Nisbet’s message is not specifically intended for the press, however. “It’s time to stop blaming the public, journalists, and the media,” he argues, “The communication burden instead rests with political leaders, scientists, advocates, and policy experts.”

It is a very astute point. The media should not be held solely accountable, as they often are, for explaining why the world needs to manage its resources more efficiently. But part of the burden—indeed, a large part—is still theirs and cannot be passed off to other communicators. In particular, the press must improve its reporting of clean-energy economics. In the same way that early, science-oriented coverage swung between catastrophe and hoax, stories about the economics thereof gravitate toward extreme opinions. Journalists must stop quoting sources that say this transition can be achieved with no sacrifice as well as those who say that it will lead to economic ruin. Neither is true.

Furthermore, reporters must also not be fooled into asking themselves whether or not clean energy is worth pursuing. Obama’s speech Monday morning should have erased any lingering uncertainty: this is the plan, and it is founded upon mounting evidence that efficiency and sustainability can both save and earn money for individuals and businesses alike. “We owe [to the millions who have lost jobs in the last year] and to every single American to act with a sense of urgency and common purpose. We can’t afford distractions and we cannot afford delays,” Obama said.

There will be financial strain, of course—but the question should not be can we manage it, but rather how we manage it and what policies and technologies we will need to do so. There is always room for disagreement, of course, and many individuals and industries will continue to resist this change. Currently, though, clean energy is our best (and perhaps only) strategy for working our way back to global financial solvency. Reporters should absolutely seek out those who disagree with that strategy, but they cannot keep regurgitating the simplistic free-market argument that it will leave the economy in tatters. It already is, and reporters must ask their sources, if not this plan, then what? Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Obama said it perfectly: “These are extraordinary times, and it calls for swift and extraordinary action. At a time of such great challenge for America, no single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy.”

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.