Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dude, where's my solar panel?

Like most of the population of the greater DC area I watched President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night. I watched it in a bar, because that’s what we do here, politics are a sport in this town. And because the bar I watched it in wasn’t in Georgetown it was a pretty pro-Obama crowd.

We made fun of the Republicans (especially John Boehner, how drunk was he?). We professed our love of Michelle Obama. We cheered Elizabeth Warren (at least I did). We cheered John Kerry. We cried at the fact that Gabrielle Giffords can no longer clap her hands. We hissed at Paul Ryan. We had a good time. But we also booed some things. Yelled rebuttals and made pessimistic comments to our friends. Because, let’s face it, Barack Obama is no progressive (and I and my friends are…mostly).

For me, the most bi-polar moments of the speech was when he was talking about climate change.It was refreshing to hear whole paragraphs devoted to the subject, but at just over 10% (741 words out of 6,867) of the speech, I still feel it wasn’t enough. This is a global issue. It’s going to change the way life on Earth exists. It will potentially completely change entire countries. Some South Pacific Island nations are already planning mass migrations off of their islands. And, as we are beginning to definitively see, it will intensify and increase the chaotic effects of weather patterns (look at the pictures of the recent snow storm in the Northeast, that was a hurricane...with snow).

So, let’s take a look at what Obama did say in the limited amount of space he used to address the issue.

“Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we're finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”

He starts off sorta ok. This is almost entirely an energy problem, so, good to point that out. But then,  face/palm. Ugh, we are not going to be able to drill our way out of this. Also I’m not sure how producing more oil than we have in 15 years is much of a boost. We were producing a drop in the pocket before. We couldn’t have ramped up production enough to really make a difference.

“We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas”

We have? A 1908 Ford Model gets 13-21 mpg, a 2013 Ford Taurus gets 19-29 mpg. I know, I know, apples, oranges, blah, blah, but 2013 CAFE standards (that’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy)
 are 37 or 28.5 mpg for cars (split into small or large) and 31 or 22.5 mpg for trucks (again, small or large). I guess you could say we’ve doubled gas mileage for small cars over 100 years ago. Woo-hoo.

“…and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar, with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.”

Ok, I like that. Renewable energy = American jobs, that’s good, we need that. But, I don’t know, doubling some very small number isn’t going to do much to wean us off fossil fuels. We need more, massively more.

“We produce more natural gas than ever before, and nearly everyone's energy bill is lower because of it.”

Oh, FFS, producing more natural gas or, as it should be called, geologic methane, is nothing to brag about. It’s still fossil fuel and extracting it and processing it and burning it is as bad  as coal or petroleum. Yes, it may burn a bit cleaner than coal, but the extraction method for geologic methane is just as bad. Instead of cutting off the tops of mountains and letting the toxic processing chemicals flow into our streams and rivers as we do with coal, geologic methane extraction involves forcing toxic chemicals underground to break up the underlying bedrock and then leaving the chemicals in place to go wherever they like. Dirty.

“And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.”

Really? Ok, yay us. I will need to see the numbers on that.

“Now, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it's too late.”

BAM! And he brings the hammer…well, not so much a hammer as a really disdainful look of “you can be ignorant and think that all this evidence that we can see is a coincidence or you can come to a logical conclusion.” The logical conclusion being that science is right, climate change is occurring and we are making it happen.

“Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.”

Ugh, market-based solution. The “market” is not going to do anything on its own, at least not anything that requires it to change or take what it perceives as a risk or that will cost it money. But I think corporations are beginning to see that the light at the end of the tunnel is not the exit or even another train but a mirror reflecting their own self-created demise…unless they change. So, maybe, maybe, the market could be motivated to help itself, but I’m very skeptical that it will actually create a solution without some pushing.

“But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct...”

Oh, yeah, and if you are expecting anything substantial to come from the bumblefuck-brahs, McCain and Lieberman, you’re up excrement flowing body of water without an adequate means of propulsion.

“I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Ok, this is fine. Reduce pollution, sure. Prepare communities for disasters, ok, well and good. Speed up the transition to other energy sources, yup. It would be nice if there was at least a hint as to how each of these things would be done.

“Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we've begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let's generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let's drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.”

Yes. And what would be even better is if we actually WENT all-in. How is your administration going to do that? Let's hear about energy industry incentives, let's hear about more R&D money, let's hear about alternative energy subsidies to match the fossil fuel subsidies, let's hear about feed-in tariffs like those in Germany which produces 5 times the energy from solar than the U.S. despite having Alaska levels of sunshine.

“Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

No, no, no! We need to discourage that. The idea is that natural gas is a bridge energy source between coal/petroleum to renewables. But encouraging it is going to lead to it supplanting coal/petroleum at the expense of developing renewables. Bad Barack.

“That's why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

AHHHH! F you! This is like giving candy to a kid when they act out. It's encouraging behavior we want to stop. Not only that, but the red tape they are cutting is directed toward making it easier to do this dirty, extractive process on our public lands. I guess the argument for doing this is that it is being done for the public good but my take is that this ruins or, at least, degrades these lands for other uses. Again, bad Barack.

“That's got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water. In fact, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.”

Son of a... Yeah, we own it together and you're saying you get to decide how it's used. How is my voice being heard? I don't think this is in OUR best interest. And “all-of-the-above” is code for more fossil fuels. It's code for more fossil fuels. Sheesh.

“So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.”  

Energy Security Trust, I'd like to hear more about that. Would the oil/gas/methane companies contribute to that? Or would the money come entirely from the lease fees you are probably going to reduce? Who would the money go to? The car companies? What would be the demonstrable goals? And, I'm sorry (not really sorry at all) but a coalition of CEOs and retired generals/admirals is not at the top of my list for whose advice I would want to follow on this subject. Where are the environmentalists, climate scientists, economists, social justice advocates, engineers, alternative energy businesses?

“Let's take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long.”

Um, gas prices don't really have anything to do with what you're talking about? Regardless of how much gasoline we produce locally it's not going to be enough to affect prices at the pump. Even if it was, does anyone think companies like BP would actually reduce the price? It's a lovely bridge, do you want to buy it, it goes nowhere.
“I'm also issuing a new goal for America: Let's cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. We'll work with the states to do it. Those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen. America's energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they'd rather locate and hire, a country with deteriorating roads and bridges or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self- healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America -- a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina -- has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they'll bring even more jobs. And that's the attitude of a lot of companies all around the world.”

Crap, man, lead with this! It's a job producer and directly addresses the issue! D'oh!

“And I know you want these job-creating projects in your district; I've seen all those ribbon- cuttings.”

I think this was the only bi-partisan laugh line of the speech. Ah, yes, let's laugh at the fact that all of our legislative incentive is to bring money to our districts so we can get re-elected. But that's a rant for another time.

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