Saturday, August 29, 2009
- The lessons of Katrina: Global warming "adaptation" is a cruel euphemism — and prevention is far, far cheaper
- The Storm of the Century (so far)
- Energy and Global Warming News for August 28: Climate change causing severe food shortages in Nepal
- Midwestern states to see harshest warming — if their Senators filibuster a climate bill
Posted: 29 Aug 2009 05:58 AM PDT
The L.A. Times has brought to prominence (and fallen for) what I call the "adaptation trap":
G. Gordon Liddy's daughter repeated that standard denier/delayer line in our debate: Humans are very adaptable — we've adapted to climate changes in the past and will do so in the future.
We know that fighting climate change — stabilizing below 450 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide — has a low cost, according to IEA, IPCC, McKinsey and every major independent economic analysis (see "Intro to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar").
What is the cost of "adaptation"? It is almost incalculable. The word is a virtually meaningless euphemism in the context of catastrophic global warming. That is what the deniers and delayers simply don't understand. On our current emissions path, the country and the world faces faces multiple catastrophes, including:
I think Hurricane Katrina gives the lie to the adaptation myth. No, I'm not saying humans are not adaptable. Nor am I saying global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, although warming probably did make it a more intense. But on the four-year anniversary of Katrina — and the three year anniversary of Climate Progress's initial launch — I'm saying Katrina showed the limitations of adaptation as a response to climate change, for several reasons.
First, the citizens of New Orleans "adapted" to Hurricane Katrina, but I'm certain that every last one of them wishes we had prevented the disaster with stronger levees. The multiple catastrophes — extreme drought, extreme flooding, extreme weather, extreme temperatures — that global warming will bring can be suffered through, but I wouldn't call it adaptation.
Second, a classic adaptation strategy to deal with rising sea levels is levees. Yet even though we knew that New Orleans would be flooded if the levees were overtopped and breached, even though New Orleans has been sinking for decades, we refused to spend the money to "adapt" New Orleans to the threat. We didn't make the levees able to withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane (Katrina was weaker at landfall than that, but the storm surge was that of a category 4).
Third, even now, after witnessing the devastation of the city, we still refuse to spend the money needed to strengthen the levees to withstand a category 5 hurricane. We refuse to spend money on adaptation to preserve one of our greatest cities, ensuring its destruction, probably sometime this century.
If we won't adapt to the realities of having one city below sea level in hurricane alley, what are the chances we are going to adapt to the realities of having all our great Gulf and Atlantic Coast cities at risk for the same fate as New Orleans — since sea level from climate change will ultimately put many cities, like Miami, below sea level? And just how do you adapt to sea levels rising 6 to 12 inches a decade for centuries, which is the fate we risk by 2100 if we don't reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends soon. Climate change driven by humans GHGs is already happening much faster than past climate change from natural causes — and it is accelerating.
The fact is, the deniers don't believe climate change is happening, and the the delayers don't take the climate change impacts above seriously, so they don't believe in spending serious money on adaptation. The Center for American Progress has written an important paper on hurricane preparedness, which is a good starting point for those who are serious about adaptation.
But don't be taken in by heartfelt expressions of faith in human adaptability. If Katrina shows us anything, it is that preventing disaster would be considerably less expensive — and more humane — than forcing future generations to "adapt to" an unending stream of disasters.
Finally, a major new study finds the cost of adaptation — and the costs of inaction — are far, far higher than anyone thought. Duh! Since it provides strong economic and analytical support for my analysis here, I will blog on it soon.
Posted: 28 Aug 2009 12:37 PM PDT
On August 23, 2005, a tropical depression formed 175 miles southeast of Nassau. By the next day, it had grown into tropical storm Katrina and was intensifying rapidly. Early in the evening on August 25, Hurricane Katrina made landfall near North Miami Beach. Even though it was only a Category 1 storm, with sustained wind speeds of about 80 miles per hour, it caused significant damage and flooding, and took 14 lives.
The hurricane's quick nighttime trip across Florida barely fazed the storm. Entering the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters quickly kicked Katrina into overdrive, like a supercharged engine on high-octane fuel. Hurricanes fuel themselves by continually sucking in and spinning up warm, moist air.
