In a major speech on climate change at Georgetown University Barack Obama showed us the risks that lie in our future. While hailed as long overdue and somewhat underwhelming but positive, it outlined steps he is taking to reduce climate change. Some people were enthusiastically supportive. Al Gore was quoted in his blog as saying the Obama speech was “historic” and “the best address on climate by any president ever.”
His speech should give us pause however to see the political challenge that lies ahead. He laid out steps he could directly order with his administrative powers.
Among the good things he said was that he would order the following:
- the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and implement new pollution standards for new and existing U.S. power plants
- the Interior Department by 2020 to use public lands and funds to install new green energy power sources that equal the power use of more than 6 million homes
- the Department of Defense to install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on its bases
- and that a budget be sent to Congress that contains funds to help with community projects and insure that they protect citizens from the negative effects of climate change
These are not the only steps the president has taken on climate change. Without fanfare he logged positive accomplishments in his first term. See our past post of 11/1/12 “Obama Stealth Objective: Reduce Greenhouse Gases.”
Among the bad things referred to in his speech were the positions taken by the climate deniers. He argued, citing the scientific evidence and consensus that climate change is real, that human beings are contributing or causing our climate to deteriorate. Further he said, “I don’t have much patience for anyone that denies this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”
Unfortunately the ugly reality underlying the entire speech is that he does not expect the Republican controlled House of Representatives to allow any legislation to pass that would alter the present course we are on. In fact, he acknowledged the significant pressure on him to allow the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. This pipeline would provide a path for Canadian oil developers to get oil extracted from Canadian tar sands to market.
An article in the July issue of Scientific American entitled “Oil Sands May Irrevocably Tar the Climate” gives an excellent description of the entire project. These Canadian tar sands encompass an area that is about the size of the State of Florida. Tar sand processing has created vast lakes of toxic water residues, with its bright yellow sulfur, that are so large they can be seen from space.
The article describes the open pit mining of the tar sands, the numerous Caterpillar 797Fs each carrying 400 metric tons of tar sands to conveyors to separation cells. It explains multiple processes in use to show how it is cooked at high heat to remove carbon and create a hydrocarbon stew or mixed with lighter hydrocarbons to produce diluted bitumen. Both processes make the tar sand oil liquid enough to flow in the long distance Keystone XL pipeline.
The environmental damage is not the critical issue however. Physicist Myles Allen with six of his associates calculated in 2009 a “carbon budget” we must stay within in order to keep the worldwide climate change average temperature rise to just two degrees. This budget sets a one-trillion-metric-ton limit on the amount of carbon human beings can burn by the year 2050. Since CO2 lasts for centuries in the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter what (coal, oil or natural gas) we burn, where we burn it or when it is burned as long as it is before 2050 to affect the budget.
These facts have prompted James Hansen, a retired NASA climatologist, to be arrested multiple times at protest rallies opposing the building of the pipeline. In an April 2013 op-ed he wrote in the Los Angeles Times he said, “Researchers now say that the Alberta tar sands contain 360 to 510 billion tons of carbon – more than double that of all oil burned in human history. While only a fraction is considered economically recoverable right now, we humans are genius at finding new and better ways to dig junk out of the ground.”
Further his op-ed stated that “mainstream financial analysis and industry documents….show the Keystone XL is the linchpin for tar sands expansion in the next decade.” He sums up by saying “The science on climate change has been in for a quarter of a century. There are no more mixed messages, just catastrophe after catastrophe. The president stands at a fork in the road: Rejecting the pipeline will show the world we are serious and determined to be on the right side of history. Approving it will signal we are too entrenched with business-as-usual to do what’s right by the people, planet and future generations.”
Hansen argues it is time to draw a firm line in the sand beyond which we will not go. We are fighting the avarice of capitalists we have encouraged. They admit in private that climate change is real. Their only hope however is that they can convince us to do nothing long enough for them to profit. It is time to tell the buggy whip manufactures of our energy industry that their time has passed and they are being left behind by today’s better technologies, their own past plundering of our planet and our present need to insure a positive future for our children.
Use the following links to obtain more information on these subjects:
For a complete transcript of the President’s speech go to http://ens-newswire.com/2013/06/25/president-obamas-climate-change-speech-full-text/