What Can the World Expect from President Obama?


Today is the first day of the next era in America. The U.S. has chosen as its President-Elect Barack Obama, after the most exciting and galvanizing U.S. presidential election in recent memory. The partying will continue for weeks – but now comes the rolling up of sleeves and the fulfilling of promises. If Obama puts his policies where his pledges are, what are the environmental consequences? There are so many challenges we face; here, we take a look at the green ones.

Appropriately for a campaign conducted with such enthusiasm, energy has underpinned everything – and no wonder, when fuel is becoming a problem in itself, never mind its complicated relationship to food. The United States of the next few decades needs to find ways of ridding itself of an unhealthy dependence on unsustainable energy sources – and to undertake a sustainable, ethical approach towards renewable ones.  Here’s how the new Democratic government intends to tackle this formidable challenge:

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A reduction in national oil consumption by at least 35% (or around 10 million barrels a day) by 2030 – and by the same year, a reduction in national energy usage of 50%.


A new Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund, supported by $10-15 billion per year for the next 5 years, and an overall investment of $150 billion into energy technology (and therefore green collar employment) over the next decade.

By 2025, a quarter of all energy consumed within the United States must be from renewable sources.

Despite supporting the proposed Biofuel Security Act of 2006, Obama has publicly acknowledged the problems with biofuel. “Food comes first”, he says, although it’s not yet clear what this means in practice.

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Both presidential candidates agreed on the need for nuclear power – however, McCain was in favor of a huge investment of 45 new reactors. Unimpressed, Obama has outlined his plan of supporting and maintaining existing plants, but with the emphasis on investing in new energy sources.

“And I will invest $15 billion a year in renewable sources of energy…to create 5 million new energy jobs over the next decade – jobs that pay well; jobs that can’t be outsourced; jobs building solar panels and wind turbines and a new electricity grid…”
– Barack Obama, 27th October 2008
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The other eco-issue of the presidential race has been pollution.
Both candidates agreed that failing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol was a major blunder – and were also of one mind that the government should invest in an emissions trading program. However, Obama differed from McCain in insisting that 100% of emission credits should be auctioned off, ensuring that all pollution is paid for by the people that produced it. (Something Al Gore is sure to like.)
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On top of improving the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard to 43 miles per gallon, Obama also intends to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 5% in 2015 and 10% in 2020 – a statement he made at the Detroit Economic club (you can watch it here).
Overall, Obama’s campaign pledge was to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 – a striking contrast to McCain’s 60% below 1990 levels by the same date.

If these proposals become reality, they would be unprecedented. Support for them and for Obama has been remarkable. Carl Pope of the grassroots environmental group the Sierra Club – an organization notoriously at odds with previous governments – has declared his support for “the strongest set of positions any candidate has ever offered“.

For a man allegedly from Krypton, Obama seems remarkably comfortable with the color green. His administration has 4 years to turn these visionary promises into something tangible, and that’s the real challenge – but right now, there’s plenty to be optimistic about.

Main image: courtesy Huffington Post

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.