Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jimmy Carter's Solar Panel Stays off White House Roof

It is probably just as well that Bill McKibben was unsuccessful a couple of days ago in his effort to have Barack Obama place on the White House roof one of the thermal solar panels that Carter had put on the roof when he was president only to have Ronald Reagan a few years later take them down. To many Americans the association of Jimmy Carter with energy policy brings to mind having to make personal sacrifices like turning down the heat in winter and wearing thick sweaters to keep warm. Americans won’t even pay higher taxes to support costly wars so forget about lowering the thermostat. Jimmy Carter had a profound grasp of our energy problems back in the 1970s and how we should overcome them. When Ronald Reagan came into office it is was like returning to the Stone Age when it came to environmental issues, which for many Americans still seems to be the best place to be. Reagan thought trees were a major source of pollution. Now we have global warming deniers. Just because time passes doesn’t mean intellectual thought has to progress. Apparently thousands upon thousands of scientific peer-reviewed papers showing that global warming is real and that it is largely caused by humans means nothing to minds frozen in time, obsessed with denying the scientific reality. Better to believe some talk show host who never took a physics or chemistry course but claims that the vast majority of climate scientists are dead wrong. Bill McKibben and others who correctly comprehend the danger posed by global warming certainly have their work cut out for them to get this country off the suicidal path that the deniers are keeping us on.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

No More Mr. Nice Guy for Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben, the environmental writer who wrote the first popular book on global warming over twenty years ago and who founded, has apparently come to the conclusion that being nice means losing the political battle over climate change against the super wealthy fossil fuel industry and that more aggressive tactics are needed to advance the climate movement. So he and leaders from two other environmental organizations have issued a letter which asks people to suggest ideas for mass climate action. The goal is to transform the climate movement so it more resembles the civil rights movement or women's suffrage movement of the past. Will asking people to put their bodies on the line work? Can they actually find enough people to do this? The first answers should start coming in next spring when it is expected that the initial mass direct actions will take place.

Monday, September 06, 2010

No Nancy Pelosi, it Isn’t about Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

It is Labor Day so the topic is jobs or at least promises of jobs. This brings to mind a very short but memorable speech by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi just before voting took place last year on the American Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman-Markey bill), the comprehensive climate bill passed by the House. The debate that took place before the vote was somewhat surreal with few House members referring to the changes in the physics, chemistry, and biology that are taking place on our planet due to greenhouse gas emissions. Because of these changes we are heading toward disaster. Many Democrats argued that it was a job-creating bill and many Republicans argued that it was a job-killing bill. Some House members said it was all about achieving energy independence. When Nancy Pelosi spoke at the end of the debate she said it was about one thing, creating jobs, jobs, jobs. Is that true?
A climate bill should create a large number of jobs in a number of industries such a solar, wind, and home insulation. But it should also wipe out a large a number of jobs in the coal industry and oil industry. In should cause a major disruption with winners and losers. There doesn’t seem to be any alternative.
Whether to adopt a strategy of frightening people about climate change or adopt a strategy that is aimed to what people really care about, having better lives now, has divided climate activists. The great conundrum is that neither strategy appears to have any chance of success. The general experience is that most people don’t want to listen to the scientific facts about climate change. These facts should create a sense of urgency but they just tune out messages about parts per million in the atmosphere, etc, not caring whether the target is 450 ppm or 350 ppm or staying below 2C or 3C or getting down to 1 or 2 tons of carbon per capita, etc. Most people will listen to messages about creating jobs or achieving energy independence but these goals do not convey the sense of urgency that is needed and are too limted, for example, many people do not need jobs and energy independence only addresses oil, saying nothing about coal, the most important source of greenhouse gases. So no strong political moment has been created to counter the filthy rich fossil fuel industry that has spent vast sums of money to protect their profits from climate legislation and as a result we drift onward toward catastrophic climate change.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Where Is Obama’s Climate Change Speech?

Many of us who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 expected him to give a major speech on global warming during the first year of his presidency. Well here we are toward the end of his second year in office and so far there has been no speech. Even with a comprehensive climate bill stalled in the Senate there was no speech. What gives Mr. President who promised change we can believe in? We are still mainly relying on greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels for most of our energy needs and an end to this madness is nowhere in sight.
Is a major speech on global warming really necessary? With domestic and international efforts to fight global warming going nowhere it would seem the only way to break the stalemate would be for the President of the United States to take a political risk and give a major speech on global warming followed by many other speeches the way he did to push through healthcare legislation. There doesn’t seem to be any other way to convince the public about the dangers of global warming and the need for urgent action. All other attempts to get out the message have been successfully countered by climate change deniers. For all the books, articles, talk shows, blogs, etc. on why urgent action is needed there are books, articles, talk shows and blogs by deniers claiming that global warming is a hoax or is based on bad science or some other nonsense.
The government has a website on climate change where the scientific facts are readily available. The days of George W. Bush trying to hide the scientific facts are behind us. But that really hasn’t changed anything. The fossil fuel industry still seems to call the shots. The House did pass a climate bill but it was woefully weak and at best could have been viewed as a first step forward, coming nowhere close to what the climate scientists say is needed. So far, the Senate has been unable to even get a climate bill to the floor for a vote and apparently it will not happen at all this year.
So as we watch the volume of ice in the Arctic get smaller each summer, and the melting of ice on Greenland accelerate, and record high temperatures outnumber record lows by a two to one margin, and global temperature trends upward, and the oceans acidify, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere steadily increase from one year to the next, and climate computer models spin out disastrous predictions which are almost hard to believe there is still no big speech by Obama, no major push to try to break the political stalemate that is preventing needed action to stop a threat that many say could ultimately result in the demise of modern civilization.