President Obama’s Act on Climate Change Speech

“We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.”

The President at Georgetown University June 25

The President at Georgetown University June 25

Tuesday, President Obama delivered a speech at Georgetown University unveiling his Climate Change Plan.  The message, overshadowed in the news by a couple of big Supreme Court cases, was a broad overview of his administrations ideas and commitments.  But what exactly did the President propose?  Does the plan have any teeth?

All in all, I feel that the speech was a good snapshot of our progress in the past few years.  There was some back slapping and celebrating because the US has decreased its carbon emissions more than any nation since 2006, and because over half of the new electricity production installed last year was renewable.  There were strong calls for more community led efforts, and more bipartisan cooperation as well.

But what did (or didn’t) the President commit to do?

Well, there were a few solid promises to take away:

-The EPA now has the go-ahead to create and impose carbon pollution standards, similar to limits the agency has put on mercury and arsenic in the past

-The Department of the Interior will permit building enough renewable energy on public lands to power 6 million homes by 2020

-Established a goal of installing 100 MW of renewable energy on federal housing by 2020

-Set a goal to cut carbon emissions by 3 billion metric tons by 2030

Despite showing strong support for lowering carbon emissions and increasing renewable production, it is clear that Obama’s energy plan includes plenty of support for natural gas.  In fact, he included natural gas in his definition of clean energy.  He also praised the beginning of construction of the first nuclear plants in 30 years in Georgia and South Carolina.  The inclusion of natural gas and nuclear power in his ‘clean energy’ speech led to his most enigmatic initiative of the plan:

-$8 billion in loan guarantees for “advanced fossil energy” and energy efficiency projects

This promise is what worried me the most.  These guaranteed loans could go to natural gas, “clean coal”, or fracking to produce shale gas and oil.  Or it could go to carbon recapture projects, or efforts to build better turbines.  In short, this is $8 billion that could hurt or help the environment.  We just don’t know where this money will go.

In my opinion, these new standards and goals won’t really mean much until we see how they are going to be put into practice.  The  big question is how the EPA will create and implement these restrictions on carbon pollution.  Obama pointed to the 1970 Clean Air Act, and how it limited certain types of airborne pollutants.  Back then, when it was introduced, industries cried foul and predicted the death of the automotive industry and economic ruin, but it ended up being a very effective bill.  New carbon standards are likely to follow a similar path of regulations.  On the other hand, the administration might try a new strategy, such as a carbon tax (which is favored by some economists).

The real strong point of the speech was in Obama’s messages to climate change detractors and those on the other side of the aisle.  He addressed those with economic concerns about his plan with examples from the past:

“See, the problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity. These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can’t or they won’t do it. They’ll just kind of give up and quit. But in America, we know that’s not true. Look at our history.

When we restricted cancer-causing chemicals in plastics and leaded fuel in our cars, it didn’t end the plastics industry or the oil industry. American chemists came up with better substitutes. When we phased out CFC’s — the gases that were depleting the ozone layer — it didn’t kill off refrigerators or air-conditioners or deodorant. American workers and businesses figured out how to do it better without harming the environment as much.

The fuel standards that we put in place just a few years ago didn’t cripple automakers. The American auto industry retooled, and today, our automakers are selling the best cars in the world at a faster rate than they have in five years — with more hybrid, more plug-in, more fuel-efficient cars for everybody to choose from.

So the point is, if you look at our history, don’t bet against American industry. Don’t bet against American workers. Don’t tell folks that we have to choose between the health of our children or the health of our economy.”

Obama also pointed to some of our biggest corporations, and their carbon emission and renewable energy plans:

“Recently, more than 500 businesses, including giants like GM and Nike, issued a Climate Declaration, calling action on climate change “one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century.””

“Walmart is working to cut its carbon pollution by 20 percent and transition completely to renewable energy. Walmart deserves a cheer for that. But think about it. Would the biggest company, the biggest retailer in America — would they really do that if it weren’t good for business, if it weren’t good for their shareholders?”

