Thursday, June 27, 2013

CliMEHt Action

I finally got around to listening to President Obama's speech on climate change, a most appropriate activity when there's a tornado watch in one's neighboring state. All-in-all, it was an okay speech, but, like a lot of Obama's proposals, my reaction to it is one big "MEH". There is some evidence that the president's position, like his position on same-sex marriage, has evolved- he's no longer talking about clean coal, except in rare cases:

Today, I'm calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas -- unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there's no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity. And I urge other countries to join this effort.

My big problem with the speech is that the president lends too much credence to the notion that natural gas is a viable "medium term" solution to our energy needs:

Now, even as we’re producing more domestic oil, we’re also producing more cleaner-burning natural gas than any other country on Earth. And, again, sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this: 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.
Federally supported technology has helped our businesses drill more effectively and extract more gas. And now, we'll keep working with the industry to make drilling safer and cleaner, to make sure that we're not seeing methane emissions, and to put people to work modernizing our natural gas infrastructure so that we can power more homes and businesses with cleaner energy.

Of course, natural gas extraction is extremely hazardous to groundwater supplies, a fact that even the mainstream press is beginning to report. At least the president merely views natural gas as a "transition" fuel, though my opinion is that it is a dangerous distraction from the development of real alternatives such as wind and solar power:

The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. It's lowering many families' heat and power bills. And it's the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.

At least the president's stated devotion to wind and solar power is admirable:

And that brings me to the second way that we're going to reduce carbon pollution -- by using more clean energy. Over the past four years, we've doubled the electricity that we generate from zero-carbon wind and solar power. And that means jobs -- jobs manufacturing the wind turbines that now generate enough electricity to power nearly 15 million homes; jobs installing the solar panels that now generate more than four times the power at less cost than just a few years ago.
I know some Republicans in Washington dismiss these jobs, but those who do need to call home -- because 75 percent of all wind energy in this country is generated in Republican districts. And that may explain why last year, Republican governors in Kansas and Oklahoma and Iowa -- Iowa, by the way, a state that harnesses almost 25 percent of its electricity from the wind -- helped us in the fight to extend tax credits for wind energy manufacturers and producers. Tens of thousands good jobs were on the line, and those jobs were worth the fight.

As is his commitment to providing clean energy solutions to developing nations:

Though all America's carbon pollution fell last year, global carbon pollution rose to a record high. That’s a problem. Developing countries are using more and more energy, and tens of millions of people entering a global middle class naturally want to buy cars and air-conditioners of their own, just like us. Can't blame them for that. And when you have conversations with poor countries, they'll say, well, you went through these stages of development -- why can't we?
But what we also have to recognize is these same countries are also more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than we are. They don’t just have as much to lose, they probably have more to lose.
Developing nations with some of the fastest-rising levels of carbon pollution are going to have to take action to meet this challenge alongside us. They're watching what we do, but we've got to make sure that they're stepping up to the plate as well. We compete for business with them, but we also share a planet. And we have to all shoulder the responsibility for keeping the planet habitable, or we're going to suffer the consequences -- together.
So to help more countries transitioning to cleaner sources of energy and to help them do it faster, we're going to partner with our private sector to apply private sector technological know-how in countries that transition to natural gas. We’ve mobilized billions of dollars in private capital for clean energy projects around the world.

Of course, the president's proposal to use executive orders to reduce carbon emissions is a good thing, and it pisses off Republicans. All-in-all, it was a pretty good speech, but I just can't get overly excited by it- the president's approval of natural gas as a stop-gap solution rankles, and I'm not the only one to be less-than-satisfied. The president's plan, like his healthcare plan, seems just a little too close to a plan proposed by a right-winger who stands to gain millions from its implementation. Just once, I'd love to see President Obama play the socialist firebrand his opponents portray him to be.

Oh, well, I knew power plants fueled by sparkly unicorn poop were too good to be true.

Cross-posted at Rumproast.


mikey said...

Excuse me, Mr. Bastard, but based on my observations over time I have concluded you are a very smart fellow, who is not afraid of math. So I'm disappointed in this cheap pronouncement without considering how it might work.

US electric generation is hovering in the range of 12,000 THOUSAND KwH per day. We need efficiency programs to reduce this, but in the near term a reduction in electric consumption is unlikely. You want to shut down coal, nuclear and NatGas. Great. So do I. But you then need to replace about 10,000 THOUSAND MwH per day with renewables. Should we become a starving third world nation while we build out that capacity? And how are you expecting to fund it?

The key, as any fuel nose, is that we HAVE TO raise the price of electricity to a point where the negative social externalities are accounted for. That will do two things simultaneously. First, it will reduce consumption - that just simple market economics. Second, it will reduce the incentive structure around fossil fuels and convert much of the investment in natural gas to investment in wind, solar, wave and efficiency.

Frankly, I'm used to seeing your idealism couched in a recognition of physical, social and market realities, and you could do better by explaining why a carbon pollution reduction program that specifically does NOT increase the cost of energy generation is going to fail, and will actually make the problem worse.

The problem is actually a simple economic question of market pricing and incentives...

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Obama says things, and he does things.

Pay attention to the latter.

Syrbal/Labrys said...

Pretty much where I am on Obama any more. He says some very nice things, but the things he does seem to kowtow to the worst elements and impulses in American society and life.

I much would prefer the socialist fireball instead of what strikes me as a kisser of fascist-corporate asses.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

But you then need to replace about 10,000 THOUSAND MwH per day with renewables. Should we become a starving third world nation while we build out that capacity? And how are you expecting to fund it?

Personally, I'd get rid of the subsidies for fossil fuels and tax the petrochemical giants at a reasonable rate, rather than letting them pay zero taxes. To me, the main objective would be to decentralize the grid as much as possible- make it feasible for homeowners to put up solar panels and even small wind turbines. A lot of energy is wasted in transmission. Basically, we need the equivalent of the Apollo Program to aggressively pursue renewables. Of course, there's no one "magic bullet" but there are hundreds of "magic shotgun pellets". Every waste treatment plant should be a power plant using waste methane to generate electricity. Tidal generators in coastal and estuarine locales, solar and wind everywhere, including metropolitan areas. We can do this, and a lot of it starts with the end of subsidies for bad actors.

Pay attention to the latter.

Yeah, my eye is on that pipeline... the one that could potentially destroy the major aquifer in the heartland.

I much would prefer the socialist fireball instead of what strikes me as a kisser of fascist-corporate asses.

**SIGH** Ain't that the truth!

John Going Gently said...


We are all fucked

( smiley face)
John x

Substance McGravitas said...

Yeah, my eye is on that pipeline...

There are more oil reserves in North America than that. You'll get a few shots at environmental catastrophe.