An Open Letter to President Obama from the Post Carbon Institute

February 1, 2010

Dear President Obama,

Your State of the Union speech last week laudably referenced clean tech and renewable energy several times. We ask that you follow your words with action, by leading the transition to a post-carbon economy and a healthier world.

You also spoke of our need to face hard truths.

Hard truth: Our continued, willful reliance on fossil fuels is making our planet uninhabitable. We are evicting ourselves from the only paradise we’ve ever known.

Hard truth: No combination of current and anticipated renewable sources can maintain our profligate energy usage as the global supply of fossil fuels heads for terminal decline.
For the recently releasd Searching for a Miracle, Post Carbon Institute Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg conducted a “net energy” analysis of 18 different energy sources (including nuclear and “clean coal”). He concluded that the amount of energy available after accounting for the energy used in extraction and production of those sources is—at our current and anticipated rates of consumption—insufficient to get us “over the hump” to a post-carbon world.

Our 29 Post Carbon Institute Fellows—experts in the leading economic, energy, and environmental issues of the day—all agree that this “net energy” deficit is just one of many interrelated crises shaping the 21st century. Each crisis alone creates formidable challenges; in combination, their complexity admits no simple solution. But given their direness, inaction risks tragedy.

Mr. President, we respect you and your advisors and appreciate the enormity of the dilemmas you and all of us confront. When a great leader frames a great challenge, a resilient will people rise to meet the opportunity. And so we ask, Mr. President, that you tell the American people that we must:

  1. Face reality. In a carbon-constrained world, true prosperity comes not from heedless growth, but from shared security, community, and liberty.
  2. Prepare for the future. Conservation, with an emphasis on building a green economy and revitalizing struggling communities, offers cost-effective “found” energy, and the most immediate and long-term return on investment.
  3. Lead the way. A substantial investment in renewable energy, with an emphasis on distributed solar and wind, offers the best hope for moving to a sustainable economy and environment.

Mr. President, lead us in creating a future worth inheriting. Post Carbon Institute and our Fellows will support you and your team in whatever capacity we can. We believe that the American people, and the world’s people, will support you as well.
With hope,

Asher Miller
Executive Director
Post Carbon Institute

The Post Carbon Institute
The Post Carbon Institute was founded in 2003 with the mission of “leading the transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world.” As this open letter states, the challenges facing our civilization in a new century do not stem from single isolated issues. It isn’t climate, or biodiversity, or dependence on fossil fuels, or water and food, or over-consumption. It’s about all these issues – and more – that integrate into how we choose to live our lives and provide future generations with a habitable and sustainable planet.

Post Carbon Institute provides all sectors of society, from individuals to business and government, with the resources needed to understand and respond to these interrelated challenges of economy, energy, and environment.

The vision of PCI is a world of sustainable, resilient communities based on “re-localized” economies thriving within ecological limits.

The Post Carbon Institute has gathered 28 world-renowned fellows to help light this path to a livable future led by Senior Fellow Richard Heinberg and including such figures as Bill McKibben, Wes Jackson, David Orr, and Tom Whipple.

“Like it or not we are here.” We live in challenging, exciting, often frightening times. The issues we face are almost too much to fully digest and too easy to brush under the carpet and ignore – for now. PCI hopes to help lead the way out of comfortable complacency into a new world based an equality and sustainability.

The PCI Manifesto (pdf)

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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