Noah Brautigam

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Dear President-Elect Obama,

I want to join the multitude of citizens in congratulating you on your exciting victory on November 4th. I am extremely excited to have such an admirable and intelligent person at the helm of our country’s political process at this time of economic and environmental insecurity. It is a gift to have a president that is so invested in the real issues that will decide the futures of so many.

I am writing you today to share some ideas discussed in a Global Warming Solutions seminar that I am a part of at Middlebury College. As I’m sure you’re aware, the science of climate change in the past year has frankly become terrifying. In the summer of 2007 the ice caps melted at a rate scientists didn’t believe possible for another fifty years. Feedback loops in the arctic regions of the globe are only just becoming better understood, and the prospective snow-ball effect they will have on CO2 and methane release is massive. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is rising at a rate of 2 parts per million per year, and the current concentration is already higher than the world can sustain without dramatic, potentially destructive changes in the face of nature.

The chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra K. Pachauri, has now told us that we must make large scale national and international policy changes in the fundamental way people relate to CO2 and other greenhouse gasses by the year 2012. I will be graduating from college in 2012. I and my classmates don’t want to be entering a doomed world economy. Global warming is the defining issue of our time—of your presidency—and I hope and believe that you are the leader to facilitate the necessary changes in our economy, in our energy systems, and in the American paradigm.

I understand that the state of the economy will take precedence as you step into office, but I urge you not to treat economy and global warming mitigation as exclusively separate. What I propose is a carbon “cap and share” method, devised by the leader of the Sky Trust organization, Peter Barnes. I believe that once government puts a cap on carbon emissions, and begins to auction off permits, the market will shift of its own accord. What Cap and Share proposes is to give the money raised through carbon permits directly back to the lower and middle income families—the families that will be hit hardest financially as the natural gas companies pass raised prices on to consumers. This will not only help focus the penalty on the real offenders, it will also provide immediate price incentives to consume less. We saw the force of price incentive earlier this year when gas prices jumped above four dollars a gallon, and for the first time in the history of cars, Americans drove less.

Once the price incentive is built into the market, a green economy boom will follow. Government won’t have to come up with all of the energy solutions, because companies will be forced to find them. The same companies will also implement alternative energy much more effectively than government can. New jobs will be created as the economy moves into entirely new technologies and revenue sources. Companies and consumers need to realize that it is not responsible—not even acceptable—to take part in an economy founded on what we now know to be inevitable failure.

Your presidency is the one that will decide this issue. In 2012 you and your administration will have either taken the steps necessary to preserve the world for future generations, or not. I appreciated the somber note on which you ended your acceptance speech: while your election shows a profoundly hopeful shift in the mindset of Americans, it is by no means an ending point. The work has only just begun. The first step is for you to go to Poland this December to the preliminary meeting for the successor to the Kyoto Protocol. If the American President-Elect is there, it will send a message to the rest of the world that we care, and will no longer block international mitigation attempts.

I am deeply moved by the energy and positivity of your campaign. If America can elect its first black president, then maybe we can also become a leader in green energy. If you can take the vitality that was so obvious in your campaign and channel it into this problem, then maybe we can win the fight. Yes We Can. Make those words count for more than just an election motto. Thank you for what you’ve already done to revitalize our country, and thank you for the changes you will make in the next eight years.


Noah Brautigam