Like a lot of people, I’ve been reading obsessively through election postmortems, fascinated by the inside stories on the national campaigns. And for some reason, this tidbit at Newsweek on Obama’s debate preparations stuck out at me:
When he was preparing for [the debates] during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, “…I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, ‘You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.’ So when Brian Williams is asking me about what’s a personal thing that you’ve done [that’s green], and I say, you know, ‘Well, I planted a bunch of trees.’ And he says, ‘I’m talking about personal.’ What I’m thinking in my head is, ‘Well, the truth is, Brian, we can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective’.”
Amen to that.
Of course, changing light bulbs is a great thing to do at the personal level. By some accounts, lighting accounts for a fifth of all electricity consumption in the US, and the simple step of screwing in a different kind of light bulb can help make a real dent in household consumption.
But to make the profound and fundamental progress we reallyneed, our political discourse has to stop treating energy and climate issues as simply matters of lifestyle choice and personal responsibility. Instead, it has to start treating them as systemic problems with systemic (and largely political) solutions. The boring details of energy efficiency standards, carbon pricing, investments in R&D and renewable power: these are the things that will make or break our energy future. Greening consumer behavior—however laudable—is of secondary importance.
According to this account, Obama clearly gets that—which is a very good thing.