On August 28, Katrina reached Category 5 status, with sustained wind speeds of 160 mph and a pressure of 908 millibars. A few hours later, wind speeds hit 175 mph, which they maintained until the afternoon.
At 4:00 pm, the National Hurricane Center warned that local storm surges could hit 28 feet, and "Some levees in the Greater New Orleans Area could be overtopped," a warning that was tragically ignored by federal, state, and local emergency officials. Over the next 14 hours, Katrina's strength dropped steadily. When the hurricane's center made landfall Monday morning, it was a strong Category 3, battering coastal Louisiana with wind speeds of about 127 mph. The central pressure of 920 millibars was the third lowest pressure every recorded for a storm hitting the U.S. mainland.
The devastation to the Gulf region was biblical. The death toll exceeded 1300. The damage exceeded $100 billion. [Combined with the effects of Hurricane Rita] two million people were forced to leave their homes, more than were displaced during the 1930's Dust Bowl. One of the nation's great cities was devastated.
About 20 miles to the west of the second Gulf landfall was the small town named Pass Christian, Mississippi, where my brother lived with his wife and son.
Tropical cyclones in the northern hemisphere rotate counterclockwise, and so the most intense storm surge is just to the east of the eye, because the surge represents the intense winds pushing the sea against the shore. A 30-foot wall of water with waves up to 55 feet crashed over the town. Although my brother and his family lived one mile inland, their house was ravaged with water up to 22 feet high, leaving the contents of the house looking like they had been churned "inside of a washing machine," in my brother's words. While they lost virtually all their possessions, they were safe in a Biloxi shelter.
Thanks to the generosity of many people, my brother's family was able to find a temporary home in Atlanta. But like many families whose lives were ripped apart by the storm, they had difficult choices in the ensuing months. Perhaps the toughest decision was whether to rebuild their home or to uproot themselves and try to create a new life somewhere else.
I very much wanted to give my brother an expert opinion on what was likely to come in the future. After all, climate change was my field, and while my focus has been on climate solutions, I had done my Ph.D. thesis on physical oceanography.
As I listened and talked to many of the top climate experts, it quickly became clear that the climate situation was far more dire than most people-and even many scientists, myself included-realized. Almost every major climate impact was occurring faster than the computer models had suggested. Arctic sea ice was shrinking far faster than every single model had projected. And the great ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica were shedding ice decades earlier than the models said. Soils appear to be losing their ability to take up carbon dioxide faster than expected. At the same time, global carbon dioxide emissions and concentrations were rising faster than most had expected.
As for hurricanes, global warming had been widely projected to make them more intense and destructive, but again the recent increase in intensity was coming sooner than the computer models had suggested. Why is that a concern? Since 1970, the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean's hurricane-forming region has risen 0.5°C (0.9°F). Over the path of a typical hurricane, this recent ocean warming added the energy equivalent of a few hundred thousand Hiroshima nuclear bombs. On our current emissions path, the Atlantic will warm twice as much, another 1°C, by mid-century, and perhaps another 2°C beyond that by century's end. Who can even imagine the hurricane seasons such warming might bring?
This is what I ultimately told my brother, the same advice I would give anyone contemplating living near the Gulf Coast:
[This is excerpted from my book, Hell and High Water. The description of Katrina is from two terrific sources: Grauman et al., Hurricane Katrina: A Climatological Perspective, Technical Report 2005-01, NCDC, October 2005, update Jan 06, and Richard D. Knabb, Jamie R. Rhome, and Daniel P. Brown, Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Katrina, 23-30 August 2005, National Hurricane Center 20 December 2005.]
Subsequently, the scientific literature has supported the view that human-caused global warming is "more likely than not" partly responsible for the fact that "In the period 1971–2005, since the beginning of a trend towards increased intense cyclone activity, [economic] losses excluding socio-economic effects show an annual increase of 4% per annum" (see here).
