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Climate Hustle

President Obama gets serious on climate change

Posted on 3 June 2014 by John Abraham

President Obama just announced a major effort to reduce global-warming gases from United States power plants. These new rules, and his prior strong actions on climate change, signify a major shift for the United States. No longer is the U.S. the world laggard on dealing with climate change - we are quickly becoming the leader.

We finally have a president that understands science. We finally have a president that honestly includes scientists as decision makers – rather than effectively muzzle them. We finally have a president that recognizes the social and economic costs of climate change. We finally have a president who is charting a pathway that may lead us to bend the curve of emissions downward so that the most serious climate change consequences are avoided.

Most importantly, we finally have a president who is a world leader.

The new rules are expected to result in a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants – among the worst carbon pollution sources in the U.S. and around the world. These standards are probably the most important issued by the Administration to meet their goals of reducing greenhouse gases emissions by 2020.

To put this action in perspective, it must be considered as a latest step in U.S. actions. Under Obama, the United States has already issue new rules for increasing fuel efficiency for vehicles – rules that simultaneously save money while slowing global warming. His administration has also worked with international partners (such as China) to target emissions of specific greenhouse gas other than carbon dioxide. The president's administration has also developed new rules for future coal plants. So, the latest action comes in a long line of significant progress.

What makes this new step important is the applicability to already-built power plants. While details of the plan are still emerging, it appears that the rules will be based on the National Resources Defense Council recommendations. Currently, some U.S. states are already taking climate change seriously. For instance, some have adopted renewable energy standards. But, these actions are not replicated across the entire country. With these new rules, and by authority granted to the EPA by the Supreme Court, each state would, in effect, be audited. Many states that are currently leading on this issue will likely continue their current trajectory. Other states that have delayed and denied on climate change will be forced to be more aggressive.

All of this makes sense. In order to solve this problem, we need all parties to work together. We cannot stop climate change by just asking a few thoughtful states to bear the burden for the irresponsible states. This also makes sense because for too long, the delay and deny camps have argued that it is too expensive to deal with climate change. We now know that it is too expensive to do nothing. Using our energy more wisely and reducing pollution will save us money, create the new energy economy of the future, and preserve our world. It will also limit the incredibly high costs we could face in the future from extreme weather. Taking these actions just makes economic and ethical sense.

Already the usual suspects are opposing Obama. Some of them are trying to say that these rules by themselves are not going to stop climate change. Of course this is misleading. I could find 100 polluters, each who contributes 1% of the problem who would say, “my contribution is small, it just doesn’t matter”.

One reason why this is important is it helps set the U.S. as the world leader. Now, we can engage in international discussions on climate change from a position of authority and leadership. We are already taking actions so we can ask others to come along.

Dr. Joe Romm, who was formerly acting Assistant Secretary of Energy during the Clinton administration, agreed. He told me,

“These rules, modest though they are, establish President Obama as the first president to take serious action on climate change. They affirm his commitment to achieve the 17% economy-wide reduction he committed to in 2009 before the Copenhagen climate treaty. And they put pressure on every other major country to make equally serious commitments in the lead up to be 2015 Paris conference, which will be so crucial in determining whether the nations of the world act together to preserve a livable climate or will continue on this wantonly self-destructive path.”

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Comments

Comments 1 to 17:

  1. This is surely not a complete coincidence? Obama and Xi must have been having some contacts on the matter.

    Absolute cap to come into effect, climate adviser says on the day after US announces ambitious carbon plan

    China to limit carbon emissions for first time

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  2. The President's policies, while an improvement, are in the category of too little to late. And likely a smokescreen for approving Keystone XL - all the while lulling the sheeple into a false sense of complacency. 

    I realize that appears a tad cynical. I submit it is also accurate. 

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  3. "We finally have a president that understands science."

