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President Obama’s Energy Speech at MIT: A Field Report

It’s not every day one is lucky enough to see the President of the United States speak. Add in the topic (energy), timing (eve of Senate hearings on the Climate Bill) and location (MIT) and you have a seriously major event.

The crowd began lining up three hours before the scheduled start time to clear security and nab seats in the intimate (at least for a Presidential speech) Kresge Auditoium at MIT.

 

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Once the crowd entered the warm venue (it was pretty chilly outside), the auditorium turned into a big schmoozefest (with no food or drinks, they were prohibited along with laptops from coming inside). As usual for Presidential events, things started a bit late. In this case, it was because President Obama was receiving a briefing from professors and students on new clean technolgies being developed at MIT, including wind.

President Obama entered to a rousing ovation. After a few jokes, he launched into a speech that was classic Obama–soaring language meant to inspire. One of my favorite passages:

"I’m excited being here and seeing these extraordinary young people…because it taps into something essential about America — it’s the legacy of daring men and women who put their talents and their efforts into the pursuit of discovery. And it’s the legacy of a nation that supported those intrepid few willing to take risks on an idea that might fail — but might also change the world."

But the President wasn’t at MIT just to inspire. Obama used his speech as a call to action for America to innovate more rapidly and solve the energy problem, framing it as an economic imperative:

"Countries on every corner of this Earth now recognize that energy supplies are growing scarcer, energy demands are growing larger, and rising energy use imperils the planet we will leave to future generations. And that’s why the world is now engaged in a peaceful competition to determine the technologies that will power the 21st century. From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to producing and use energy. The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation."

And Obama was clearly conscious of the hurdles within the US political system that still need to be cleared, in some eyes taking the fight directly to the opposition:

"I think it’s important to understand that the closer we get, the harder the opposition will fight and the more we’ll hear from those whose interest or ideology run counter to the much needed action that we’re engaged in. There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy — when it’s the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs. There are going to be those who cynically claim — make cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, claims whose only purpose is to defeat or delay the change that we know is necessary."

The President brought it home with more words of inspiration–"This is the nation that will lead the clean energy economy of tomorrow, so long as all of us remember what we have achieved in the past and we use that to inspire us to achieve even more in the future," and then he was done.

I was pretty sure he wouldn’t work a rope line (he was already late to a Governor Deval Patrick fundraiser), but he dove in. Sensing a chance for a shake, I rushed up and extended my hand. Sure enough, I got my first Presidential shake.

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A fantastic finish to a great day…but more importantly, the cleantech community received indisputable scientific evidence that President Obama is a huge supporter of innovation’s role in solving the energy problem.

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