26 January 2011

Change Comes Fast

Last night President Obama outlined a far more oblique strategy related to climate that one might have countenanced as recently even just months ago, proving that politicians are far more adept at pivoting when reality intercedes than are advocates and pundits.

Here are a few observers having a hard time with the new political reality:

Joe Romm:
The President could not bring himself to utter the words “climate change” or “global warming.”  These omissions were depressingly predictable
Andy Revkin:
It’s one thing to cave to a wave of naysaying climate rhetoric and build a new American energy conversation on points of agreement rather than clear ideological flash points like global warming.

It’s another to duck and cover entirely on climate, as President Obama did in his State of the Union message.
Bryan Walsh:
[T]here's no avoiding the fact that a candidate who spoke of climate change as an existential threat on the 2008 campaign trail—and whose diplomats were still promising to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 as recently as last month in Cancun—didn't mention the term "climate change," nor "global warming," nor "carbon."
David Roberts:
Obama said ... nothing about climate change. It didn't come up.

This is a failure on Obama's part. A moral failure, a failure of leadership, but also, I would argue, a political failure.
Buck up guys. Sometimes you have to take an indirect path to where you want to go -- here is a blurb from John Kay's neat little book, Obliquity:
If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in another. This is the concept of ‘obliquity’: paradoxical as it sounds, many goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. Whether overcoming geographical obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting sales targets, history shows that oblique approaches are the most successful, especially in difficult terrain.

Obliquity is necessary because we live in an world of uncertainty and complexity; the problems we encounter aren’t always clear – and we often can’t pinpoint what our goals are anyway; circumstances change; people change – and are infuriatingly hard to predict; and direct approaches are often arrogant and unimaginative.
I am amazed to see views that have been espoused by The Breakthrough Institute, in The Hartwell Paper and The Climate Fix go from being outside the mainstream perspective on climate policy to being highly consistent with the approach now being advocated by the US President.  This is good news for climate policy and politics, even if it is hard for some to accept.


  1. Roger, you say "Buck up guys. Sometimes you have to take an indirect path to where you want to go". I don't follow you as closely as I might, but this is the first I interpret you coming out as a bona fide warmist.

  2. -1-Robert

    Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure what it means to be a "bona fide warmist" but given the other lists I'm on, why not? ;-)

    But seriously, there is no need to read tea leaves, my views are fully explained in my recent book. Have a look if you are curious, and feel free to ask questions. Thanks!

  3. As I understand it, energy policy equals climate policy in a world that obtains 80 % of its energy from fossil fuels.

    Fraudulent carbon trading, failed climate conferences, news about flatulent cows and all kinds of catastrophies linked with AGW have not exactly made it more palatable for mainstream audiences. Obama made a shrewd appraisal of the situation.

    France cut its dependency on oil and its emissions using only energy policy arguments, way before AGW became a household word.

    Has any other country done the same, using AGW as their inspiration?

  4. Well said Roger!

    Did you send an autographed copy of The Climate Fix to Joe Romm?

    The trouble has been not enough engineers involved. Engineers have to make the bloody thing work. Wind farms are a scam and solar panels on roof tops don't make the grade.

  5. In strategy the longest way round is often the shortest way there; a direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, whereas an indirect approach loosens the defender's hold by upsetting his balance.
    B.H. Liddell Hart

  6. The problem is still that the government response to the climate clap trap is to destroy that which works to subsidize that which does not.
    Obama does not understand the linkage between oil and natural gas, for starters.
    He still confuses oil with generating electricity.
    He still thinks windmills and solar can produce meaningful amounts of energy.
    And he still stands weak on nuclear power.
    Face it: the problem is that climate science has made wild claims about catastrophes justifying uneconomic policies that do not work.
    And, as you point out here regularly, the predictive power of climate science to actually help anyone do anything is nil.
    Yet most of the climate science community, instead of rethinking the problem, is retrenching and using phonied up revisions of the null hypothesis to maintain political power and social status.
    I hope that what Obama's about face on carrying water for the climate hype community is that he is seriously rethinking what he was sold by his extremist advisers.

  7. -4-David

    Funny you should ask;-) I'm just now involved in an email exchange with Joe about him reviewing my book ... after he gets through his cussing and insults (no joke) I suspect he'll find a reason to avoid it!

