In a major speech on energy at the University of Miami, President Obama said rising gasoline prices are a “painful reminder” of the need for alternatives. He was on the offensive, trying to counter criticisms of the GOP presidential candidates—including Newt Gingrich, who promised he’d get gasoline down to $2.50 a gallon.
Countering calls to “drill, baby, drill,” Obama called the GOP candidates’ ideas “bumper sticker” strategies, “not a plan.” Reiterating his call for an end to oil and gas tax breaks, Obama called them “outrageous” and “inexcusable.”
Also, some Democrats called for dipping into the U.S. strategic oil reserves to try to bring down prices. However, this notion seemed based on the misconception that the availability of oil in the U.S. has a big influence on the price.
Rising oil prices, argued Bloomberg columnist Caroline Baum, “tap into a barrel of nonsense,” making people “go all wobbly in the head.” Backing up that idea is Media Matters’ laundry list of misconceptions common in energy reporting, which concluded that the only way to become less vulnerable to oil price spikes is to “use less oil. Period.”
Move To Natural Gas—But Will It Help?
In his speech, Obama announced a new $30 million research grant to boost the number of vehicles running on natural gas.
This push for natural gas vehicles is “the hottest energy fad in Washington” according to a Wall Street Journal editorial titled “Boone-Doggle,” since the fad has been spurred in part by petroleum billionaire T. Boone Pickens and his “Pickens Plan.”
Two former U.S. officials argued for a twist on the natural gas vehicle, calling for cars that can run on methanol, an alcohol that can be “efficiently and inexpensively produced from natural gas,” according to an MIT report.
Globally, natural gas vehicles have increased exponentially, with most of the growth in the past decade in Asia and Latin America.
However, a new climate modeling study by Nathan Myhrvold, former Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, found that switching from coal to natural gas would do little to slow global warming.
Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, a bipartisan group of current and former Congressmen, called for taxes on greenhouse gas emissions as a way to fight climate change, lower oil imports and raise revenue that could help spur clean energy industries and reduce the debt. Beyond the authors of this op-ed, there may be further bipartisan support for such a plan.
EPA Greenhouse Gas Limits Face Appeals Court
In federal court this week, energy industry groups challenged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its move to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
One line of argument being used is the science on climate change is not settled, so the EPA should not be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases. By putting climate science on trial, it’s been dubbed the “Scopes trial for climate change.”
The plaintiffs are also arguing that in issuing the “tailoring rule,” which limits greenhouse gas rules only to the biggest emitters, the EPA overstepped its bounds.
The judge hearing the case found the tailoring argument strange, saying that if the alleged harm is regulatory burden, but the remedy is a heavier regulatory burden, then the plaintiffs’ argument “doesn’t even make good nonsense.”
Gene Therapy for Climate Change
Climate Central lampooned geoengineering—ideas for planetary-scale projects to cool Earth—with its own set of not-so-serious proposals, including giving Maalox to livestock.
A research project at the Mote Marine Laboratory sounds like it might be another of these far-fetched plans, but it’s for real. A geneticist is investigating gene therapy for coral reefs—or, more specifically, for the bacteria that live symbiotically with the corals—to help them adapt to climate change.
GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman expressed skepticism about the science on climate change, so now all GOP candidates are on the record as doubting either that the planet is clearly warming, or that people are responsible for most of the warming.
Of all the GOP candidates, Huntsman had been the most supportive of action on climate change: in 2007, as governor of Utah, he signed up his state for a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions.
There has been an increase in climate skepticism in the past year and a growing reluctance to say anything about climate, especially among Republicans. The turning point—argued the National Journal’s cover story, “Heads in the Sand“—was the 2010 Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on campaign spending and boosted so-called super political action committees (super PACs) that can take unlimited funds.
The deniers haven’t won yet, though, argued Bill Chameides of Duke University. Most Americans accept the basics of climate change, more investment went into green energy than fossil fuels in 2010, and some of the biggest energy companies—such as ExxonMobil—affirm that climate change is real.
Little Agreement in Durban
As the United Nations climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, come near their close, there is little hope of coming to an agreement. The executive director of the International Energy Agency said the lack of progress is a “cause for concern,” and urged countries: “Don’t wait for a global deal. Act now.”
China showed signs of softening its stance on a climate agreement, saying it may “shoulder responsibilities” for cutting emissions, as long as it is not held to the same standards as richer countries—a move an Oxfam climate campaigner called “really encouraging.”
Meanwhile, a new study reported greenhouse emissions from the developing world have surpassed those of the developed world (using the Kyoto Protocol’s definitions for each group)—and it happened much earlier than expected.
The president of the Worldwatch Institute, Robert Engelman, proposed a “shadow climate regime”—an alternative approach that erases divisions between developed and developing countries as well as caps on emissions, and taxes all emissions, regardless of where they originate.
Because of the slow progress on climate treaties, scientists have been looking increasingly at geoengineering—global schemes for cooling the planet—and a collaboration between Britain’s Royal Society and two other groups called for more research into these methods.
Nuclear Decline, Stormy Rise of Renewables
The world’s nuclear power dropped in 2011, as plants were knocked out by Japan’s tsunami, shut down, or those under construction canceled or postponed. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its recent World Energy Outlook, detailed how the world might get by in a scenario with declining nuclear power, but said meeting the climate change targets under discussion at Durban would require “heroic achievements in the deployment of emerging low-carbon technologies,” in particular for countries like Japan.
China’s wind and solar capacity will soar in the next decade, adding the equivalent of 180 nuclear power plants, the IEA forecast.
The growth of China’s solar industry has been a source of contention with America, leading the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to launch an investigation into China’s support for its solar industry. The ruling said U.S. companies had been harmed by China’s policies, but China’s Commerce Ministry argued the reaction smacks of protectionism. The ITC voted to continue its investigation.
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