Why do environmental debates almost always turn into polarizing slugfests?
Well, such debates focus on problems identified as significant threats to the planet and human welfare. People fight over how big (or negligible) a certain threat is and what the solution should be. The fiercest battles are between people who have different values, which turns into a clash of worldviews. When this happens, ideology and politics trump science. Read More
As you undoubtedly heard, climate change was mentioned prominently by President Obama in his second inaugural speech. Greens are applauding the strong words but based on his record (or lack thereof) on the climate issue (some believe he is unfairly maligned), and his lofty (unfulfilled) 2008 promises, many are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Meanwhile, what to make of the President’s surprising elevation of climate change into the public discourse? Let’s game out a few of the possibilities. Fair warning: What follows is a mixed metaphor palooza. Read More
Everybody knows the global politics of climate change are leading nowhere. If the futile UN-sponsored talks illustrates one thing, it is that no country is willing to make economic sacrifices to reduce its carbon emissions. Roger Pielke Jr. calls this the iron law of climate policy. It’s proving ironclad.
That essentially leaves us with one option: Getting off fossil fuels altogether. Right now, such a prospect is not looking good. We seem to be flush with oil and gas these days–and the foreseeable future. That puts us on a collision course with climate disaster. So what do we do?
There are two camps that claim to have the answer. One of them believes that nuclear power is the only viable substitute for coal, which remains cheap, plentiful and the primary greenhouse gas responsible for cooking the planet. The other camp believes that renewable energy puts us on a true path to a sustainable planet. Which of these camps offers the best way to kick our carbon addiction?
That’s the subject of a new piece I have up at Slate.
To frack or not to frack seems like a good question to ask in the context of the climate debate. To ignore it or dismiss it out of hand won’t make it go away. And now that Michael Bloomberg and a leading environmental organization are teaming up to make fracking environmentally friendly, you can bet that the debate is about to take a few new turns.
Where it’s headed I couldn’t say, but I do ask this question in a new post at Discover: “Will Fracking Help or Hinder the Fight Against Climate Change?”
Here’s some straight talk on climate politics:
A facile explanation would focus on the ‘merchants of doubt’ who have managed to confuse the public about the reality of human-made climate change. The merchants play a role, to be sure, a sordid one, but they are not the main obstacle to solution of human-made climate change.
The bigger problem is that people who accept the reality of climate change are not proposing actions that would work. This is important, because as Mother Nature makes climate change more obvious, we need to be moving in directions within a framework that will minimize the impacts and provide young people a fighting chance of stabilizing the situation.
And from the same essay, some straight talk on energy:
Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.
This Easter Bunny fable is the basis of ‘policy’ thinking of many liberal politicians. Yet when such people are elected to the executive branch and must make real world decisions, they end up approving expanded off-shore drilling and allowing continued mountaintop removal, long-wall coal mining, hydro-fracking, etc. ““ maybe even a tar sands pipeline. Why the inconsistency?
Because they realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan. They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics. They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels.
Partisans in the climate concerned community are quick to badmouth or dismiss alternative policy prescriptions that–even if you disagree with these alternative options–are at least honest about the scale of the energy challenge and the geopolitical realities.
H/T: Andy Revkin
This is good that The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) is calling out the Heritage Foundation. Even better would be if TBI’s Post-Partisan Power collaborator, the American Enterprise Institute, pushed back, too. Or is this a fight that Steven Hayward would rather avoid?
I guess it depends on how strongly he feels about that part in the Post-Partisan Power report that
argues that the federal government should invest roughly $25 billion per year in military procurement, R&D, and a new network of university-private sector innovation hubs to create an energy revolution.
AEI can’t sit on the sidelines after endorsing a bipartisan report on energy and still expect people to take them at their word.
This is quite an interesting scoop (underplayed with a bland headline) that John Broder posted last night at the NYT Green blog. Here are the money quotes:
“I failed in one aspect of my job,” said General Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant. “I should have advocated much more persuasively for the creation of a senior director in the N.S.C. and a fully staffed directorate to deal with energy as a national security issue, which it is.”
He said that Carol Browner, who recently left as White House coordinator for energy and climate change policy, did not have the authority or staff she needed to compel action by the executive branch. And the president’s attention to the issue was episodic because of constant crises and other priorities, he added.
“As a result,” General Jones said, “it didn’t get the daily attention the president wanted. It was a structural problem that can and should be fixed. I made that recommendation to him when I left.”
This is painful to rehash, but I want to draw your attention to a streak of foreign policy ignorance that persisted in the 2000s. On a related (and more recent) note, four days after President Obama authorized a military campaign against Libya, I found this headline disconcerting:
Who are the Libyan Rebels? U.S. tries to figure out
This got me wondering if there is a similarly willful ignorance (irrespective of political affiliation) with respect to energy policy, along these lines.
First, due to changing environmental conditions (sea level rise, subsidence, changing storm activity, etc.), historical records may no longer be reliable predictors for future risks.
For example, the summer of 2003 was unusually hot. Many of the French nuclear power stations are cooled by river water. But, in 2003, the rivers were so warm, they couldn’t be used to cool as normal. That caused the powering down or shutting off of 17 French nuclear reactors. It cost the French utilities hundreds of millions of dollars to buy power from neighboring countries.
This ‘anomaly’ happened again in the summers of 2006 and 2009, again causing powering downs at French nuclear facilities. According to the Hadley Center, by 2040, it will be ‘commonplace‘ for European summer temperatures to reach 2003 levels.
This new environmental change variable is often left out of risk assessments for all manner of new infrastructure builds. Dams in India are seeing reduced generation capacity as a result of shifting monsoons. Sections of oil and gas infrastructure along the U.S. Gulf Coast are suffering repeated shutdowns due to flooding, hurricanes and subsidence. Homes in the US and UK are already being built on actual floodplains, let alone areas that are likely to become floodplains.
What I find notable (and refreshing) about Paskal’s approach is that she frames energy and climate issues as part of the larger phenomenon of “environmental change.” I know that’s a bland rubric but in my opinion it’s a more accurate characterization of the multiple, intertwined stresses on the planet today.