I Read the Climate Change Speech 1

I finally sat down and got to read the full text of President Obama’s climate change speech. Poor speech; it would have been a much bigger deal if the news cycle hadn’t just crapped all over it, what with Supreme Court rulings and most of the legislature in Texas acting like douchebags.

Quotes are from the transcript here.

So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science — of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements — has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.

I’m glad that he made the point that some opponents have since changed their minds. 97% is as close as it gets to unanimous in science, it really is.

By the way, this? Probably my favorite line:

Nobody has a monopoly on what is a very hard problem, but I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.

I have no idea if he realized that the Flat Earth Society is a real thing when he mentioned them. (I’m of the opinion that they’re really just trolling the rest of us. Or at least I hope?) But it turns out that while the Flat Earth Society has no official position on the matter, their President actually does agree with Obama that climate change is real. And then suggested that Obama should take a poke at the American Enterprise Institute instead. Oof. Hey, AEI: When the guys who might be trolls only we’re never quite sure but they claim the Earth is flat are publicly dissing your understanding of modern science with good cause, it might be time to take a step back and reassess.

But anyway, it feels really good to see the President call out deniers as such.

Really, I think he spent more time calling out bullshit in this speech than I’ve ever seen him do before. Because there was this too:

Now, what you’ll hear from the special interests and their allies in Congress is that this will kill jobs and crush the economy, and basically end American free enterprise as we know it. And the reason I know you’ll hear those things is because that’s what they said every time America sets clear rules and better standards for our air and our water and our children’s health. And every time, they’ve been wrong.

Considering every response I’ve heard from the GOP to everything Obama has done has involved the phrase “job killing” in some way, I think this is a fair swipe too. Because here we go:

“Our argument with the president right now is that he is picking winners and losers, he is harming innovation, and it is going to be a direct assault on jobs,” McCarthy told reporters.


On to the actual policy stuff.

So today, for the sake of our children, and the health and safety of all Americans, I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.

Optimistic about this. Of course, the question will be just where those limits end up. But the fact that there will be limits to begin with is a huge step. If it gets done. If the limits are in any way meaningful.

The net effects of the [Keystone XL] pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

There’s been a lot of tea leaf reading on this comment already. I found his entire mention of the KXL to be incredibly non-committal when you come down to it. There’s still no concrete decision in here, at all. So you can optimistically say that he’ll realize what an environmental disaster this could be and follow through with a denial, or you can pessimistically see that he’ll probably pick the sunny side evidence–focusing on carbon emissions since that’s what he specifically mentioned–and go ahead with it. I’m honestly on the pessimist side myself. If he was going to deny the construction of the pipeline, this speech, this much-advertised, massive climate policy speech, was the place to do it. That he didn’t take that chance to really draw some lines doesn’t fill me with confidence.

But please, I would like to be surprised.

I do support the initial push to go from coal to natural gas; natural gas isn’t clean energy in the sense of zero emissions, but it’s got a smaller footprint than coal. And I do agree with the president that this is a transitional thing. If we have to be burning something while we’re trying to ramp up our renewables, better to go where there are fewer emissions.

This is the stuff I’m much more excited about:

Today, I’m directing the Interior Department to green light enough private, renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than 6 million homes by 2020.

The Department of Defense — the biggest energy consumer in America — will install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on its bases, generating about the same amount of electricity each year as you’d get from burning 3 million tons of coal.

Though hopefully on the public lands, they’ll be keeping a weather eye on environmental impacts. But I’m pretty pumped about the DoD being directed to go onto renewable power. It’s something very concrete in the President’s purview that will have an effect. And it goes right in hand with him directing the government to get more of its electricity from renewables as well.

…my budget once again calls for Congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies, and invest in the clean-energy companies that will fuel our future.

This gets the “you tried” gold star. Because we all know that Congress is absolutely worthless and this will never happen. Then again, it’s not like he can do anything about it himself, so he can just go on the record saying it yet again. It’s the thought that counts. I’m glossing over pretty much all of his other budget recommendations for that reason. I’m glad he’s recommending these things (like funding for projects that help states deal with climate change that’s already happening or will happen) but I have little faith in Congress actually doing anything.

The fuel standards we set over the past few years mean that by the middle of the next decade, the cars and trucks we buy will go twice as far on a gallon of gas. That means you’ll have to fill up half as often; we’ll all reduce carbon pollution.

I’m incredibly glad he made the point that people will be using less gas–and thus filling their tanks less often. There have been endless complaints about the continued rise in gas prices (cue everyone in Europe laughing bitterly at us) and I’d like to think that emphasizing how this is ultimately a concrete way for individuals to save money will get people to realize this emissions stuff is important.

Just throw in another cash for clunkers program so people can actually get their hands on these new, more fuel efficient cars, and that would be golden.

. And we’ll also open our climate data and NASA climate imagery to the public, to make sure that cities and states assess risk under different climate scenarios, so that we don’t waste money building structures that don’t withstand the next storm.

I love you, Mr. President. At least for this moment, until someone reminds me about the NSA again.

Developing countries are using more and more energy, and tens of millions of people entering a global middle class naturally want to buy cars and air-conditioners of their own, just like us. Can’t blame them for that. And when you have conversations with poor countries, they’ll say, well, you went through these stages of development — why can’t we?

Another point I’m glad he mentioned. He does go on to say later that he’s got some policies for trying to direct developing nations toward developing with cleaner energy sources. But this highlights why, even when the US is no longer the biggest producer of carbon emmissions in the world, we still need to lead on reducing. We’re in a much better position than developing nations to work on this. And if there’s a certain inevitability to the developing world kicking up carbon emmissions, we still don’t need to compound the problem.

Today, I’m calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas — unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity. And I urge other countries to join this effort.

And I’m directing my administration to launch negotiations toward global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology, to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy.

I don’t really know enough about trade policy to guess how the second point would effect anything beyond, well yeah, that sounds good. And the first point sounds promising as well, though I’m left wondering–what about the coal itself? Apparently we ship a lot of coal overseas. What about that?

So I’m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what’s at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts.

A little bit in love again. Though you know what would help this effort? Having a readily available resource (say pamphlets) that lay out all the information in laymen’s terms. Like the Skeptical Science phone app. I wonder if the President has a strategy for that, or has thought about it? Because it’s all well and good telling people to educate each other, but it’s a complex issue and deniers tend to gallop out their bullshit questions in herds. I can’t believe I’m the only one that’s thought about this, but maybe I will attempt an e-mail on this matter.

So generally, this speech has left me optimistic, and it’s worth a read. It actually fills me with a lot of joy to see the President coming down hard on the reality that climate change is happening, and that people who deny it are wrong. The policy itself? There’s some good stuff there, more details necessary as always, but you’re not going to get that in the speech.

I think the next most important point is this, though–it’s a public acknowledgment that Congress is basically worthless at this point. He’s included points about his proposed budget, but then again, he has to propose a budget. But other than that, he’s not really calling on Congress to do anything, because he knows that they won’t. It’s good to see the President trying to do as much as he can within the powers of the Executive Branch. But it’s a sad reminder that the Legislative Branch has, hopefully just temporarily, rendered itself completely dysfunctional and futile.

One comment on “I Read the Climate Change Speech

  1. Reply Janiece Jun 27,2013 14:53

    Wait….what? There really is such a thing as The Flat Earth Society?

    Um, okay. I’m a bit speechless, actually.

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