i wrote this a bit less than a year ago as the speech i wanted to hear president obama give during the gulf oil disaster. it could easily be adapted to reflect current catastrophes:
Uniting Towards a Sustainable Future: A Speech for the President
My Fellow Americans, I stand before you tonight wishing that I could tell you from the bottom of my heart that everything is going to be all right. But that would be dishonest, and you have been lied to enough. You have been lied to by politicians, by CEO’s, and, the sad fact of the matter is that we have been lying to ourselves. We all know that our system is broken – that rampant borrowing is unsustainable, that voracious, wasteful consumption of non-renewable resources is unsustainable, that a culture based on greed and fear is unsustainable. Everywhere we turn, we see evidence of muck rising to the surface, muck we sensed was lingering just out of view, but chose to ignore. Citizens cannot go on pretending, and nor can the government. The time has come for us to look ourselves and each other in the eye and ask the question, “What really matters? What are the things that bring real happiness?” For most of us, family, community, health, and security might come to mind. And yet many of us feel that these things are in jeopardy. How did this happen? When we take a moment to think about it, we may realize that at some point we simply stopped nurturing the things we value most. We mortgaged away our most precious assets, bet them against some artificial notion of future success. When did the American Dream become something that very few can afford, with many others so caught up in the struggle just to get by that they have no time to tend to the things that matter most?
In the April 3, 1944 issue of LIFE magazine, there is an article on page 93 titled “OIL – U.S. Must Drill 20,000 More Wells to Get Enough in 1944.” In the same issue, almost every advertisement – from aftershave to shoes - alludes to the motto of the day, “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do…or Do Without”. On page 130 there’s a full-page ad from the “War Advertising Council” with a list of things you can do “if you want to be able to enjoy the good things of life in the peaceful days to come…if you want to speed victory and thus save the lives of thousands of fighting men.” The first item on the list is “Buy only what you need. Take care of what you have. Avoid Waste.” Another point urges the reader to “Pay off your old debts – all of them. Don’t make new ones.” Next is “If you haven’t a savings account, start one. If you have an account, put money in it – regularly.” Last, “Buy and hold War Bonds. Don’t stop at 10%. Remember – Hitler stops at nothing!”
How different would our current wars and other crises be if our leaders asked us to contribute, to collaborate with them, all of us working together to do our parts? During WWII self-sufficiency in general was encouraged. Citizens were asked to grow “Victory Gardens” in order to limit the burden on trucking and railroad supply lines and other industries. A national “Victory Speed” of 35 miles per hour was enforced. Gasoline was rationed according to necessity, and for almost a year, anyone with an “A” sticker – those for whom driving was deemed non-essential – were allowed only 4 gallons of fuel per week. Since rubber was in extremely short supply, citizens were asked to contribute old raincoats, shoes, garden hose, and tires to the recycling effort.
What has changed? In 65 years, how did we go from a culture eager to share responsibility and involvement to one of selfish obliviousness? After 9/11, George W. Bush advised us to go about business as usual, act like everything is fine and leave it to him to annihilate “evil”. Well, it turns out that, unlike Hitler’s army, this far less tangible and insidious enemy could not be annihilated with aggression – in fact, hostility and hatred are the very food on which it thrives. After 9/11 we were justified in our anger – but we did not clearly define our adversary before we began the battle. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan were not our enemies. Brothers, fathers, mothers, children, homes, schools, farmland, ancient relics – all destroyed because violence was used as the first resort instead of the last one. Our crusade to root out and destroy evil has wreaked havoc on countless families, livelihoods, and traditions in the cradle of civilization – and here on our own soil as well. In our vain attempt to destroy the enemy, we have lost no small part of ourselves.
But it’s not too late to begin now to do what’s right.
This starts with the understanding that there are bad seeds and extremists in every land, but this does not justify unbridled aggression. We must trust what we know in our hearts to be true: that most people, regardless of their religion or nationality, yearn for a peaceful existence, and hold out hope for a better life for their children. We must focus on that which we have in common with our neighbor, rather than seek out and exaggerate our differences. After WWII, Americans were viewed as heroes who made great sacrifices to come to the aid of forces fighting on the side of good. In stark contrast, our current wars have caused us to be seen as lone vigilantes, serving only to isolate us and ignite disgust and disdain for the United States around the world.
