In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech last night, he called our current quest for green technology our generation’s “Sputnik moment”, urging the nation to see other countries’ advances as fuel to reach past them as we did in 1969 when we put the first man on the moon. The President said last night that he wants 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, he wants us to be on 80% clean energy by 2035, he wants 80% of Americans to have access to high speed rail networks in 25 years and he promised to send a bill to congress to eliminate tax cuts for oil companies in order to fund the energy of tomorrow. In the end the President’s speech promised a lot and the green pundits are asking if it’s all possible but let’s just remind ourselves of something: isn’t that what they said when JFK said we would beat Russia to the moon? Watch the speech after the jump.

The President’s address made a point of noting that if we want to continue America’s tradition of innovation, we must lead the green technology race on our own soil. He urged the country to push forward instead of sitting back and allowing that technology to advance overseas in countries like China. His speech was centered on broad themes and notably carried few specifics but one topic he did go into detail about was our sustainability. He spent a noticeable amount of time laying out his plans to get the US off foreign oil, bring our transportation system up to the standards of many European nations and detailed his plans to have the government fund innovations in clean energy. “We’re issuing a challenge,” the President said. “We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.”

With investments from the government, like the ones he announced last night, we might be able to get 80% of our energy from clean sources even before his 2035 goal and with companies like GM promising to push more electric vehicles onto the road we’re probably well on our way to hearing the sweet sound of 1 million EVs by 2015. “We need to get behind this innovation,” the President noted, “and to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies…so instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.” That last one was a doozy, retracting oil company subsidies seemed like a direct challenge to Congress to try to deny him. Removing those subsidies will make the price of oil rise — and make many groups across the country angry — but more expensive oil means more people will turn to other options like biodiesel and clean electricity.

state of the union, green transportation, high speed rail

Perhaps the most daunting of all of his goals was his mission for America’s future high speed rail network — this challenge could really be the Apollo project of our generation. At present, the Acela Express is the only high speed rail network in the US servicing Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and though other rails around the country have been planned, few have broken ground. Even those that have been fully fleshed out, like the line running from Anaheim to San Francisco in California, will not be starting construction until next year. The President’s goal gives us a mere 15 years to string a rail network around our vast nation. The good news is, with more than 80% of our population living in urban centers, and most of those urban centers located on the coasts, we’ve got a pretty good idea of where the rail systems need to lie. So though a President’s promise for a network in 15 years doesn’t set anything in stone, it should seriously push forward plans for more tracks.

It was clear that in the President’s address last night our sustainable future is at the top of his most important things list. His green points were proposed within the context of providing jobs to Americans and strengthening our economy — which is the right way to get even the Right wingers on his side. “To win the future,” the President said, “we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.” He challenged the country, “to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.” It is clear that the road he sees to continuing American Progress is lined with wind turbines and driven on by electric cars.


As the leader of our nation, President Obama called our students, scientists, designers and all citizens to action by making it very clear that if we don’t stop thinking in terms of old technology (oil), we’re going to fall seriously behind compared to other countries in the world. He set out some clear goals, from seeing 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, having 80% clean energy by 2035, and getting 80% of Americans to have access to high speed rail networks in 25 years – which will not only reduce dangerous emissions that are contributing to climate change but will also create jobs and reduce or eliminate our dependence on foreign and domestic oil – that give Americans something specific to work towards.

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