    Well, yes.  My votes for Obama have been decisions on the margin, like all my votes have become over the years.  He's done some things I really don't like, but  since the only 2012 GOP presidential primary candidate to explicitly support both the teach of Evolution in public schools and the scientific consensus on AGW dropped out of the race early, and several of the rest actually renounced their previous support for the consensus, my choice for Obama was clear.

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  4. Why didn't he do this the day he entered office in 2008?

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  5. oops 2009

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  6. I can see from the howls of protest from the coal industry and coal states that:

    1) Coal becoming only 30% (down from 40%) of the USA electrical power by 2030 - is too little too late. A target the USA is unlikely to meet with the measly greedy politicians we have in charge.

    2) If US clean coal technology truly exists - it should be given to China and other coal burners - and we should help implement it. A $5 tax on oil to invest in this and other clean energy - such as fusion.

    3) We should keep the Carbon in the ground - coal is the dirtiest and most expensive to clean up. The 2030 goal should be less than 5% electricity from coal

    4) We already subsidizes the farming industry not to grow crops...

    why not the coal industry not to mine it???

    A tax on Natural Gas (much cleaner) used to generate electricity  could be levied and given to the coal industry to keep their coal in the ground. The monies for not mining should be spent on re-educating the work-force, maintaining their pensions, providing transitional payments, and ensuring that they get excellent health benefits - not to enrich the greedy. If the miners are not mining, the coal will stay where it belongs in the ground - NOT in the air. 

    5) President Obama - you need imagination, planning and foresight to help save the planet. Lets see some. Howabout "FUSION" our own earth bound sun feeding electricity into a revamped National Grid by 2030...there's a goal!!

    Geoffrey Brooks

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  7. "Howabout "FUSION" our own earth bound sun feeding electricity into a revamped National Grid by 2030...there's a goal!!"

    If past history is any indication, in 2030 fusion will still be 50 years in the future, just as it is today.

    Money is being spent on fusion research.  Progress is still unimpressive.  Perhaps the nut will crack someday, perhaps it will always be a dream.

    But criticizing Obama for not banking on fusion is rather silly.

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  8. "Why didn't he do this the day he entered office in 2008?"

    Because the Supreme Court ruling affirming the right of the EPA to regulate cross-state emissions was announced on April 29, 2014, perhaps?  Remember that an appeals court had struck down that right a couple of years earlier.

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  9. actually thoughtful wrote: "The President's policies, while an improvement, are in the category of too little to late. And likely a smokescreen for approving Keystone XL - all the while lulling the sheeple into a false sense of complacency."

    Actually, given how long he has 'delayed deciding' on Keystone XL it seems very likely to me that Obama will wait until after the congressional elections this November and then kill the proposal. If he were going to approve it he should have done so by now. Delaying allows Democrats in fossil fuel states to boost their chances of election by campaigning in favor of it. Then, once the midterms are over, Obama can kill it without impacting the balance of congressional power for the remainder of his presidency.

    As to, "too little to late"... I'd say rather that Obama is enacting regulations which would force a rapid phase out of coal... if that weren't already happening without them. Natural gas, wind, and solar have been shredding the coal power industry in the Unitied States. That said, these new regulations should speed up the process. Thus far, coal plants have mostly been running to 'end of life' and then shutting down in favor of other sorts of power generation. These new regulations will force many existing coal plants to shut down before reaching their end of life.

    The regulations don't go far enough to completely resolve U.S. emissions problems, but again... I don't think they need to. 'Market forces' are already taking care of that. The initial fall of coal was due to natural gas, but in the past few years natural gas power development has dwindled and solar has soared... last quarter new electricity generation in the U.S. was 74% solar, 20% wind, 4% natural gas, 1% geothermal, and 1% everything else. That's 95% renewable. Obviously it will take time to replace all the existing fossil fuel based power generation, but when nearly all new electricity production developed is renewable the changeover is inevitable.

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  10. "Most importantly, we finally have a president who is a world leader."


    We - the non-American part of the world - have a leader. You are very kind to let us know.

