The Moment

President Obama said it from the steps of the Capitol in his second inaugural address.

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

There is always something majestic about the inaugural moment, and its grandeur is expressed in those words. The President didn’t merely say that climate change and sustainable energy should become Congressional priorities. He rebuked denial, and he invoked divinity and our solemn obligation to our ancestors and our children to drive us forward.

Doubters dove in soon after the speech, of course. They said passing significant energy and climate legislation during Mr. Obama’s second term would be impossible. They implied that the President might be laying the groundwork for eventual action one or two presidencies in the future.

I don’t think so. Last week the President’s campaign organization, “Obama for America,” announced its own transition. It is becoming “Organizing for America,” and it will leverage the campaign’s impressive leadership and organizing tools in support of the President’s policy agenda.

That agenda includes three top priorities: gun violence, immigration reform, and climate change.

Never before has a President of the United States announced such a commitment to this crucial issue. His words spoke of a crucial moment in history, and a commitment to acting according to the ideals that gave rise to a free society.

Now, it is our turn. With this new campaign organization, and this public expression of a commitment to effective action, the onus shifts to us.

As I’ve written many times, leadership on the climate issue is our responsibility, not someone else’s. We must dismiss the naysaying.

We must press the White House to follow through. We must make our voices heard on Capitol Hill and in the marketplace.

We must commit our imaginations to the expectation that we will succeed. We must take responsibility for climate action in our own homes, businesses and communities.

President Obama has always gone out of his way to say that change depends on us, not solely on him. From the Capitol steps, he put it this way:

You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time—not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

He has swung open the door. No more hesitation. It’s time to step through.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo courtesy of afagen via creative commons license.

About the Author

Tom is founder and CEO of Bowman Change, Inc., a consultancy dedicated to helping organizations reap the benefits of working with purpose—making social issues and environmental change central to their missions.