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The Green Society: America's Next 100 Days

Promoting a new American dream through trails, recycling, riding bikes and walking, reducing energy use, and developing a national system of greenways.

By Jeff Olson, R.A.

As America's new era beings in January, 2009, the new Presidency offers an historic moment to change our nation from crisis into opportunity, from fear to hope, from the past into the future. We are faced with unprecedented challenges in our economy, the environment, and in our ability to achieve America's vision of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now is the time for everyone in this nation to work together. What we have to do will not be easy. We need solutions that can happen today – we don't have the time to "drill baby drill" or build new power plants. We must work together, with leadership in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to encourage government, business and individuals to be a part of an historic change. As Bruce Springsteen has said during these difficult times, "we want our America back."

It is time for America to lead the world by finding solutions at home. The $10 billion dollars that we are spending each month on war must be redirected to get our nation back on its feet. In previous generations, President Franklin Roosevelt and President Dwight Eisenhower both turned to rebuilding America's infrastructure as a solution. Today, we must re-invest our resources in creating a Green Society: an America with a sustainable economy, energy independence, and a new vision of the American dream. As a first step, starting today, we will reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 10% within 100 days. This effort will be called "10 Percent NOW." We will all share this responsibility by turning out extra lights, adjusting our thermostats, driving less, and making the personal choice to conserve.

Like Rosie the Riveter, "Yes we Can!" We can choose to walk, bike, carpool or take transit for one out of every 10 trips we take. We can telecommute one day a week, change our work schedules, take the stairs instead of the elevator, turn off appliances that aren't in use, recycle cans, bottles and paper – these simple actions will save individuals money and reduce our energy consumption immediately. I will lead by personal example, reducing my carbon footprint by purchasing carbon credits for my energy usage. We will direct federal agencies to reduce their energy use by 10%. If we work together, this change will not require a tremendous sacrifice – if millions of individuals can each save 10 percent, together we can reach this goal as a nation.

But this is just a start – and in the next 100 days we will launch a range of new initiatives to make America a Green Society, including:

One Billion Trees: We will plant trees throughout this country - on our neighborhood streets, in our parks, at our schools, libraries and public buildings, along our highways, where we work, in our backyards and on our public lands. These trees will be a catalyst for our new Green Society. They will help remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, they will add beauty and shade to our communities, and they will provide a cost effective, lasting symbol for the future. We will establish a Green Corps modeled after the CCC to plant trees and encourage conservation.

Complete Main Streets: We will build a new infrastructure to make our nation's Main Streets into "complete streets," that are safe for residents, visitors and the customers of local businesses. We will create new bike lanes, transit shelters, sidewalks and crosswalks – simple, cost effective improvements that can be implemented quickly to help reduce our nation's automobile dependence. We will bring wind, solar and other sustainable technologies into our homes, businesses and communities. We will establish a Green WPA to create green jobs building our new green infrastructure.

National Greenways: We will connect every region of this country with a National Greenways System –a new green version of our interstate highways. Forty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Trails System Act, and now we will work together to build our nation's scenic and historic trails into a network from city to city and border to border, from sea to shining sea. This initiative will connect visionary projects such as the East Coast Greenway, the Mississippi River Trail, the American Discovery Trail, the West Coast Greenway and urban trail systems so we reach a goal of having a trail within 15 minutes of all Americans.

President's Council on Physical Fitness: We will encourage all Americans to meet basic levels of physical fitness to improve our lives and reduce our nation's health care costs. Obesity, heart disease and diabetes are at epidemic levels, and each of us can be part of the solution by eating well and getting more exercise. We will work with the "No Child Left Inside" initiative to improve outdoor opportunities for our youth to improve their physical, psychological and emotional health.

Green Days: We will encourage the celebration of Green Days – days where people celebrate living without depending on fossil fuels. We can enjoy 'car free days' and 'Sunday parkways' where roads are opened to people walking and bicycling – we've done this in Chicago and I know it can work in communities throughout the nation.

Freedom Gardens: We will create more community gardens and farmers' markets to include healthy food and a connection to the land in the lives of more Americans. This effort will be modeled after the Victory Gardens of the 1940's and will help bring a more green into our neighborhoods.

Safe Routes to Schools: Our schools are struggling with the costs of energy and transportation, and we will work with the National Safe Routes to Schools Program to get more children walking and bicycling to school. This program will improve health and safety in our communities and engage the next generation in the simple solutions that we can all be part of.

Sustainable Buildings, National Parks and Public Lands: We will make sure that solar, wind, geothermal and alternative transportation solutions are integrated throughout our nation's public places. Our lands and buildings will become models for saving energy, recycling and environmental stewardship. As our national parks system moves towards the celebration of its centennial in 2016, we will create catalyst projects such as putting the solar panels back on the roof of the White House, building the new Greenways system at Grand Canyon National Park, and making sure that our National Forests are sustainably managed.

These efforts are just the beginning, but we have to start with a new beginning. Today, I chose to walk here to demonstrate that every choice we make is part of the change. We all must walk in the footsteps of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, who inspired the world to create peaceful change. We must work together as individuals, organizations and as a nation. Every step we take matters, every gallon of foreign oil we save is an act of patriotism. Join me as we move forward into the future, as we add green to our great red, white and blue nation, as we create the Green Society.


Index of articles on federal funding programs

Supporting trails and greenways

Interview with USDOT Secretary Mary Peters

Letter from American Trails to Secretary Peters

SecretaryPeters' remarks at 2004 Trails Symposium

Sen. Coburn's proposal to redirect federal bike funds

Rep. McHenry opposing bicycling and trails funding


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