Then he addressed the fact that climate change has become a very bipartisan, divisive issue (although what issue isn’t these days), but reached across the aisle to encourage the Republican party to take part:

“I know some Republicans in Washington dismiss these jobs [in renewable energy], but those who do need to call home — because 75 percent of all wind energy in this country is generated in Republican districts. And that may explain why last year, Republican governors in Kansas and Oklahoma and Iowa — Iowa, by the way, a state that harnesses almost 25 percent of its electricity from the wind — helped us in the fight to extend tax credits for wind energy manufacturers and producers. Tens of thousands good jobs were on the line, and those jobs were worth the fight.”

“As I said before, climate change has become a partisan issue, but it hasn’t always been. It wasn’t that long ago that Republicans led the way on new and innovative policies to tackle these issues. Richard Nixon opened the EPA. George H.W. Bush declared — first U.S. President to declare — “human activities are changing the atmosphere in unexpected and unprecedented ways.” Someone who never shies away from a challenge, John McCain, introduced a market-based cap-and-trade bill to slow carbon pollution.”

As I mentioned, this speech was quickly overshadowed by the big Supreme Court decisions regarding DOMA and the Voting Rights Act, but we should start seeing the effects of this new climate change plan soon.  In fact, coal stocks have tumbled since the speech, and one can expect natural gas stocks to rise.  But, lets focus on the central message of reducing carbon emissions, and hope that this speech is the beginning of some real action.  In the President’s words,  let’s make the United States of America “a global leader — in the fight against climate change.”

Read the transcript of President Obama’s speech here

Top Solar States

After looking into the development of renewable energy infrastructures around the world, I’d like to take a closer look at our own progress here at home.  Which states are ramping up the clean energy production, and how?

Let’s look at the top 5 States for Solar Energy, photovoltaic and otherwise:

1. California – 1032.7 MW

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see California at the top of this list.  The state is well-known for its progressive energy policies and one of the most aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standards of any state (target of reaching 33% renewable by 2020).  California has doubled the amount of solar capacity since 2009, and is set to increase it another 400 megawatts with the massive new 400 Ivanpah solar thermal plant coming online this year.  The Ivanpah plant is a unique array in the desert which directs the heat of the sun towards one of three towers, where it is absorbed, rather than converting sunlight directly to electricity.  In this tower, there is salt that is melted (at around 100 degrees).   The salt then heats water into steam which turns a generator, just like in a coal or nuclear plant.  But much, much cleaner.

The benefit of solar thermal is that it produces constant base-load electricity, meaning that it can keep going when the sun is not out.  The downside is that it takes a huge chunk of land and a lot of moving parts.  California could spare the land in the desert near the Nevada border, but had to displace some endangered tortoises to do so.


2. Arizona – 710.3 MW

Arizona is making good use of their abundant sunshine!  While the entire country gets enough solar energy to make PV projects worthwhile, the southwest receives the most.  The insolation (a measure of solar energy that an area gets, usually measured in kWh per square meter) of the southwest is the highest in the nation.  Because of this, companies are flocking there with projects totaling 13.5 Gigawatts seeking permission to build in Arizona alone!

Solar Insolation Map

3. New Jersey – 414 MW

New Jersey is the big surprise on this list, coming in 3rd for solar production, despite not having a lot of land area (47th state in size) and ranking lower on the scale of  insolation as well.  In fact, if this little state were considered to be its own country, it would be in the top 10 solar producers in the world!

Large array on a NJ public school

Large array on a NJ public school

So how did New Jersey become such a leader in the solar field?  The state committed to growing the industry through a Renewable Energy Standard of 22.5% by 2012, and one of the best net-metering rules in the country (no cap).

4.  Nevada: 198 MW

Back to the southwest, Nevada comes in at 4th for top solar producers.  Very high insolation and open desert space make the area prime for harvesting the sun!

Nellis power plant

14 MW Nellis power plant

5. North Carolina 131.9 MW

North Carolina  comes in as the next surprise on the list.  North Carolina has modest RPS of reaching 12.5% renewable energy by 2021, so what exactly has driven the solar boom in this state?  Much like New Jersey, North Carolina used a myriad of incentives to encourage growth, including tax breaks and incentives to land owners to lease their land for wind farms.