I have further elaborated on the growing threat to the Gulf from warming-driven superstorms:
And the literature also supports that analysis:
Needless to say, sea level rise will turn many other coastal cities into sitting ducks pre-Katrina New-Orleans:
Posted: 28 Aug 2009 11:32 AM PDT
Posted: 28 Aug 2009 10:10 AM PDT
I'm reposting this piece by Ryan Grim, which was on the front page of Huffington Post yesterday. This is a new analysis from The Nature Conservancy of the temperature and precipitation impact on the country of staying on our current emissions path. The darkest red on the map is where average annual warming greater than 10°F. The results are very similar to "Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year." I changed the HuffPost headline since this is really just a map of where warming will be the greatest. Where "climate change" (including all the impacts) will hit the hardest is a tougher to say, but Florida and Louisiana probably top that list. To bad three of the four senators from those states are also likely to vote for inaction and hence inundation.
Note: If you want to see how the deniers mock one more warning of what's to come, read "Exclusive Weekly Standard Climate Change Projection."
The politics of climate change are difficult in the Senate, it's often said, because it's a regional issue: coal state senators are afraid their economies will be driven under if the price of dirty energy rises too quickly.
Climate change is, in fact, a regional issue, but not in the short-term way that the coal senators think, according to new analysis from The Nature Conservancy. The environmental group finds that rural Midwestern states will face the greatest consequences of climate change. The three that will face the steepest rise in temperature — Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa — are farm states whose soil will be significantly less productive as temperatures rise more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit there by 2100.
The rise by by 2050 — only 41 years from now — is also projected to be substantial. (Click here for an interactive map of the analysis.)
The two Republican senators from Kansas, which will be most ravaged by climate change, are unlikely to support legislation addressing it.
Sen. Sam Brownback, who is retiring from the Senate but continues to have statewide ambitions, has said that humanity has a religious imperative to reduce climate emissions, but he has also signed on to the "No Climate Tax Pledge" being pushed by Americans for Prosperity, which opposes climate change legislation. The pledge says that Brownback will "oppose legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue" — which means any of the plans currently being considered.
Sen. Pat Roberts will also be a difficult vote for advocates to score.
In Nebraska, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson often works to pull legislation in a more conservative direction and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) isn't clamoring to support taking action to address climate change. Nelson signed a letter in June, along with nine other Democrats concentrated in the Midwest, saying he couldn't support the current version of the bill and outlining principles that would need to be met to get his vote.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the state that will face the third worst catastrophe, will be a key player on the Finance Committee, which hopes to claim jurisdiction over the distribution of the revenue that will be raised through a cap and trade system. His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Tom Harkin, is a much more likely yes vote.
The consequences to these farm states will be far reaching. As droughts become more common, their soil and climate will begin to look more like their neighbors' to the south in Texas and Mexico.
The ten-degree rise in temperature in the three states assumes that carbon emissions will continue their rate of increase. If the world's population somehow manages to reverse greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature is still expected to rise more than three degrees, which would still devastate those states' economies. A study released Thursday by Columbia University adds further concern about the viability of soybeans, corn and cotton — the expected temperature rise over the next century from even a slow warming scenario could decrease crop yields by 30 to 46 percent.
"To many, climate change doesn't seem real until it affects them, in their backyards," said Jonathan Hoekstra, director of climate change for The Nature Conservancy. "In many states across the country, the weather and landscapes could be nearly unrecognizable in 100 years."
Here is the map from the 13-agency NOAA-led impacts report.
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Friday, August 28, 2009
- Yet another major poll finds "broad support" for clean energy and climate bill: "Support for the plan among independents has increased slightly."
- Climate Progress at three years: Why I blog
- Cash for Clunkers is a double economic stimulus that pays for itself in oil savings so CO2 savings are free
Posted: 28 Aug 2009 08:20 AM PDT
My key takeaway from the new ABC-WashPost poll: A lot of people understand energy prices are going up if we do nothing. In fact, 36% of 1001 voters polled believe "the proposed changes to U.S. energy policy" won't make much of a difference on energy costs and 16% it will decrease them. And this in spite of relentless negative messaging to the contrary from the disinformers.
Many Americans understand the "do nothing" energy tax, since they saw that annual energy costs under President Bush jumped over $1000 (see here). Americans understand that our rising dependence on oil and our inaction on climate change are untenable. And they really, really believe in clean energy and understand that oil companies and Republicans have been blocking action for a long time.
