Obama All-of-the-Above Energy Policy Lacks Moral Urgency

English: Speech of Barack Obama at KSC.

A lot of my friends are still on a high about Obama’s recent discovery of the words climate change. He broke his climate silence after Hurricane Sandy. And climate change took prominent place in his inaugural address. In Tuesday’s the State of the Union, he brought it up again.

“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.”

But Obama’s message lacked the moral fortitude and urgency that he brings to the issue of gun violence. He’s still talking about climate change as if it will affect our children in a distant future and not furiously bearing down on us now with little time to right our course. And his policy choices reflect this disconnect.

Expanded drilling for oil, fracking and coal mining on public lands have created a surplus of domestic energy, but at what cost? As US CO2 emissions, decline, they raise globally, in part due to Obama’s increased rate of coal exports to Asia.

This Sunday, thousands of people will be in DC protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline. It is anticipated that Obama may approve the Keystone XL project, a Canadian export pipeline that will transverse the US to deliver one of the dirtiest forms of fossil fuel energy to an international market. NASA’s most imminent climate scientist James Hansen has called the burning of tar sands fossil fuel “game over for the climate.”

 If we continue to approve pipelines bringing in the dirtiest of fuels like tar sands he said, “there is no hope of keeping carbon concentrations below 500 p.p.m. — a level that would, as earth’s history shows, leave our children a climate system that is out of their control.”

In the State of the Union, the president did urge Congress to pursue market-based solutions.

“Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.”

Here, we agree. If Congress ends dirty energy subsidies and places a carbon tax on fossil fuel polluters, while investing in clean energy, we can shift our power to a green energy future; one that reflects the moral urgency of what must be done.

In fact, the very next day, Senators Boxer and Sanders announced plans for “comprehensive” legislation, that will include a carbon tax.

From Sanders’s office:

“Under the legislation, a fee on carbon pollution emissions would fund historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. The proposal also would provide rebates to consumers to offset any efforts by oil, coal or gas companies to raise prices.”

Get Involved:

Citizens Climate Lobby: http://www.citizensclimatelobby.org/

Forward on Climate Rally: http://act.350.org/signup/presidentsday

 

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Mitt Romney’s Inconclusive Declarations on Climate Change

Mitt Romney Steve Pearce event 057Mitt Romney got a good laugh out of the climate deniers in his audience at the GOP Convention in Tampa, a city already planning for sea level rise, as he mocked President Obama’s promise to address climate change.

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans…(pause to allow for laughter) and to heal the planet.  My promise … is to help you and your family.”

It could be that Republicans have a secret plan to transport American families to another planet, something they are keeping hidden from the rest of us. Perhaps in a parallel universe,  but we can’t be sure.

Romney’s statement got a lot of people upset. Notably Paul Douglas, a Republican meteorologist, who published this in the Huffington Post,
“But denying climate change won’t help any American family or our fledgling economy. And looking at the world with carbon-colored glasses, or using Solyndra as an excuse to snub renewables and clean-tech, is not only short-sighted, but makes America less competitive on the world stage. According to the World Economic Forum, America’s global competitiveness fell from 1st to 7th place since 2007. Should we just accept that most breakthrough energy technologies are originating in China and Europe, where there is no more “debate” about climate trends? Why is America still questioning the science? For political entertainment? Something tells me Mother Nature may get the last laugh.”
A facebook friend of mine commented, “I wish that he would publish his thoughts in some media that the Republicans follow.” Agreed.

Mitt moved forward with his not-gonna-fix-the-ocean-or-the-planet mantra on Meet the Press with David Gregory (September 9, 2012). Gregory let Romney ramble on without questioning him the on fact that the science tells us urgent action to curb emissions is necessary to preserve a liveable planet. It felt more like free ad time than an interview. This continued silence by the mainstream media to the true science of climate change is more than a lapse in journalistic integrity. It is willfully allowing this global train wreck to proceed unhindered.

