This past Monday, President Obama made climate change and sustainable energy the focal points of his Inaugural Address when he declared that choosing to ignore these key environmental issues "would betray our children and future generations." This is the first time in the last few months that the President has taken a firm stand for the future of our Earth, a direct result of Super Storm Sandy and a smart choice to reveal controversial policies only after re-election. Although Monday morning was not the time to outline a specific political strategy, President Obama made it very clear that this time around, denial of scientific judgment and Congressional opposition would not be reasons for failure to act.
While this is a sentiment easier said than done and there is doubtlessly a long and difficult road ahead for the President and his administration. The White House has revealed that it plans to focus on what it can do to capitalize on natural gas production as an alternative to coal, on "reducing emissions from power plants, [increasing] the efficiency of home appliances and [on having] the federal government itself produce less carbon pollution" (NYTimes). According to the New York Times, they aim to adopt new energy efficiency standards for not only home appliances but for buildings as well, something that should spark the interests of architects and urban planners already committed to designing with climate change and sustainable energy in mind.
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For many of us in the design world, these issues are nothing new. However, what is new is the growing attention climate and sustainable energy are receiving as a result of the recent natural disasters highlighted in the President's speech. As Nancy Levinson describes in her Design Observer article "After the Storm: Climate Change and Public Works," Hurricane Sandy has put research projects such as MoMA's 2010 "Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront" back on the public's radar. Sandy, like any other large-scale natural catastrophe, highlighted the American people's dependency on its government. No matter what our individual opinion is on federal involvement in our personal lives, we have been reminded once again of its importance and power during times of dire need - and that need, according to the President, is here to stay. Although privatization continues to rule the American economy, the President chose to prioritize a communal approach to preserving the environment for the future, and this is where the design industry comes in.
According to Architect Magazine, “buildings and homes are major energy consumers, so any national strategy looking to achieve energy independence must have programs in place for both the construction and retrofit of buildings” which will further renew interest in an energy-efficient building program. Though the housing market is slowly bouncing back thanks to the economy, followed by commercial, industrial and institutional buildings, there has been, up until this point, a great amount of uncertainty over the federal government’s place in moving forward. As President Obama demonstrated Monday on the steps of Capitol Hill, his administration aims to involve the public and the design industry in the important environmental decisions to come.