  8. Roger, I'm not so sure that Obama is espousing much from your book of the Hartwell Paper. He said, "...join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources." That's just not feasible. And Secretary Chu's statement that the administration's energy policy "means creating jobs and building wealth" is absurd. It's one thing to recognize the need to decarbonize, but to claim that higher energy prices will create jobs and wealth? That's not in your book. These people haven't gotten serious yet.

  9. -8-Jim Ogden

    Yes, I doubt that The Climate Fix has been much read in the White House ;-) Nonetheless, I'm not adverse to seeing a glass as half full -- it sure beats it being empty!

  10. One only needs to look at 'growth in generating' capacity in order to 'read the tea leaves'.

    Everything except wind and natural gas is stuck at 1990 numbers.

    Not available in that chart but the peak year for building coal fired plants in the US was 1975. In 2035 those plants will be 60 years old.

    They are going to need to be replaced with something.

    We can all argue about climate change or we can focus on replacing those coal fired plants as they retire with something cleaner.

  11. 1. If I haven't crushed my enemies, seem them driven before me, and listened to the lamentation of their women, if I have merely gotten what I wanted, how can I call that a win?

    2. In the 70s, some of us wanted to get to clean energy because it was important for national security, and important for the environment we lived in and would leave to our kids.

  12. But he did say "Clean Coal" which in simplified English translates to "I have thrown Global Warming under my bus and if Joe Romm doesn't like it he can go suck a lemon".

  13. President Obama's goal (80% of electricity from "clean energy") is met readily if only the last twenty-year trend continues for the next twenty years. Harrywr2's table (http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/pdf/pages/sec8_44.pdf) shows:

    1989: 46% of electrical generation came from "clean" sources (e.g., natural gas, hydro, nuclear, biomass, wind, solar) and 54% from "dirty" coal and petroleum.

    2009: 63% of electricity came from "clean" sources.

    Add the 20-year increase (17%) to 63% and what do you get? Obama's 80% goal.

  14. P.S. Of course, what you don't get is fewer carbon dioxide emissions. CO2 emissions go up substantially; a result of the 40% increase in total electricity generated implied by continuing the 20-year trends.

  15. It is the obsession on CO2 that is making all of this so difficult.

  16. To Andy Stahl

    You're only considering electricity. And that assumes that we can continue to grow our use of natural gas at the same rate (300% over 20 years). The EIA (http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/pdf/pages/sec8_44.pdf) predicts about a 25% increase from 2009 to 2035.

    What about transportation fuel? I don't see a reasonable substitute for over-the-road trucks or trains in the next few decades. And it will still be a long time before we put a major dent in gasoline usage. Hybrids are still too expensive and all-electric vehicles too impractical. Furthermore, switching to electric vehicles would demand ever more electricity which can't all come from natural gas and nuclear power.

    Overall, assuming that biomass is considered clean (which is debatable), the EIA predicts about 58.5% will be clean in the year 2035. That takes into account the growth from shale gas resources. By the way, without biomass, the figure is about 49% clean. Moving up from 58% to 80% would be very expensive, if even possible in the absence of an earth shattering discovery. Going from 49% to 80% is unconscionable. To put this in perspective, in 2009 we were at 40% clean or 36% if biomass is considered non-clean.

  17. We should all take personal responsibility for climate change. Having decided to take responsibility, the action required is to minimise your personal impact, primarily through energy use but also through the foods that you eat.

  18. Jim Ogden said... 16

    "The EIA predicts"

    The EIA is a very poor predictor. They've been wrong on coal prices(they got the sign wrong) for 8 years running.

    The EIA is projecting that post 2015 no new coal fired generation capacity is built with the exception of 'technology demonstration' projects. This appears to me to be a reasonable projection based on the fact that coal fired plants with all the pollution controls aren't much cheaper then nuclear plants.

    The EIA also doesn't project any coal fired plant retirements. This seams unrealistic given that 50GW of coal fired capacity is currently over 50 years old and 110GW of coal fired capacity is more then 40 years old.

  19. Jim Ogden: I only considered electricity generation because that's the only power relevant to President Obama's 80% "clean energy" goal -- he set the parameters, not I. For the purposes of meeting his goal, he also has defined what is "clean" and what is not. To him, natural gas is 100% clean and biomass is 100% clean. The President never mentioned carbon or climate in his State of the Union. By "clean" energy, he means energy that does not substantially contribute to traditional air pollutants and does not originate from nations unfriendly to America's foreign policy.