In a recent interview with ScienceDebate.org, a science advocacy group, Romney had this to say,
“I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.”
On a campaign stop in 2011 Romney stated,“We don’t know what is causing climate change on this planet and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

The above statements, carefully crafted to fuel the disinformation campaign on global climate change, are consistent with Romney’s energy plan which is all fossil fuels. It’s 2008’s “drill, baby drill” wearing new clothes, or maybe no clothes.

In my next post we’ll address some of the science of why this plan won’t work; why the point of no return and a runaway greenhouse (think Venus) effect are the probable scientific outcomes for future generations with this continued business-as-usual fossil fuel loving plan.

I tried to embed the Meet the Press video below but kept getting a restricted access message.

350.org Founder, Author Bill McKibben on “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet”

Ahead of Earth Day and Cochabamba, Bolivia’s indigenous summit on climate change along with the anticipated unveiling of a Senate climate bill this coming week, Democracy Now spoke with someone who sounded one of the earliest alarms about global warming. In 1989, Author Bill McKibben wrote The End of Nature but his warnings were largely ignored. Below are some excerpts from that interview.

BILL McKIBBEN: On his new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet:  Look, the planet that we live on now is different, and in fundamental ways, from the one that we were born onto. The atmospheres holds about five percent more water vapor than it did forty years ago. That’s an incredible change in one of the basic physical parameters of the planet, and it explains all those deluges and downpours. The ocean is 30 percent more acidic, as it absorbs all that carbon from the atmosphere. NASA said yesterday that we’ve just come through the warmest January, February, March on record, that 2010 is going to be the warmest year that we’ve ever seen.

And we begin to see just in every day in the newspaper the practical effects of all this. Last week it was Rio de Janeiro with absolutely record rainfalls, causing landslides that killed thousands. Today, in the run-up to the summit in Bolivia, in Peru an enormous chunk of glacier fell off a mountainside into a lake, set up a seventy-five-foot-high wave that killed some people and destroyed the one water processing plant in the whole area. These sort of things happen now someplace around the world every single day, because we’ve undermined the basic physical stability of this planet.

On solutions and limits on growth: Well, reversing the trend is hard—impossible, in fact. We’re not going to stop global warming. We can keep it from getting worse than it has to get. For that to happen, Juan, we need things to happen at two levels. One is the governmental, national and global. We need a stiff price on carbon, one that reflects the damage it does in the atmosphere, that will reorient our economy in the direction of renewable energy instead of fossil fuel. But we’re also going to need, because we have a new planet, a new set of habits for inhabiting it successfully.

Our fundamental habit for the last couple of hundred years has been to assume that growth is going to solve every problem that we face. I think now we’ve fundamentally reached the limits to growth that people started talking about fifty years ago. When you melt the Arctic, that’s not a good sign. So we’re going to need, instead, to start focusing on security, on stability, on resilience, on figuring out how to allow communities to thrive, even on a tough planet. And I think that that has a lot to do with decentralization, with scaling down, with spreading out, with building food systems and energy systems that aren’t too big to fail, that are small enough and stable enough to succeed.

On Coal: Coal is the most dangerous substance on the planet, in almost every way—I mean, for the people who have to mine it and for the landscapes where it exists, like across southern Appalachia, for the people who have to breathe the smoke around power plants, mostly in our inner cities, but most fundamentally for the climate. Coal produces more carbon per BTU than anything else you can burn. And as a result, more than anything, it’s what’s driving our climate problem.

We’re not going to have, in the time that we require it, anything that really resembles clean coal. What we need to do is make that transition away from coal, and make it as fast as we can. Job one is putting a really significant price on carbon, so that coal begins to pay for some of the incredible damage that it does to the environment.

On 350.org: Three-fifty is the most important number in the world. NASA scientists have said that any value for carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth has adapted. That’s strong language, and it’s stronger still, because we’re past it already. We’re at 390 parts per million or so today and rising about two parts per million a year. That’s why the Arctic is melting. It’s why the oceans are acidifying. And it’s why we need a movement around the world to force political action sooner rather than later. We’re running out of time.

For the full interview, click on the video below:

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Additional readings:

Words of Power: Do You Understand the Power of the Pebble People? For Benazir Bhutto on Earth Day, with Help from Alice Walker, Yoko Ono and Bill McKibben

James Hansen on Cap-and-Trade, Tipping Points and Where We Go From Here

Image in public domain from NASA. http://www.n...