The Post piece on the poll, "On Energy, Obama Finds Broad Support" has a great quote:
The fact that American — especially likely voters — support climate and clean energy action should not be a surprise:
Here's more on what the new poll finds:
But what about all that disinformation from fossil fuel companies and conservatives about how the climate bill will ruin the economy?
And Americans do love policies that promote clean energy:
People love nukes in someone else's backyard. Here's an interesting stat:
It may be that the well-advertised success of this program hasincreased confidence in the government's ability to enact intelligent energy policy. If so, that is an even bigger benefit than its economic and energy impacts (see "Cash for Clunkers is a double economic stimulus that pays for itself in oil savings so CO2 savings are free").
I'll discuss the messaging implications of this and other polls in September.
Posted: 27 Aug 2009 05:16 PM PDT
No, I'm not operating under the misimpression that my writing can be compared with George Orwell's. I know of no essayists today who come close to matching his skill in writing. On top of that, bloggers simply lack the time necessary for consistently first-rate efforts. I've written some two million words since launching this blog three years ago this week. Perfection isn't an option.
But operating under the dictum, "if you want to be a better writer, read better writers," I took on vacation Facing Unpleasant Facts, a collection of Orwell's brilliant narrative essays. My life has been almost the exact opposite of Orwell's. Indeed, if you think you had a rough childhood, trying reading, "Such, such were the joys." Compared to Orwell, we've all been raised by Mary Poppins.
Orwell does have the soul of a blogger, as we'll see. He is solipsistic almost to a fault, but with a brutal honesty that puts even the best modern memoirist to shame.
Read about how his headmaster cured his bedwetting with a beating, a double caning with a riding crop in fact, after he foolishly announced that the first one "didn't hurt." Or read "Shooting an Elephant," with its gut-punching first line, "In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me."
Second, he has "a power of facing unpleasant facts," which I think is perhaps the primary quality I aspire for here.
I joined the new media because the old media have failed us. They have utterly failed to force us to face unpleasant facts — see "What if the MSM simply can't cover humanity's self-destruction?" and "The media's decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress" and dozens more examples here.
Unlike Orwell, I knew from a very early age, certainly by the age of five or six, that I would be a physicist, like my uncle, and I announced that proudly to all who asked.
I knew I didn't want to be a professional writer since I saw how hopeless it was to make a living that way. My father was the editor of a small newspaper (circulation 20,000) that he turned into a medium-sized newspaper (70,000) but was paid dirt, even though he managed the equivalent of a large manufacturing enterprise — while simultaneously writing three editorials a day — that in any other industry would pay ten times as much. My mother pursued freelance writing for many, many years, an even more difficult way to earn a living (see also "This could not possibly be more off topic").
Why share this? Orwell, who shares far, far more in his master class of essay writing, argues in "Why I write":
Interestingly, I think there are more than four great motives to blog, at least for me. But let's start with Orwell's:
No argument here. On the bright side, I make no pretensions to be a serious writer. I'm not certain that bloggers are journalists. I think we are, however, journal-ists. What is a log if not a journal?
Again, inarguable. I'm an auditory person, for those who know NLP, and I dictate all of my blog posts. If you want to be a better writer, I suggest you read aloud everything you write. For me the sound of a good phrase, the pleasure of a headline that works, is immense. I wouldn't blog just for that reason, and I'd rather have a widely-read substantive blog than a scarcely-read work of art, if such a thing even exists on the blogosphere. Sometimes everything comes together, as in perhaps my best headline, the one Time magazine singled out in naming me a favorite environmental website: "Debate over. Further delay fatal. Action not costly. This headline pretty much sums up Joe Romm's message. Romm is a one-man anti-disinformation clearinghouse."
I will take a clearinghouse over an arthouse any day.
Even more so with a blog. In the increasingly likely event we don't avert catastrophic global warming, I do hope that the reporting and analysis in this blog, which evolves over time, will be of use to those trying to understand just how it is that, as Elizabeth Kolbert put it, "a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself." It will be a great source of bafflement to future generations, and I suspect that as they suffer through the misery and grief caused by our myopia and greed, there will be a growing literature aimed at trying to understand what went wrong, how we did this to ourselves. Perhaps this web log will help. That's one more motivation for me to use as many links as possible to original sources.