And the rest of the top ten is:

6. Massachusetts: 128.9 MW – Another small northeastern state!

7. Hawaii: 108.7 MW – With the highest energy costs in the country, no wonder Hawaii is looking to alternatives!

8. Maryland: 74.3 MW

9. Colorado: 69.9 MW

10. Texas: 64.1 MW

See your state on the list?  What is driving solar growth in your state?


Solar Production: States vs. Countries

After taking a look at renewable energy production on a global scale, I’m shifting focus to individual states.  As a transition, here is a great article I found that compares the solar production capacity of different countries to individual states in the union on a per capita basis.

Check it out, there are some big surprises in there.  The biggest underdog that comes out near the top? New Jersey.

More soon!

Top Solar Power States vs Top Solar Power Countries (CleanTechnica Exclusive) (via Clean Technica)

I think you all are going to love this one. But before getting into the numbers and charts, here’s one quick caveat on the ranking below: my solar power installation data for the countries was for the end of 2011, whereas my solar power installation data for the states (courtesy of GTM Research,…

Continue reading

Why is Climate Change a political issue?


So, the other day while I was working, talking to people about a wind power program, I talked to a guy who was definitely not a like minded individual.  As soon as I explained what I was trying to do, he shouted “You mean those WIND FARMS that OBAMA forced through, and wastes all the taxpayers money?”  He went on to explain that climate change was made up to gain political power, that there was no possible way that humans could effect the climate on a global scale, and that all of this renewable energy stuff was basically a scam.

I disagreed.

Now, this was not an argument, or an unpleasant conversation either.  He was polite, but firm (vehement I would say) in voicing his opinions.  He ended the conversation with “You’re a good guy for trying to do this, but I DON’T wish you luck.”  I told him to have a good day, and waved goodbye.  I actually enjoy conversations like this, because I like hearing opinions that are different from my own.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to actually debate this man, because I was representing my company, and didn’t want to create any bad feelings.

But as I walked away, the conversation stuck with me.  I’ve had several like it, and has left a nagging question in the back of my brain:  Why is Climate Change a political issue?

97% of scientists agree that our global climate is changing, and that humans are the cause of that.  That’s 97% of the smart people who spend their whole lives studying these things, i.e. the most informed people.  And virtually all of them say that this is fact.  And yet a huge group of average people say that they are wrong.  What other issue would the general public disagree with the vast majority of scientists?
Everybody knows that a good portion of Americans, like the man I spoke with, are climate change deniers, but why?  And what role does political leaning play in this question?

It is obvious that the political left believes in climate change and at least pays lip service to doing something about it.  Those on the right, however, face political shooting squads if they agree with the scientific community.  But why?  With this overwhelming scientific consensus, shouldn’t both sides agree that it is happening?  I mean, they could still fight about what to do about the problem if they wanted to!

NPR’s This American Life recently did a great episode about this very question, and put forth a plausible theory:  The left started the conversation, so the right had to oppose them.  The liberals, being on the cutting edge of the environmental movement decades ago, broke the story, and because of that took control of the rhetoric and assumed the moral high ground on the issue.  This backed the conservatives into a corner.  Could they just come out and agree with their opponents?  That would make them look weak.  And any liberal solution to the problem would certainly involve lots of regulation that would limit freedom and hurt businesses (as the right would frame it), so that set them up to be against it ideologically.  But that doesn’t change the near certainty of the science.  The whole point of science is to be completely objective, without an agenda.  But when those with political motives get a hold of science, watch out!

This American Life includes an interview with former South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis, who served in congress for many years as a very conservative congressman.  Then he voiced his belief in climate change (It’s disturbing that we even have to discuss ‘belief’ in climate change, does one have to ‘believe’ in gravity?).  He was called a traitor by his supporters, made an object of ridicule by his party, and then soundly defeated by a Tea Party Climate Change Denier opponent.  His story shows that it is political suicide for a conservative to even admit that the science on climate change is true.  It’s not like he suddenly jumped ship and became a liberal; he takes as conservative approach to solving the problem.  But it wasn’t enough to save his campaign.  The interview goes on to talk about how some conservative leaders may privately admit that the science completely backs the human caused Climate Change theory, but are unable to publicly declare this in fear of political backlash.  Of course, the fuel on this fire is the lobbying branch of the fossil fuel industries, which funnels millions towards anyone and everything that denies Climate Change.

