September 17th, 2010
Dear President Obama,
Although the mainstream media never reported on it, Friday, September 10th was one of the lowest points in your Presidency. With all the campaigning you have been doing lately and since you were not present at the meeting between representatives from your administration and American hero climate advocates Bill McKibben, Jean Altomere, Amanda Nelson and Jaime Nemecek , you may not realize the significance of that day. September 10th was the day your administration refused to make the powerfully symbolic commitment to clean energy by reinstalling the Carter White House solar panels.
September 10th was the day the Democratic base of progressive voters came to realize they no longer have any representation in the United States government. The shocking reality that true liberal representation in our “democracy” might be a thing of the past has been nagging progressive voters for a while. Your feeble display at Copenhagen, your unwillingness to push for single payer or even a viable public option in healthcare, your escalation of the war in Afghanistan, your advocacy for oxymoronic “clean” coal and nuclear energy and last but not least, your massive bailout of Wall Street contrasted to your tepid response for the record numbers of the new American impoverished had already just about wiped out any hope we had for change. But, this latest gesture, or lack thereof, has finally sealed our disillusionment.
Your hero and mine Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” While your level-handedness might be charming and serve you well in the polite society of Harvard Law School graduates, there is no place for your equanimity in the current political, economic and environmental crises that currently face our nation. As the progressives in government compromise and remain silent, the increasingly radical right voices get louder and louder, taking over the political discourse with the end result being a slow but steady movement of the national psyche towards conservatism. The right has been very successful not by being polite but by pushing relentlessly and vocally for their agenda. The recent political success of extreme right Tea Party candidates proves that he, who shouts the loudest in our country, wins.
The few 30-year old, still operational solar panels seem like a small token in terms of climate change, but their symbolic value is enormous. Republicans recognize the importance of symbolic gestures. After all, it was President Ronald Reagan who removed the panels 30 years ago, ushering in an era of unprecedented exponential growth of fossil fuel consumption in this country. Reagan wasn’t afraid that his actions would appear too conservative or offend moderate voters, and his decisive actions made him the unlikely darling of the majority of Americans, even those with contrasting political ideologies.
In case you missed the point, here’s what the solar panels mean to progressive voters: Progressive voters can draw a line to what we feel has been the downfall of our great nation coinciding almost exactly to the time when the solar panels were removed from the White House roof. The rise in greenhouse gasses since that time also parallels with a decline of the middle class. As our life-sustaining atmosphere chokes on the profits of the wealthiest corporations on Earth, record numbers of everyday people lose their homes, go bankrupt because of medical expenses and fall into poverty because of the conservative policies that have a stranglehold on our democracy. Good or bad, Ronald Reagan was a President who changed history.
Great Presidents do not achieve their place in history by being passive. Abraham Lincoln enjoyed popularity ratings lower than your own. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was so despised by the fascist right they plotted a military overthrow, but his legacy was the middle class that now begs for your action.
In an April 7, 2008 Science magazine article, leading climate scientist from NASA’s Goddard Institute, James Hansen and his associates, remarked “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm…If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects.”
2010 is not just an election year. 2010 has the unfortunate distinction of marking the hottest summer, year and decade in recorded history. Do not let your Presidency pass into history as the point in history when a good man did nothing thereby passing an uninhabitable planet onto our children. Invite Mr. McKibben and his college student associates back to the White House to install those solar panels and commemorate the day in history when the President of the United States began the sustainable energy revolution that saved the Earth.
Kathleen McNary Wood
(note to bloggers: to read McKibben's account of the events of September 10th, please read his article at: