Environment: Ten Things Obama Must Do

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SEVEN: Make Conservation Patriotic

Ever since Jimmy Carter asked americans to put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat, the idea of taking voluntary steps to reduce energy consumption has been seen as something of a joke. In fact, conservation and improved efficiency measures are not only the simplest ways to cut our energy use – they're also the least expensive. Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, has long argued that it's eight times cheaper on average to save a kilowatt of electricity than it is to make one.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama was nearly laughed off the campaign trail when he floated the idea that keeping car tires properly inflated should be part of a national plan for energy conservation. Turns out he was right: California now requires repair shops to check the tire pressure on every car they service – a move projected to save motorists 75 million gallons of gasoline every year.

As president, Obama should act immediately to make energy efficiency a patriotic cause. Create a Climate Corps, modeled on Teach for America, to inspire college kids to spend their summers installing insulation in old homes and buildings. Pass out compact fluorescent light bulbs at every public appearance. Convince the cast of True Blood to wage an ad campaign against "energy vampires" – electronic devices like DVD players that continually suck up small but significant amounts of electricity. Decree that the federal government buy only hybrids and electric vehicles, and that all federal buildings be equipped with energy-saving lights. Park Air Force One once in a while and take Amtrak – or ride a bike. Write a children's book about why wasting energy is bad.

EIGHT: Give Fish a Chance
Our addiction to fossil fuels is making the world's oceans more acidic – which in turn makes it harder for marine life to thrive and reproduce. But there is a simple step that Obama can take to protect the oceans: Issue an executive order establishing strategic "fish production zones." Fishing would be prohibited in the zones, helping to boost the world's population of fish, dolphins, whales, sea turtles and even seabirds. "Many fish populations remain deeply depleted, resulting in lost jobs and depressed fishing communities," says Carl Safina, founder of the Blue Ocean Institute. "But just as you can't have only retail stores – you need factories to produce what will go into those stores – we need to have places in the ocean where fish can grow big, breed prolifically and then disperse to stock nearby fishing areas."

Even George W. Bush understood the need to restock the pond: To his credit – and reportedly over the strenuous objections of Dick Cheney – he created three new marine reserves before he left office. Obama should go much further, creating production zones that cover 20 percent of U.S. waters. "Studies show that this works," says Safina. "And it works best if the reserves – the fish-producing factories – are large."

NINE: Pardon Tim DeChristopher
Back in 2008, as the Bush administration was scrambling to open up millions of acres of federal land to oil and gas drilling, DeChristopher staged a daring act of civil disobedience, posing as a bidder to disrupt a federal auction that would have damaged wilderness areas like the Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Utah. For this, the 29-year-old activist was sentenced in July to two years in federal prison. Obama has since declared many of Bush's last-minute leases invalid. Now he should make a small but important symbolic gesture by pardoning DeChristopher, sending a signal that a citizen- activist should not be singled out for punishment when the government itself disrespects the rule of law. "If Nixon can pardon Haldeman," asks Wendy Abrams, founder of a global-warming project called Cool Globes, "why can't Obama pardon DeChristopher?"

TEN: Use the Bully Pulpit
Ever notice how often the phrase "climate change" pops up in Obama's speeches? Not much – only 20 times in the past year, and fewer than half as many as the year before. The president has failed to make a big issue-defining speech on global warming, failed to defend the climate scientists being attacked by Big Oil, and failed to blast congressional climate deniers like Sen. James Inhofe, who shamelessly and stupidly dismiss global warming as a "hoax."

In fact, Obama's refusal to speak out on the risks and moral obligations of climate change may well be his biggest failure as president. "He has been silent on the defining issue of our time, letting Big Oil and the deniers define the debate," says Joe Romm, a leading climate advocate who served as assistant energy secretary under Bill Clinton. "In some sense, he has been a bigger failure than Bush – because Obama knows better. He knows exactly what is at stake."

Insiders insist the president is running a "stealth campaign" on climate change, quietly going after coal and oil by tightening air-pollution and fuel-efficiency standards. But Obama alone has the power to elevate global warming to the forefront of the international agenda, where it belongs. He must use his remarkable rhetorical skill to explain to the world that the fossil-fuel era is coming to an end – and inspire us all to take action, no matter what the cost. "Obama needs to make a decision," Romm says. "Does he want to be remembered as the president who had the best chance of taking action on climate – but who failed to stop the catastrophe?"

This story is from the September 29, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.

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