But how can such a large part of the public be taken in by their campaign of denial and misdirection?  People are entitled to their own opinions, not their own facts.  And the fact is that 97% of studies that take a stance on the matter say Climate Change is happening, and that humans are the cause.

Many climate change deniers will proclaim with much certainty that “there is NO POSSIBLE way that humans could have that much impact on the environment”.  These are the people that point out that our climate has changed many times in the past, from hot to cold and back again.  What they fail to realize, however, is that there is always a cause of this.  In the early Archean period, around 2.5 billion years ago (If you don’t believe the Earth is that old, then that is an entirely different conversation) the atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide, with practically no oxygen.  Then how did we get to our current atmospheric make up?  Plants.  This was the period of the mega flora, plants propagated cross the globe and in the oceans, gobbling up the CO2 and spewing out O2.  Events like this show how species can have a direct, dramatic effect on the environment.

Don’t think humans can have the same sort of impact?  What about the great Dust Bowl?  In the thirties, a combination of drought and soil erosion (caused by farming in the North American Plains and removal of grasses) affected an entire continent, with dust storms blowing all the way to the east coast!  And there are more than twice as many people on the planet now, driving more cars and using more electricity.

I know these appeals to reason probably won’t change any Denier’s minds, seeing as reason seems to be a skill they are lacking.  But, I DO encourage those on the right that are reasonable to stand up and take a stand on climate change.  Feel free to try to take back the reigns of the conversation and tell us how you would approach the problem.  Just don’t shut your eyes and ignore the problem we can see all around us.

To the gentleman I spoke to the other day:  I respect your rights to your opinions, and thank you for sharing them with me, but I’m afraid you are misinformed.  You may see climate change as a political issue, but only because it’s been presented to you that way.

Oh, and by the way, I know for a fact that Al Gore DOES use renewable energy on his huge house, I know the guy who put up his solar panels.

And for every dollar that the government ‘wastes’ on subsidies for renewable energy projects, they spend $5 dollars subsidizing fossil fuels. (My post on that here)

These are the facts.


Note:  If you read the source story from the Washington Post, you will notice that the study they are reporting about showed that 66% of the climate change studies they examined did not take a stance on whether it was cause by humans or not.  This does NOT mean that 66% were not sure one way or the other, it means that 66% of the studies did not even talk about whether climate change is being cause by man.  Out of the percentage that did discuss that point, 97% said it is man made. Please do not write in saying that this proves scientists disagree, just look at how they arrived at the numbers.  Feel free to write in if you have something useful to contribute!


Which Countries have the highest per capita Energy consumption?

Quick post today: In keeping with the global energy use/production theme, here is a list of the countries that have the highest energy use per capita:

Country Name Electricity consumption per capita (kWh per person) Year of Estimate
Iceland 52,621 2012
Norway 24,558 2012
Kuwait 16,090 2012
Canada 16,020 2012
Finland 15,788 2012
Sweden 14,510 2012
United Arab Emirates 13,281 2012
Luxembourg 12,676 2012
United States 11,920 2012
Australia 10,238 2012

So what exactly does this list tell us?  Maybe not much.  We see a lot of countries in very cold and very hot climates appear high on the list.  This makes sense, because they will use more energy for heating and cooling.  Also, energy producers tend to be higher on the list, since they have cheaper fuel available.  Of course, more developed countries are higher on the list as well.

It is interesting however, to see this consumption per capita, because we often forget smaller countries in discussions about global consumption.  The US and China are always mentioned as the biggest energy gluttons in the world (because as countries they consume the largest amounts of energy), but the US barely cracks the top ten in per person use, and China is even further down the list (#73).  It’s a different perspective.  China is the biggest energy consumer, but because of their massive population, they aren’t using that much for each citizen.

In case you are curious, here is a per capita energy comparison for larger counties: