After six years the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline is over. And the good guys won. President Obama rejected the pipeline last Friday morning after meeting with his Secretary of State John Kerry. The State Department found that the pipeline would not be in the country’s national interest, and Obama agreed.
The President brought it down to three simple reasons as to why he rejected it:
1. He felt the pipeline wouldn’t make any meaningful long-term contribution to the economy. As Obama put it: “If Congress is serious about wanting to create jobs, this was not the way to do it.” The pipeline would have only created abut 35 permanent jobs it turns out, so he has a good point.
2. The pipeline won’t lead to lower gas prices given the current state of global oil prices.
3. And as Obama puts it: “Shipping dirtier crude oil into our county would not increase America’s energy security.”
This is actually more symbolic than anything, especially with COP21 coming up in Paris next month. In messages that couldn’t be any clearer for the whole world to hear, Obama said “The time to act is now. Not later, not someday, right here, right now.” And John Kerry had this to say about it:
“The critical factor in my determination [as Secretary of State] was this: moving forward with this project would significantly undermine our ability to continue leading the world in combating climate change. I am also convinced that public arguments for and against the pipeline have, to some extent, been overstated. Our analysis makes it clear that the Keystone XL pipeline would not be the economic driver it is heralded to be. Decades of science prove beyond any reasonable doubt that human activity is a direct cause of the rising seas, increasing temperatures, and intensifying storms threatening our planet—and the window of opportunity for action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change is closing quickly. I have seen the world try and fail to address this threat for decades. Today, the need for American leadership to combat climate change has never been greater, and we must answer the call. The United States cannot ask other nations to make tough choices to address climate change if we are unwilling to make them ourselves. Denying the Keystone XL pipeline is one of those tough choices—but it is the right decision, for America and the world.
Keystone XL has been a target for environmentalists over the years. Its sole purpose is to transport crude oil in the form of bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta, the most carbon-intensive form of oil, down to the Gulf Coast. That oil would have been responsible for 181 million metric tons of carbon emissions every year, the equivalent of 51 coal-fired power plants.
If America is looking for energy independence, it shouldn’t rely on dirty carbon-intensive oil from Canada, it should invest in renewables instead.
“Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”
Last week Pope Francis visit the U.S. for the first time since he became the Bishop of Rome. During that time he gave a lot of attention to the issue of climate change, more than any other Pope has. It only took him three paragraphs in a speech last Wednesday before he delved into it. He referred to his own encyclical on the environment that he released earlier this year calling for global action on climate change. Many Republicans have criticized what the Pope had to say about it arguing he should stick to moral issues, but many all over the world think tackling climate change is a moral issue. (I’d be interested to know if those same Republicans would have embraced the Pope’s comments if instead he had argued that we don’t need to tackle the problem because God will look after it all for us on our behalf.)
In the Pope’s words:
When it comes to the care of our “common home,” we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.” Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies.
President Obama was clearly pleased with the Pope’s approach to the environment:
Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet — God’s magnificent gift to us. We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to a changing climate and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations.
It’s not every day that science and religion agree on something, but this is one of those days. It’s time we had politicians agree as well.
“On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us. That’s why we’re here today. That’s what we have to convey to our people — tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And that’s what we have to do when we meet in Paris later this year.”
—President Obama in Alaska
President Obama was in Alaska this past week. His trip was dedicated to brining attention the disruptive and devastating effects of climate change in Alaska as well the Arctic.While there he attended a climate conference attended by representative from 20 countries and the European Union. Members of the U.S. Congress, Native leaders, mayors, and climate change experts were also there. Obama’s message was clear: we’re making progress but we’re not moving fast enough.
The conference went by the name Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience. (That conveniently spells out GLACIER in case you hadn’t noticed.) This was a high-level conference strategically scheduled a mere months in advance of the upcoming U.N. climate negotiations in Paris this December (COP21). There it’s hoped a new global climate agreement will be reached.
The Arctic has been affected by climate change more than many places on Earth, as the poles are warming faster that the rest of the planet on average, so the location of this conference was appropriate. Indeed, the region has been experiencing a reduction in sea ice, rising sea levels, more devastating storms, melting permafrost, and on top of all of that wildfires that are out of control.
If our planet continued business as usual, Alaska will see anywhere between six and twelve degrees rise in temperature by the end of the 21st century. The melting sea ice and permafrost releasing additional methane will only worsen the problem, explaining why it’s hard to predict by just how much.
This past weekend the White House shared a video narrated by President Obama and followed it up Monday with the release of the final version of its Clean Power Plan. (You can watch the 37-minute video of that announcement here if you’re interested.) With this plan, the Environmental Protection Agency will help to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. In the same way that it’s important to regulate the release of mercury, sulphur and other pollutants, the President believes it’s high time we regulate carbon pollution. Obama is calling this “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.” It’s expected the regulations will cut emissions by 32 percent by the year 2030 compared to 2005 levels, a bigger cut than previous plans had aimed for.
Some of the details of the Clean Power Plan are here. Below is the video that was released. It offers some background science, evidence of how the climate is changing, and exactly what the President is planning to do, more than any previous President has done to tackle emissions and fight global warming and climate change.
“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.”
For the first time in the 21st century, China’s coal consumption is down. Last year its consumption of coal dropped by 2.9 percent while its production dropped by 2.5 percent. Given that the Chinese government announced only three months ago that it would reach a peak of coal use by the year 2020 and a peak of greenhouse gas emission by 2030, this observation suggests it might happen even sooner and helps disprove those who argued that China couldn’t achieve this pledge they made with the U.S. unless they shut down their economy. (As if fossil fuels are the only path to economic growth and a healthy economy.)
Given that China has been opening up new coal-fired power plants every week for the last 20 years to help boost its growing economy—leading them to become the largest carbon dioxide emitters on the planet ahead of the U.S.—this drop in coal consumption is a good thing. Oh, they’re still after more energy but they’ll do it by “increas[ing] the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.” That translates into the addition of somewhere between 800 and 1,000 gigawatts of carbon-free power over the next decade and a half. Just how much is that? By comparison, it’s more than all coal-fired power plants China has currently running, and it almost equals all of the electricity generation capacity in the US. Continue reading →