Pretty amazing that Orwell uses that last word. The Wikipedia entry on "pamphleteer" asserts, "Today a pamphleteer might communicate his missives by way of weblog…."
Orwell explains the source of his evoluton:
I couldn't dream of saying it better than that if I worked on this post for a month.
I also blog for at least two other reasons.
Piece of mind: I would be unimaginably frustrated and depressed if I didn't have a way of contributing to the task of saving a livable climate, a way of responding in real time to the general humbug and sentences without meaning and purple passages of those who wittingly or unwittingly spreading disinformation aimed at delaying action on climate change. I hope the comments section on the blog serves in some small way as a similar outlet for readers.
Personal growth: The act of trying to explain the science and the solutions and the politics to a broader audience forces me think hard about what I'm really saying, about what I really know and don't know. It makes me much smarter, if no one else. The rapid feedback and global nature of the blogosphere mean that I get to test my ideas against people who are exceedingly knowledgeable and equally articulate. Through this blog I have interacted with people from every walk of life, with widely different worldviews, from many continents, whom I never would have otherwise known. And all from the basement of my home, occasionally with my daughter by my side.
Like Orwell, I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know I wouldn't be blogging this much if you all weren't tuning in and writing your comments. The readership of this blog has exploded — for those who follow my feedburner stats, they have gone through the roof since the website redesign, for reasons I don't fully understand. And I am in discussions to further syndicate the content, so it will reach many more people than who read it here or on Grist or Worldchanging or elsewhere.
Most of all, it boggles the mind that I have a profession that did not exist even a decade ago, but that is, in many respects, precisely what my father did, precisely what I never expected to do.
After my brother lost his home in Katrina, and I started interviewing climate experts for what turned into my book, Hell and High Water, I made a decision I would not pull any punches and would get "political" as Orwell defined the term.
If I have learned anything from the blog, it is that there is in fact a great hunger out there for the bluntest possible talk about the dire nature of our energy and climate situation, about the grave threat to our children and the next 50 generations, about the vast but still achieveable scale of the solutions, about the forces in politics and media that impede action — a hunger to face unpleasant facts head on. And that is possibly the most reassuring thing I have learned in the past three years. Thank you all for that!
Posted: 27 Aug 2009 01:34 PM PDT
Given the silly sniping at this small, wildly successful program, I feel obliged to update my last post.
BusinessWeek's Auto Beat whines, "They say the program was effective in selling cars, but the boost won't last long enough to really help the car industry for very long." Ya think? It's a friggin' stimulus, and a tiny one at that — $3 billion.
And then we have the academics — UC Davis's Christopher R. Knittel actually did a study on "The Implied Cost of Carbon Dioxide under the Cash for Clunkers Program," which got lots of media attention like "Cash for Clunkers Pays Ten Times Market Rate for Greenhouse Gas Reduction." I could have saved them a lot of trouble had they bothered to read my May post, which noted "As a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this "cash for clunkers" deal is probably among the least cost-effective uses of federal dollars one could imagine."
Memo to media: It ain't "Cash for carbon."
I was not a big fan of the final version of "Cash for Clunkers" because its mileage improvement requirements were so inadequate, as Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) explained here.
But in the real world, the public has mostly turned in gas-guzzlers in exchange for fuel-efficient cars — which perhaps should not have been a total surprise since oil prices are rising, gas guzzlers remain a tough resell in the used car market, and most fuel-efficient cars are much cheaper than SUVs. So as a stimulus that saves oil while cutting CO2 for free — it has turned out to be a slam dunk, far better than I had expected.
You can read the government's final report on Cash for Clunkers aka Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) here. The economic bottom line, "According to a preliminary analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the CARS program" will:
I should note that Detroit sold 39% of new vehicles in the program. Further, as AP reported yesterday, "The Toyota Corolla was the most popular new vehicle purchased under the program. The Honda Civic, Toyota Camry and Ford Focus held the next three top spots. All four are built in the United States."
I don't think the CEA factored in the economic benefit of lowering people's gasoline bill, which puts more money in their pocket to save or spend in their community.
Even Seth Borenstein, the AP science writer I admire greatly, who has a long piece explaining that CARS is a very cost-ineffective way to save CO2, noted that "America will be using nearly 72 million fewer gallons of gasoline a year because of the program, based on the first quarter-million vehicles replaced."
