottles; buy only organic foods, preferably from your local farms instead of big agricultural conglomerates; stop polluting our waterways and your home environment with synthetic lawn fertilizers – replace turf with native plants, collect rainwater to use for irrigation, create compost to nourish your lawn and garden from your kitchen and yard scraps. Resist the urge to visit the mall – if you must satisfy your well-trained shopping addiction, try finding treasures through barter programs or consignment shops.
We have the power to change the status quo through our voting and purchasing choices. Let’s use this power to clean up our government and our planet. For the first time in decades, we have a leader who just might be able to help us.
Obama got our votes. Now let’s give him our support.
–Trish Riley is publisher of GoGreenNation.org, an award-winning investigative/environmental journalist and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Greening Your Business.