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In a recent interview, post- the COP15 Conference, the nation’s top climate scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen discussed his views on cap and trade, tipping points and how we can move forward in the aftermath of Copenhagen.

Hansen also has a new book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity where he discusses these issues at length.

The entire interview with Amy Goodman is visible at the end of this post. I’ve pulled out some highlights.

Hansen says, “I’m actually quite pleased with what happened at Copenhagen, because now we have basically a blank slate. We have China and the United States talking to each other, and it’s absolutely essential. Those are the two big players that have to come to an agreement. But it has to be an honest agreement, one which addresses the basic problem. And that is that fossil fuels are the cheapest source of energy on the planet. And unless we address that and put a price on the emissions, we can’t solve the problem.”

On Cap and Trade: “Cap and trade, they attempt to put a cap on different sources of carbon dioxide emissions. They say there’s a limit on how much a given industry in a country can emit. But the problem is that the emissions just go someplace else. That’s what happened after Kyoto, and that’s what would happen again, if—as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they will be burned someplace. You know, the Europeans thought they actually reduced their emissions after Kyoto, but what happened was the products that had been made in their countries began to be made in other countries, which were burning the cheapest form of fossil fuel, so the total emissions actually increased.”

But what you need to do—and many people call that a tax, but in fact the way that it should be done is to give all of the money that’s collected in a fee, that should be across the board on oil, gas and coal, collect that money at the mine or at the port of entry from the fossil fuel companies, and then distribute that to the public on a per capita basis to legal residents of the country. Then the person that does—that has less than average carbon emissions would actually make money from the process, and it would stimulate the economy. It would give the public the funds that they need in order to invest in low-carbon technologies. The next time they buy a vehicle, they should get a low-emission one. They should insulate their homes. Such actions. And those people who do that will come out ahead. That’s—the economists agree that that’s the way you should address the problem, with a price on carbon. Otherwise, the emissions will just continue to go up.”

On Tipping Points: “Well, there are tipping points in the climate system, where we can push the system beyond a point where the dynamics begins to take over. For example, in the case of an ice sheet, once it begins to disintegrate and slide into the ocean, you’ve passed the point where you can stop it. So that’s what we have to avoid.

Another tipping point is in the survival of species. As we begin to put pressure on species and move the climate zone so that some of the species can’t survive because they can only live within certain climate parameters, because species depend upon each other, you can drive an ecosystem such that when some species go extinct, then the entire ecosystem will collapse. So you don’t want to push the system that far.

And these tipping points are not hypothetical. We know from the earth’s history that these have happened in the past, especially when we’ve had large global warmings. We’ve driven more than half the species on the planet to extinction. And then, over hundreds of thousands and millions of years, new species come into being. But for any time scale that we can imagine, we would be leaving a much more desolate planet for our children and grandchildren and future generations. So we don’t want to pass those tipping points.”

On Atmospheric CO2:What we have now is 387 parts per million. But we’re going to have to bring that down to 350 parts per million or less. And that’s still possible, provided we phase out coal emissions over the next few decades. That’s possible. We would also have to prohibit unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and oil shale.”

On Moving Forward: “What needs to happen right now—we have this great opportunity this spring, I would say, to have discussions in the House and Senate about what really needs to be done to solve this problem. And it’s not cap and trade with offsets. We can prove that that’s completely ineffectual. What we have to do is put a price on carbon, and the money that’s collected needs to be given to the public, not used for boondoggles, like Congress is taking—plans to take the money from cap and trade that’s collected in selling the permits to pollute and to use that money for things like clean coal or to give the money back to the polluters. That won’t solve the problem. We have to give the money to the public.”

“There were a couple of encouraging things in Copenhagen. For one thing, Al Gore made a clear statement that a carbon price is a better solution than cap and trade. And John Kerry also indicated that he had an open mind on that question. So that’s why I say the discussions in the next few months are very important, because the way the United States goes is going to determine the way the world goes, I think.”

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