    Some of us could think that even if this plan was actually successful, Americans and their leader would continue to be the most climate-destroying persons on Earth, with something like 15 to 20 t of CO2 per person per year. The US and its leader would continue to set a bad example in all matters related to the climate of the Earth through their ever-increasing obsession for raw materials and energy overconsumption, which cannot but lead to more droughts and more flooding.

    It takes quite a bit of extreme nationalism to manage to not see these facts. Orwell would either laugh or cry.

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  11. Pierre, people without the massive anti-American chip on their shoulder might take "world leader" to mean 'leader capable of acting on the world stage' rather than 'leader of the world'. Just sayin'.

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  12. "Pierre, people without the massive anti-American chip on their shoulder might take "world leader" to mean 'leader capable of acting on the world stage' rather than 'leader of the world'."

    To be compared with (in the end of the text) :

    "One reason why this is important is it helps set the U.S. as the world leader."

    To point out that the American system is based on overconsumption of raw materials and energy is not exactly controversial to any rational observer. To find that a person who points this out has a "massive anti-American chip" logically confirms the first point.

    When it comes to reducing GHG pollution, the ones most responsible cannot be credible, by definition. One way of changing that is to think a little bit about this overconsumption mania - maybe reduce it ??? - before trying to come up with fixes to fuel it.

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  13. The simple fact of that matter is that reducing the (rate of) emissions will only slow down the speed of increase in the concentration level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (currently 4 ppm/year). So this action by the US will only slighty mitigate the future impact of climate change. The latest IPCC report had a section dealing with adaption to the impact. Ironically, New York authorities show more understanding of the reality. They are carrying out measures to protect the city from sea level rise.

    At least the US President is proposing some useful mitigation measures. Our Australian Prime Minister says climate change is bunkum nad has cancelled mitigation measures instigated by the previous goverment.

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  14. Pierre, maybe you could just set aside the bigoted attitude and discuss the facts?

    The sentence you cite from the end of the text disproves your point. It is clearly not saying that the U.S. (or its president) controls the world, but rather that the U.S. is taking a leading position in reducing GHG emissions. Yes, this is new and long overdue... the article explicitly says that too (i.e. "No longer is the U.S. the world laggard").

    Similarly, your claim that Americans would 'continue' emitting up to 20 t of CO2 per person per year even after these reductions is ridiculous given that U.S. emissions are lower than that now. U.S. per capita emissions peaked at 20 t for a single year back in 2000 and have fallen significantly since then. Contrary to your statements about Americans being "the most climate-destroying persons on Earth", there are actually several countries with higher emissions per capita... and countries with higher total emissions... and countries still increasing their emissions while the U.S. is decreasing its.

    Finally, your stated belief that even after this, "The US and its leader would continue to set a bad example in all matters related to the climate of the Earth" aptly demonstrates the absence of reason in your position. The U.S. just set a good example... banning power plants with high emissions. It is impossible to "continue" setting a bad example after doing the opposite. The country could theoretically roll back this change and resume setting a bad example, but you said it was setting a bad example, "even if this plan was actually successful"... and that's just nonsense.

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  15. "Similarly, your claim that Americans would 'continue' emitting up to 20 t of CO2 per person per year even after these reductions is ridiculous given that U.S. emissions are lower than that now. U.S. per capita emissions peaked at 20 t for a single year back in 2000 and have fallen significantly since then."

     

    CBDunkerson, that's an interesting stat: Could you please provide a link for that? I'd appreciate it, and being able to add it to my anti-dismissive "quiver."

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  16. Hi vrooomie.

    Yes, that's from the United Nations development goals site.

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  17. Why y'all got to give Pierre a hard time.  He's one of us!  Obama's not a real asset anyway.  Bill McKibben points out his pandering to the oil companies in Bill's book "Oil & Honey".  Obama's waiting until December 2016 to approve XL, after he know his successor, but before his successort (if a Democrat) has to take the blame for approving XL.  Obama's like Bush, neither of them can walk the walk, but both can talk the talk.

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