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 Day 19

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Did He Even Know It Was Earth Day?

Obama’s Missed Opportunities in Indiana

by JOHN BLAIR

For months, I have watched Barack Obama excite crowds with his message of hope. And, I will admit that I, too, have felt inspiration seeing thousands of young people react to Obama as if he were that singular leader who will carry American forward to retrieve its rightful place in a world that is burdened with everything from food shortage, escalating energy prices and war.

Eight years of George Bush has created an environment that shouts out for change and Obama’s message of hope touches a nerve in people faced with economic hardship and calamity.

With those positive feelings, I ventured to the Obama speech in Evansville (IN) last night (4/22). For more than a year, I’ve quelled my concerns with many policies Obama has embraced, opting to take friends’ and colleagues’ advice that he is the only candidate that will bring change that I agreed is needed.

I was particularly thrilled that I would get to see Obama on Earth Day. He has oft acknowledged the planetary carbon crisis and he was coming to the town that is the center of the largest concentration of coal fired capacity in the world. Rarely, are politicians give such wonderful opportunities to speak directly to such issues to a national audience.

But, Obama was mum on the environment and everything else that could have been discussed on Earth Day. Oh, he did mention renewable energy and a "planet in peril." I had heard him say those things a thousand times.

Did he even know it was Earth Day?

His speech was identical to the one he has made in nearly every other state after a loss except that this time he delivered it without passion as if he were tired and disillusioned. And even missing the great opportunity that Earth Day presented, he said little about anything except hope, making me hope that he would give me something new to digest for having had to wait for close to three hours to hear him.

I tried to dismiss the lack of an Earth Day message as a personal bias on my part. But what I failed to understand why his handlers had failed to even recognize that it was Earth Day.

More than a week ago, I sought to inform the Obama campaign about the marvelous honor that some kids from Mater Dei High School in Evansville had earned for building the best high mileage vehicle ever designed. A team of aspiring young engineers drove away as winners in the competition against numerous university teams for a vehicle that achieved a phenomenal 2,843 miles per gallon in a contest in California.

That was before his campaign had decided to come to Evansville on Earth Day or any other day. With Earth Day, however, it seemed a perfect way for Obama to recognize these enterprising youth as examples of the "change that we can believe in."

Either, my efforts to inform the Obama campaign failed or else they simply were not interested perhaps a mixture of both.

But it was not until today I found just how insensitive the Obama camp is to issues pertaining to our perilous planet.

Apparently Obama flies around in a Boeing 757. He has business to conduct and there is no fault in using such a plane to get from here to there with an entourage of staff and reporters in tow.

However, I was told today by an air traffic controller at the Evansville tower that they were informed by the plane’s crew that they would leave the engines running during his stay in Evansville so that a quick exit could be made.

The 757 has two rather large jet engines and frankly I have no idea how much fuel would be consumed at idle over the approximately two hours the plane was on the ground in Evansville. The amount is irrelevant. What is relevant is the total lack of understanding his campaign shows toward wasteful use of energy by keeping the plane running on the ground when it is not needed.

If Obama has not instructed his staff to eliminate ALL waste of energy during his campaign, what are the implications for an Obama presidency when it comes to a planet in peril?

Wasting energy is something that must stop immediately if we are to ever get a handle on climate change or any other energy problem we face. And, that means turning off engines of all sorts when they are not in use.

Some may say that I am being overly sensitive to these issues, that I should lighten up on this guy or anyone else who chooses waste instead of conservation. There is one word for that-BUNK.

But what concerns me more than anything is Obama’s failure to capitalize on what has become an international effort to draw attention to the environment – Earth Day.

Instead of trying to keep a smiley face on his big loss in Pennsylvania, acting like it did not matter that his candidacy is on the ropes, Obama could have diverted attention away from the Clinton Pennsylvania win with a strong Earth Day statement during his appearance in Evansville.

He needn’t even discuss global warming, coal or anything so contentious. He could have thrown out softballs, nearly anything that would have made him look green. It was Earth Day after all. His failure to even mention the day in his Evansville speech says volumes about his true concern for the serious issues facing our planet.

Politically, he could have changed the entire dialogue from being defeated in yet another big state to just how valid are the proposals he was making to save the planet. Sure some of the pundits would insist on keeping the issue purely political but others are full of hope that someday, he will set forth some real issues on which to base the hope and the change we can truly believe in.

Opportunities like those presented last night in Evansville do not occur very often and frankly he blew this one big time. On Earth Day, instead of planting seeds for a green revolution, he left his engines running on the tarmac.

JOHN BLAIR is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who serves as president of the environmental health advocacy group Valley Watch in Evansville, IN. He is a contributor to Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance from the Heartland, edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank. (AK Press) His email address is ecoserve1@aol.com