the good, the bad, and the obama

Those of us in positions of power are elected not just to serve as custodians of the present, but as caretakers of the future.

President Obama gave a speech last night at Georgetown University on climate change action. Reading the transcript fills me with inspiration and hope… until I remember that talk is not enough and action is the biggest challenge. And hang on – upon a closer reading, he actually says some very worrying things!

From a ‘we all have a responsibility to take care of our planet’ perspective, Obama hit all the right notes. Mentions:

  • responsibility – x4
  • children – x13
  • future generations – x2

He says all the right things about climate change: it is real, it is man-made, 97% of the world’s scientists agree that it is man-made, it is costly. He gives it real urgency. He stresses our responsibility to tackle it. He cites clean and renewable energy (without defining these) as the answer. But then he tells us what a slog it’s gonna be to transition to renewable energy, and in the meantime, we should choose the (debatable) lesser of the eveels – domestic oil instead of imported, natural gas and nuclear instead of coal. In other words, his problem description is spot on and appropriately scary, but his solution proposals are weak and unambitious. He puts no significant policy changes except CO2 emission limits on power plants on the table. He says we have this problem and this responsibility to act, but acting is hard so we have to compromise.

The Good

I’m directing the Interior Department to green light enough private, renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than 6 million homes by 2020.

The Department of Defense – the biggest energy consumer in America – will install 3 GW of renewable power on its bases, generating about the same amount of electricity each year as you’d get from burning 3 million tons of coal.

And because billions of your tax dollars continue to still subsidize some of the most profitable corporations in the history of the world, my budget once again calls for Congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies

Congress is not going to do anything about fossil fuel subsidies, of course, but good on Obama for pointing this out anyway.

Your federal government will consume 20% of its electricity from renewable sources within the next 7 years. We are going to set that goal.

This is an incredibly low target – the state of Iowa is already powered 25% by wind alone – but better than nothing.

The Bad

We’re building the first nuclear power plants in more than three decades

Nuclear is dirty (toxic waste that lingers for millions of years; waste heat that warms lakes, rivers and oceans), dangerous (direct link to nuclear weapons; radiation leaks e.g. Chernobyl, Fukushima), and undemocratic (heavily subsidised; centrally controlled).

We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Maude Barlow, who chairs the Council of Canadians. She alerted me to the inherent linkages between climate change and water, and voiced a little frustration at climate activists’ often single-minded focus on greenhouse gases. So when Obama pushed so enthusiastically for natural gas last night, I couldn’t help but think about the poisonous effects hydraulic fracking has on sources of drinking water. He wants to “apply private sector technological know-how in countries that transition to natural gas” even when other countries like France have already said no thanks, we don’t want to end up like you.

And The Obama

I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants

Responsibility shifted to the EPA. Good luck, EPA.

our national interest will be served only if [Keystone XL] does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.

Both sides are pleased, as Obama’s left this revolving door ajar. It all boils down to one thing: What is the alternative to this pipeline? The pro-KXL camp argues that the pipeline is far less carbon emitting than trucking the tar sands bitumen from Alberta to the Gulf. The anti-KXL camp argues that the pipeline will intensify tar sands development, which is more carbon intensive than extraction and refinement of conventional oil and thus “exacerbate the problem” indeed. Btw, he said the word tar!

Four years ago, in Copenhagen, every major country agreed, for the first time, to limit carbon pollution by 2020.

The Copenhagen Accord was/is slammed by everyone – NGOs and member state govt’s alike – except the US and China. Just sayin’, COP15 should probs not be held as some story of success!

I’m calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas – unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies

Everyone had predicted he would wage a war against new and existing coal-fired power plants on US soil, but he didn’t mention domestic coal at all.

In Conclusion

Great speech, great rhetoric, but hollow and spineless. He plays up the ingenuity of American industry and the strength of the American can-do psyche, but then pours cold water on all this by cautioning that a renewable energy transition will be tough and switching off fossil fuels is not an option for the economy – while simultaneously saying that the environment and the economy are not either/or and urging us to spread the word that they are not either/or. GAH!!!!! This man is infuriating!

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