Well, the basic stats for the second phase, which brings the total cars sold to 700,000 are about the same:
Yes, it costs energy to manufacture new cars, but most of that is in the steel and other metal in the car, so you get a lot of that energy back when you scrap it.
Yes, people drive newer cars further, but vehicle miles traveled declined 3.6% in 2008 compared to 2007, in large part because of gasoline prices, though Brookings believes more fundamental trends are at play. I expect gasoline prices to rise relatively steadily over the next decade, to more than $5 a gallon, so exactly how VMT play out is far from clear.
Let's assume the new cars are driven nearly 20% more over the next 5 years, and that the average price of gasoline over the next five years is $3.50. Then we're "only" saving 140 million gallons a year or roughly $500 million a year. The $3 billion program "pays for itself" in oil savings in 6 years. And most of that oil savings is money that would have left the country, so it is a (small) secondary stimulus.
Using a rough estimate of 25 pounds of CO2 per gallon of gas (full lifecycle emissions), then we're saving over 1.5 million metric tons of CO2 per year — and all of the ancillary urban air pollutants from those clunkers — for free.
The bottom line is that the program seems to be a shot in the arm for the auto industry and economy, while achieving better energy and environmental gains than expected. Let the sniping begin!
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Thursday, August 27, 2009
- Energy and Climate News for August 27: Solar panels drop sharply in price
- Grist: Barack Obama is not Bagger Vance
- Videos of Chu, (Bill) Clinton, Gore, Pickens, Reid, Van Jones, Villaraigosa, Wirth, and Zoi at the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0
- On the 150th anniversary of first commerical U.S. well, the oil industry is headed toward oblivion — and trying to take civilization down with it
- 'China will sign' global treaty if U.S. passes climate bill, E.U. leader says
- Enhancing our national security by reducing oil dependence and environmental damage
Posted: 27 Aug 2009 09:28 AM PDT
Talk about your mixed feelings — it's WalMart all over again, but with clean energy, not toys and households products (see "Solar PV market doubled to 6 Gigawatts in 2008 — U.S. left in dust, having invented the technology").
Ah, the 7,000 square foot house. Enjoy it while you can!
Worth a shot, but they are mostly lobbying the wrong people. It is the swing Senators, not Boxer and the Senate environment committee, who will determine how weak or strong the final bill is.
Posted: 27 Aug 2009 08:09 AM PDT
My colleague David Roberts at Grist has a provocative post I am reprinting below. I think it is an important message for progressives to hear (see "Memo to enviros, progressives: The deniers and dirty energy bunch are "full of passionate intensity" — and eating our lunch on the climate bill!") although I only half agree with him. I think that if team Obama's messaging and outreach had been superlative (as it was for most of the campaign), rather than dreadful as it has been for over two months now, that both the health care and climate bills would be in far better shape. But that would still not be any guarantee of success nor would it necessarily have resulted in a climate bill on his desk substantially stronger than the one the House passed, for many reasons some of which Roberts spells out. Even Obama can't single-handedly beat the well-funded disinformers when progressives in genral are lousy at messaging and big media is impotent? I'll blog more on messaging in September. Comments on Roberts' piece are welcome.
Things are pretty grim among progressives these days, what with health care bogging down and climate legislation on indefinite delay; right wing crazies everywhere and Blue Dogs intransigent; the organized coalition that brought Obama to office fractured and ineffective. Disillusionment is in the air.
In response, on listservs and private conversations, I'm hearing more and more people express some version of the following sentiment: Barack Obama should save us. According to this line of thinking, if Obama really got serious, got his messaging right, did a really good speech, exercised his extraordinary popularity with the American people, he could right the ship for his two main domestic initiatives, both of which are drifting perilously close to the shoals.
It's understandable. Everyone still remembers the extraordinary high of the campaign, the rare and almost forgotten feeling of being genuinely moved by a civic-minded politician. Everyone wants that high back, as an escape from the lies, bottlenecks, and general unpleasantness that now beset us.