These wars have cost too much in every sense of the word, in lives as well as dollars. WWII was a boon to our economy because we manufactured goods that were sold to our allies. We stopped making cars and made airplanes instead. In contrast, our current wars provide few benefits to our domestic economy, with the majority of funds going into the coffers of war profiteers who have proven time and time again to favor their own bottom lines over the safety and well-being of those they have been charged to protect. The biggest winner in the war on terror is the oil companies themselves. More petroleum is purchased by the Department of Defense for use by the U.S. military than by any other singular entity in the world. If the oil companies had their way, we’d be at war until our tanks came to a grinding halt on the battlefield, having run out of last drop of fuel on planet Earth.
Which brings me to the subject I came to speak with you about tonight - the torrent of oil currently gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. I wanted to speak with you first about the wars in order to make something amply clear: we are not fighting over religious differences, or to retaliate for the attack on our soil on 9/11. The unspoken truth is that we are in these battles for the sake of a substance that controls our every action. We have been led to believe that we cannot survive without it, and the fear of not having enough of it compels us kill or die for it.
We can and must end these wars, but doing so as quickly, efficiently, and humanely as possible will require us to first understand the real reasons we began them. As a nation, we must come to realize that the true enemy is our dependence on oil, and collectively agree that the appropriate way to fight it consists of each and every one of us doing our part to simply use less of it. These wars – and the system that supports them - will cease to exist the moment we reduce our reliance on oil. We need to bring our energy and our efforts back home to help protect the things that are in danger here on our home soil. Our men and women abroad are needed here on our own shores to join a new and very different kind of battle.
This will necessitate immediate legislation and, in the longer term, the development and implementation of technologies based on harnessing renewable resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. This is your government’s responsibility. We have subsidized the oil industry, provided astronomical tax breaks, and given it free reign on the shortsighted premise that our economy will continue to require more and more oil - and only oil - in order to thrive. We have put ourselves in the precarious position of having no back-up systems, no safety net. Rather than accept oil’s limitations and begin to scale back our reliance on it, we’ve developed a culture based on ever-expanding markets and increasing dependence.
Let me be clear: BP is fully to blame for the Deepwater Horizon disaster – they will be held financially and personally accountable for the reckless, irresponsible decisions that caused its equipment to fail and put its employees, the Gulf of Mexico, and countless lives and livelihoods at stake. But there are painful truths that must be faced – first we need to understand that all the money in the world is not sufficient to clean up the oil that is choking sea life from plankton to birds and is seeping into sand and marshes. We will try everything in our power to restore the Gulf to its former glory, even strive to make it better than it was, but a clean up could take years, or even decades. The most difficult truth to face is that, directly or indirectly, we encouraged and participated in a system that cut corners and allowed this catastrophe to occur. Now we must leave behind these obsolete and reckless ways, and instead concentrate our efforts on new, sustainable means to thrive. The government can and must facilitate these changes in any way it can, but the fastest route to change will be through the actions of the people. Your help is urgently needed. We must act immediately if we wish to enjoy the good things of life in the peaceful days to come, if we wish to live healthier, less wasteful, more sustainable lives, if we wish to share the burden with our soldiers abroad. If we have any hope of leaving the world a better place for our children, we must make changes necessary – today, not tomorrow. The fate of our families, or nation, and our world is in our hands. Our greatest resource has been and always will be the determination of our people, our resolve, and our ability to do what is necessary in the face of challenge and adversity.
It seems there is a lot of fear around change – many people argue that changes will take too long and cost too much. The hemorrhage of oil into the Gulf is the most tangible evidence our country has ever seen that we have no choice – we cannot afford NOT to change. This isn’t only a matter of the perilous state of the economy of the Gulf – this is rapidly becoming a matter of health and safety on a global scale.
