An Open Letter To President Obama
First off, let me congratulate you on your win in November and your officially taking office today. By now you have no doubt been sworn in and the parties are in full swing. Having said that, I truly appreciate your taking the time to check out what’s new on Care2 in these, the first hours of your new presidency.
I don’t need to tell you what a grave task you have ahead. You’re an intelligent man and know far too well the hurdles you (and we) will face in the coming weeks, months, and years. The decisions you make will no doubt set the path for future generations and may in fact be some of the most important a president has had to make.
While other American leaders have no doubt had their hurdles–Lincoln had to keep the union together, Hoover had to deal with the depression, Bush had to deal with 9/11–the tasks that face you in the coming years may have greater significance for the planet as a whole than any of these presidents could have fathomed.
Sadly I have no solutions to the problems at hand (although I promise to e-mail them along when I come across them), just a piece of advice. I’m sure you are getting very little of this from anyone right now (ha, I kid because I love), but my guess is that very few people will offer up what I am about to.
As decisions cross your desk, please take the time to speak to as many experts as you can, on all sides of the fence, so that you can make as educated a decision as possible. Ask your cabinet, ask scientists, ask the lay people in the fields you are contemplating. Call on as many people as you can to get the information that you need to be objective. Take all of the different parties into account, all of the vested concerns, your common sense, and the national interests, and then make your decision.
But before you sign that bill, veto that resolution, or close that discussion, I would ask you to take one final step.
Ask your children.
I know that this may sound insane, and of course, I’m not implying you ask them about things like Guantanamo or death penalty cases, but hear me out for a second.
You and I are very much alike in that we have two daughters. Yours are 10 and 7, and mine are 7 and 4, so the age difference is pretty similar. I’m also going to go out on a limb and assume that you’d agree that we both have very intelligent daughters (not because you know me or I you, but because we’re both dads, so of course our kids are smart).
Ask them if it makes more sense to have power made on the roof of your house or come from a thousand miles away, generated by a finite source that needs to be dug from the ground. Ask them if the cars and public transportation they will one day use should be powered by the sun, or by a finite resource taken from hostile environments. Ask them if packaging should need to be thrown away or recycled, or if it would be better for it to biodegrade or if it’s necessary at all. Ask them.
I know I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this letter as people say that a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old don’t have all the facts, and that’s exactly my point. They don’t have all the facts, the special interests, the politics and deal making, the years of favors owed and accepted. And for just that reason, it makes their opinions matter all the more. They have the ability to look at these problems in black and white terms and see the greater issues, the issues that will matter to them and the generations that come after them.
So there you have it, my one big piece of advice for you. I don’t envy you the job ahead but hope that you will consider your children, their children, and the children seven generations after them when you make your decisions. While Washington may have its sway, if you use your daughters as a litmus test, and ask them what they think, or at least ask yourself if you are doing right by them in the long run, I have no doubt that you will do what needs to be done, and put us all on a path towards a better future and a sustainable planet.
Dave Chameides (father of two)
P.S. If you could retool Detroit and get those people to work building renewable energy equipment that’d be huge. It worked in WWII (well, they built tanks instead of cars anyway) so why wouldn’t it work now?
P.P.S. And maybe throw those solar panels back on the White House, the ones that Carter put up but Reagan took down. That’d be cool too. If money is an issue, let me know. I know a guy.
Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and (environmental educator. His site www.sustainabledave.org and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”