He hasn't come along to teach the ornery white folk the error of their ways. He's just the president, a centrist Democrat embedded in a power structure replete with roadblocks and constraints. The president, even an extraordinarily popular president, can only do so much. Making one more speech won't have any effect on Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) or Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). It won't reduce the money pouring from dirty energy companies into congressional coffers. It won't change anybody's mind at a teabagging rally or a dirty energy astroturfing event. This notion that Obama trying harder is the key to progressive success is just a siren song; it delays getting serious.
Along these lines, read Mike Tomasky. It's about health care, but it applies just as well to the climate/energy fight:
Obama can't save progressives. They'll save their agenda, if at all, with persistence and organizing. As it always was.
– Dave Roberts
Posted: 27 Aug 2009 07:21 AM PDT
Videos are now available (here) for the "National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 on Jobs and the New Economy" at UNLV in Nevada August 10.
The videos represent an excellent six-hour workshop on the clean energy challenge and opportunity from some of the leading experts in the country (see also "An introduction to the core climate solutions"). Here is the agenda with the full list of Summit Speakers you can listen to:
Again, the videos are all here.
Posted: 26 Aug 2009 06:38 PM PDT
So wrote Edwin Draka aka Colonel Drake, who is "popularly credited with being the first to drill for oil in the United States" on August 27, 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania. His methods were quickly copied by others and "By 1871, the entire area was producing 5.8 million barrels a year."
As Daniel Yergin wrote in his still must-read Pulitzer Prize-winning history, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, & Power (where I found Drake's quote):
Combined with Henry Ford's mass production and moving assembly line, the oil boom ushered in the American Century. For two world wars, America was not just the arsenal of democracy, we were the engine fuel of democracy. As late as the mid-1950s, we still produced roughly half of all the world's oil — twice as much oil as the Middle Eastern and North African states combined.
But our drain-America-first policy — coupled with the gross inefficiency of our oil consumption and successful conservative efforts to block an energy policy built around efficiency and alternatives — caused U.S. production to peak decades ago. And now world oil consumption is peaking, even as the nation's and the world's fossil fuel consumption are driving us toward catastrophic climate impacts, Hell and High Water, which would outlast the oil age by a thousand years.
The U.S. oil industry, going back to John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, has long been guilty of the most anti-competitive tactics. Originally, those harsh tactics focused on competitors, with the worst impact for most Americans being higher prices than they might otherwise have experienced. "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1911 that antitrust law required Standard Oil to be broken into smaller, independent companies," but "ExxonMobil, however, does represent a substantial part of the original company."
ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute are still guilty of harsh, anti-competitive tactics, but the worst impacts of their massively funded disinformation campaign will be to ruin a livable climate for the next 100 billion people to walk the planet. If we don't overcome that campaign and reverse emissions trends quickly, then long after an oil-driven economy is a distant memory, future generations will curse the industry for engaging in the most despicable act in human history — persuading just enough Americans, opinion makers, and politicians to delay or weaken efforts to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.
It bears repeating on this anniversary that Big Oil is manufacturing 'Energy Citizen' rallies to oppose clean energy reform and funding economic disinformation (see "Even fantasy-filled American Petroleum Institute study finds no significant impact of climate bill on US refining").
It bears repeating that the country's biggest oil company has funneled millions of dollars to fund the disinformation campaigns of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, all of which continue to advance unfactual anti-scientific attacks as I have detailed recently (see posts on Heritage and CEI and AEI). Chris Mooney wrote an excellent piece on ExxonMobil's two-decade anti-scientific campaign. A 2007 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report looked at ExxonMobil's tobacco industry-like tactics in pushing global warming denial (see "Today We Have a Planet That's Smoking!").
The oil giant said it would stop, but that was just another lie (see "Another ExxonMobil deceit: They are still funding climate science deniers despite public pledge").
Let me end with an excellent commentary from Tuesday by award-winning journalist, Eric Pooley, "Exxon Works Up New Recipe for Frying the Planet":
Come 2059, oil consumption will be far smaller than today and on a sharp downslope. The only question is whether we were smart enough to voluntarily abandon fossil fuels starting now, staving off the worst climate impacts or we stupidly listened to the Siren song of the big oil Delayers.
The industry is inexorably headed toward oblivion. Are we?
