The day after the November 6 election I wrote about Obama’s electoral victory over Romney, which I was glad for. My column was about the need for the climate movement to “make it impossible for the Obama administration not to speak up and take action on the rapidly deepening and most important issue human civilization has ever faced. The world is crying out, almost literally, for smart, determined and visionary leadership on the climate crisis.”
When I heard a few weeks later that Obama had directed White House staff to come up with proposals for what he should be doing in his second term on climate, I was encouraged. When he finally spoke substantively about climate in his Inaugural speech, I allowed myself to hope that things could well be different in his second four years. When, a few weeks later, he made climate one of the main issues of his State of the Union message, I was glad to hear it, though there was little specificity.
Two days ago Obama gave what the White House billed as a “major speech” on climate and energy in Chicago at the Argonne National Laboratory. In connection with that speech a document, “President Obama’s Blueprint for a Clean and Secure Energy Future,” was released publicly.
Unfortunately, the one, new, specific proposal from Obama in his speech was for the creation of an Energy Security Trust. $2 billion would be spent over a 10 year period–$200 million a year—for “research into a range of cost effective technologies—like advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, fuels cells and domestically produced natural gas.” That was it; nothing else, a lousy $200 million a year. And there are very real questions about biofuels and, more significantly, amply-documented, serious environmental and climate problems when it comes to natural gas, particularly because most of it will be produced by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
This proposal in Chicago was consistent with the content of the “Blueprint” document. There are positive things in it for sure, though the general approach is for incremental shifting to a more energy efficient and renewables-based economy. As would be expected with an all-of-the-above approach, there is no serious prioritization of wind, solar, geothermal and other renewables.
The “Blueprint” reiterates Obama’s commitment to the originally-Republican approach of “all-of-the-above” as far as where the US is going to get its energy. It is self-congratulatory for all of the “responsible oil and gas production” that has “increased each year” under Obama. It projects US support for nuclear power exports. It calls for “doubling” renewable electricity generation over the next eight years which, given the fact that it doubled between 2009 and 2013, would mean an actual slowing down of the rate of renewables growth over the rest of the decade.
Given the acceleration and deepening of climate disruption, as seen by the growth of extreme weather events worldwide, a record-smashing reduction of Arctic sea ice in 2012 and an apparent acceleration in the rate of annual growth of carbon in the atmosphere, these approaches don’t come close to reflecting the urgency of our situation.
But what is most troubling about “Blueprint” is that it continues the Obama administration’s “all-in” approach to fracking and natural gas. This includes a plan for a “streamlined system for oil and gas permits” for new drilling. Once again, as Obama has done in the past, it describes gas as a “nearly 100-year resource,” which is inaccurate, essentially gas industry pr. It projects a measly $40 million for “research to ensure safe and responsible natural gas production” (please!!!).
Presented as a major bulleted item in bold letters, it “commits to partnering with the private sector to adopt natural gas and other alternative fuels in the Nation’s trucking fleet. . . The President is committed to accelerating the growth of this domestically abundant fuel and other alternative fuels in the transportation sector.” And finally, it projects that, internationally, the U.S. will help other countries develop their oil and gas and “work to help countries with unconventional natural gas resources [shale gas] to identify and develop them safely.”
It is beyond ironic that the Obama administration put forward this very problematic approach at the same time that the United States and the world are seeing a dramatic increase in wind and solar energy production. The day before Obama’s speech, the Solar Energy Industries Association released a Solar Market Insight Report for 2012, which reported that US photovoltaic solar installations—rooftop solar—grew 76% in 2012 to reach 3,313 Megawatts. It reported further that “the U.S. accounted for 11% of all global PV installations in 2012, its highest market share in at least fifteen years.”
A recent article at Grist.org quoted from a Bloomberg report on projected solar growth worldwide in 2013: “New solar generating capacity expected to be installed around the world in 2013 will be capable of producing almost as much electricity as eight nuclear reactors, according to Bloomberg, which interviewed seven analysts and averaged their forecasts. That would be a rise of 14 percent over last year for a total of 34.1 gigawatts of new solar capacity, thanks in large part to rising demand in China, the U.S., and Japan.”
And check this out: for 2012, as far as new electrical generating capacity coming on line in the US, just about half, 49% of it, was from renewables, primarily wind. This has never happened before. In January of 2013, all new electrical power capacity, 100% of it, came from renewables, again primarily wind. (from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s “Energy Infrastructure Update.”)
These hopeful developments make Obama’s “major speech” on climate look downright timid and weak, at best.
It is clear that the climate movement must rise up, refuse to be chumped, as Van Jones advised us on Feb. 17 in DC. And we are doing so. Over 52,000 people, so far, have “pledged, if necessary, to join others in my community, and engage in acts of dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could result in my arrest in order to send the message to President Obama and his administration that they must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.” Actions around the country, including at the White House on Thursday, are taking place this week as part of a Tar Sands Blockade week of action. And we’re just getting rolling. “We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.”
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