American citizens constitute 5% of the world population, and yet we consume nearly a quarter of all the world’s resources. China has a billion more people than the United States, and yet the Chinese consume less than a third of the resources we use. So much of what we Americans consume is simply wasted – water down the drain, lights left on, disposable packaging, inefficient automobiles, appliances, and architecture. By reducing waste and maximizing our efficiency, almost without noticing we could cut consumption of resources – and costs - by 50%. During World War II, citizens were asked to “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without.” I must ask this of you again today.
Using less would also go a long way towards resolving another problem – pollution. There’s been a lot of debate about global warming, about whether it exists and if we should trust the scientific data. The fact is that it doesn’t really matter if humans are causing global warming. Clearly, humans are causing pollution. Pollution causes cancer, lung disease, birth defects, and a whole host of ailments too numerous to list. We now know better than to eat lead paint chips, drink the effluent from a factory, or breathe the air in a sewer. We need to learn to be more conscious stewards of the home we share, this small and miraculous planet Earth. We don’t need scientists to tell us that all the oceans are connected, or that the air we breathe here in the United States is the same air that people in China or Australia or Europe are breathing. Poet John Donne said, “No man is an island.” No war, no environmental catastrophe is an island either. All of these events are interrelated. Decisions we make today will determine not only the future of our own families, but the future of families on the other side of the world.
This is why today I am proposing the following:
1. A permanent moratorium on all deep water drilling for oil.
2. A national campaign for every citizen to USE HALF of all non-renewable resources to begin immediately, with greater emphasis placed on those who have had the luxury of using the most. The new American way of life will not be one of wasteful excess, but one of thoughtful, sensible, comfortable efficiency. Constantly striving to streamline our habits will make the transition to alternative energy sources easier and cheaper – the less energy we require, the smaller and more affordable the system needed to sustain our lifestyles.
3. The establishment of an independent non-profit Sustainability Advisory Council to develop guidelines for the transition to a more sustainable society. This council will design programs for corporations, government offices, families, and individuals to assist in maximizing efficiency and eliminating waste. The American government will serve as an example, beginning immediately by converting the White House and all buildings in Washington to renewable energy. These guidelines will be considered when taking into account future government contracts, purchases including supplies, vehicles, and buildings, and other government spending. Non-essential plane and automobile travel will be eliminated or discouraged, with as much business as possible being carried out via Internet and electronic technologies.
4. A 5% tax on fossil fuels with all monies going to fund development of renewable technologies, green jobs training for those in the fossil fuel industry or other industries such as fishing which have been put at risk by non-renewable resource mining and drilling, improving and construction of new national train infrastructure and improving efficiency for other ground transportation systems, rebates and incentives for those who build new homes and businesses that utilize renewable resources, and retrofits for existing structures.
5. New utilities billing practices, with the greatest discounts given to those who use the least. This new more-you-use-the-more-you-pay model will make it especially desirable for the largest consumers to develop ways to maximize efficiency and reduce waste.
6. New efficiency standards for all vehicles and appliances, and incentives for the development and implementation of technologies that maximize efficiency from foot-pedal operated faucets to chest-style refrigerators that require a tenth of the energy of upright models. The age of planned obsolescence, disposable everything, and shoddy workmanship to save a dime in the short run and lose dollars in the long run is over.
7. A “Victory Maximum Speed Limit” of 55 miles per hour on all roadways, with 65 being allowed on major interstates only.
8. The establishment of a “Peace Advertising Council” to encourage “Using It Up, Wearing It Out, Making It Do, or Doing Without”, promote green entrepreneurialism, and distribute information on gardening, permaculture, and food forestry for homes, parks, college campuses, community developments, and industrial complexes.
This is just the beginning. With your help, this horrific catastrophe will become an opportunity to unite the people of our United States of America towards a common goal. Together we can strengthen and heal our families, our communities, our society, and our world. In this way, the suffering of our Gulf of Mexico and all affected by this tragic disaster will not be in vain.
Thank you and good night.