Posted: 26 Aug 2009 04:38 PM PDT
The pressure is building on those swing Senators, as E&E News PM (subs. req'd) makes clear in its reporting tonight. It is increasingly clear that a handful of senators — maybe 3 to 5 (see "Epic Battle 3: Who are the swing Senators?") — hold in their hand not just the fate of domestic climate action, but the fate of an international climate deal.
China is pushing hard to become the clean energy leader and is strongly considering major emissions commitments (see "Peaking Duck: Beijing's Growing Appetite for Climate Action"). Europe is obviously prepared to make a stronger climate commitment than the United States. We are the linchpin.
Interestingly, Carlgren makes clear that the Waxman-Markey bill contains elements that make up for its relatively weak 2020 target — so it will be crucial for the Senate to keep those pieces:
It's good to see some flexibility by the EU. The 10% in additional emissions reductions the climate bill gets from a massive investment in new national-accounting based efforts to stop deforestation are certainly one of the best features of Waxman-Markey.
And indeed the climate bill does in fact make steeper emissions reductions post-2020, hitting a 42% reduction in 2030 and then 83% in 2050. Again, these our crucial features of the bill that the Senate needs to retain.
If he's been flummoxed by the House debate, he is really going to be baffled by the Senate debate.
Are there 60 Senators who understand the stakes, understand that cap-and-trade lowers emissions at the lowest cost, understand that this is the most important vote of their career? Let's all keep working as hard as possible to make sure there are.
Posted: 26 Aug 2009 01:59 PM PDT
The United States has an historic opportunity to enhance its national security by reducing its dependence on oil. Policies to accomplish this goal, including more efficient fuel economy standards, investments in hybrid and electric vehicles, development of natural gas-fueled heavy duty vehicles, and production of advanced biofuels would also create jobs and reduce global warming pollution. This piece, by CAP's Christopher Beddor, Winny Chen, Rudy deLeon, Shiyong Park, and Daniel J. Weiss, was first posted here. It summarizes the findings of their 21-page report (pdf).
On June 26 the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACESA. The bill would cap greenhouse gas emissions, boost investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy such as wind and solar, and jumpstart the transition to a clean-energy economy. These new investments in clean-energy technologies would slash global warming pollution and reduce foreign oil use while creating jobs and increasing our economic competitiveness with China and other nations.
But in the lead up to the ACESA vote and in the weeks since House passage, conservative opponents of clean, domestic energy have wildly misrepresented the bill's content and cost, while resorting to scare tactics and half-truths in service of the status quo. On the contrary, America's reliance on imported fossil fuels instead of clean, domestic sources of energy has long been costly to our economy, our environment, and our national security— and will become even more so if we fail to act now.
America's dependence on foreign oil transfers U.S. dollars to a number of unfriendly regimes, while robbing the United States of the economic resources it desperately needs for domestic development and American innovation. American petrodollars fund regimes and economic investments that do not serve U.S. interests. And our enormous appetite for oil—America burns a full quarter of the world's oil—feeds the global demand that finances and sustains corrupt and undemocratic regimes around the globe. The perilous implications of this arrangement—increasing power and influence of oil exporters, many of whom comprise the world's worst regimes—will become more explicit if global demand increases as some current forecasts predict.
What's more, the United States will increasingly turn to exporting countries that have opposing interests as oil production in friendly nations becomes depleted or less viable. Ultimately, the United States will become more invested in the volatile Middle East, more dependent on corrupt and unsavory regimes, and more involved with politically unstable countries. In fact, it may be forced to choose between maintaining an effective foreign policy or a consistent energy supply as U.S. consumers face higher energy prices.
The good news is that the United States has an historic opportunity to enhance its national security by reducing its dependence on oil. Policies to accomplish this goal, including more efficient fuel economy standards, investments in hybrid and electric vehicles, development of natural gas-fueled heavy duty vehicles, and production of advanced biofuels would also create jobs and reduce global warming pollution. A transformation from oil to no- and low-carbon energy sources will catalyze innovation that creates new technologies that the United States can market to other nations, leading to long-term economic growth and prosperity as well as enhanced security.
This fall the Senate has a historic opportunity to reduce U.S. oil consumption as part of its debate on comprehensive clean-energy jobs and global warming pollution reduction legislation.
Download the full report (pdf)
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