Obama throws down

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgement of science. But none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

Many have criticized the president for not being active enough about climate change. He has now made it abundantly clear that he wants to do something about it. So instead of criticizing him for not starting sooner, instead of speculating that it’s only words rather than action, we need to do all we can to help him get the job done. We need to write letters to the white house saying “We agree! We’ll support you all we can.” Do not include “It’s about time!” in that letter.

Whatever you may think about his past record on this issue, whatever you may believe about his sincerity on this issue, he is our best hope for actual, real change. If we indulge in “I told you so” or “I don’t believe you” or “Why didn’t you say this sooner?” then we only indulge our most base and petty emotions. If we put the cause first, we’ll swallow our pride and our criticism and say “I believe in the cause too, and I’ll do all I can to help you.”

Help him help us.

44 responses to “Obama throws down

  1. David B. Benson

    Good point.

  2. We have a chance to show up in DC next month and back up the President’s words with action.

  3. skeptictmac57

    A (secular) Amen brother!

  4. “help him”

    Extremely well said.

    There were other problems to be solved in the first term. It’s time to get moving on climate change in the second. Griping about how the priorities were set isn’t constructive. PBO won the election in ’08 and that’s the sequence he selected.

    Many of us wish climate change had received more attention earlier, but realistically the American public was too worried about the short term danger of a failing economy to concentrate on the longer term climate problem.

    Now climate change awareness is high. Concern is growing. Our renewable technologies are much better and much more affordable.

    Figure out what you can do to help.

    Make some clean power. Install solar panels. Or sign up with a electricity provider who sells green power. Consider a geothermal heat pump for your heating and cooling needs.

    Conserve. Drive less and/or drive an EV or PHEV. At the minimum drive a very efficient gasmobile and ride share. Insulate your house. Switch your most used lamps to LEDs or CFLs. Buy efficient appliances.

    Spread the word. Educate. Lean on your utility company to install more green. Write you senators, representative, governor and state officials. Write your newspaper. Watch for people posting incorrect information about renewable energy and post corrections.

    “help him”

  5. If anybody can push this subject into the right direction it is the American President in his second term. So let’s support him!

    And – thank you Mr. President.


  6. Help him… to do what, exactly?
    I mean, I guess he should be congratulated for taking a pro-science stance; it’s better than that of his competitors. But basic acceptance of consensus reality is a very, very low standard for someone who will, say, control the largest nuclear stockpile in the world.

    His remarks continue to downplay very real class antagonisms, “But none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.” Really? The superrich don’t get devastated by (un)natural disasters. They move to another beachhouse and grumble about the price of luxuries. What Dow Chemical exec drinks the same water as the kids in Bhopal? When the heat waves hit, will the 0.1%ers’ dogs die of heatstroke? Or will they shell out a few more bucks and turn up the AC?

    Meanwhile, in the third world…

    [Response: The one guy in the entire world who has the best chance to get something substantial done, says publicly that climate change is an important issue that must be addressed. Your response: bitch about class antagonisms. How very helpful.]

    • Sorry, I thought that politics were part of the subject of this blog and this post.

      [Response: And so it is. Obama has pushed the climate change issue forward when clearly he was not forced to by political pressure. I suggest that’s a good thing and we should help him to translate rhetoric into action. Your theme seems to be that the appropriate response is to bitch about class antagonism. I consider that particular brand of politics the opposite of productive.]

      • Believe it or not, there is more to politics than global warming, and believe it or not, class structure is a relevent concern in addressing environmental degradation.

        Lest I be painted as a ceaseless bitch, let’s keep in mind that my helpful and/or productive contributions include:
        *Letter writing, phone calling, etc.
        *Drastically lowering my consumption of energy
        *Heating and cooking with wood and burying the charcoal
        *Heating with waste heat from the computers I have running climate models through BOINC
        *Citizen science number-crunching of my own
        *Dumpstering for most of my food, thus increasing the carbon efficiency of our food system
        *Lowering my income to the point that I don’t have to pay taxes for the Pentagon’s bloated carbon footprint, or contribute to ~$10^9/year in fossil fuel subsidies
        *Educating (including lawmakers) with my writing and science shows.
        You’re welcome :)

        What I’m still not clear on is what, exactly I am helping Obama to do? That question was in good faith. Is he going to deploy the drone army against coal mines? Is he going to start sending criminal energy executives to Gitmo? Short of drastic change, what steps is he going to take to deflect pCO2? Or any time derivative thereof?

        I really hope I am wrong. I would love to be proven so. But Obama has been exquisitely capable of doing easier things to make the world better. A stroke of the pen is all it would have taken to end Bradley Manning’s personal hell. How well did that go? All the glittering generalities, “he cares, he really does” arguably applied to his 2008 campaign promises to close the US torture center in Cuba. How well did that go?

        I guess I just don’t see the point of writing a note thanking ‘my’ leader for living in consensus reality, especially if I’m not supposed to mention the high explosives falling on kids elsewhere. I think that there are more productive uses of my time, and they don’t involve me biting my tongue.

        [Response: How about a note telling him how disappointed you are with his administration? How productive would that be?

        You seem far more interested in airing grievance than in getting anything done. Pity. If you really can’t think of a single useful thing to do, at least stay the hell out of the way.]

      • csoeder,
        There are two choices. You make things better, or you make things worse. I don’t know of a third. If you would like we can email you when we have a perfect man as President. As for myself, I’ll work with the real one who can hopefully make things better.

        Remember–the mere fact that you are liberal does not make you reality based.

  7. Ok, I agree. But applause just AFTER he banns Keystone pipeline at the FIRST step, and then myriads of further, much BIGGER steps…

    [Response: I didn’t advise applause, I suggested assistance. Keystone is a good place to start, so let’s help him ban it — as his allies, not his enemies.]

  8. Good.
    Good news from your side of the pond, and I entirely agree: once a politician steps up to the job and announces that he wants to do something that needs to be done then all reservations and criticisms concerning his previous hesitations should be quietly forgotten.

    Meanwhile here in the UK, Boris Johnson, the man who presently has the very powerful job as Mayor of London and is touted (and touting) to be the next Conservative Prime Minister, (though widely regarded as a buffoon), has jumped in the opposite direction with this piece in the Telegraph newspaper:
    This is replied to in the Guardian newspaper here:

  9. Some Americans profess their nation to be the greatest on earth, some Europeans may view this with a slight degree of cynicism but as an old world European I view the the US in a mixed light. Sure, half the religious Americans appear to be anti-science crazies from where I stand but you are also a comic book hero. Some wonderful ideas and national heroism have filtered down into my culture for which I am grateful.

    If there is one nation that can show the world the future, if there is one nation that has the human resources and the ingenuity to tackle ACC then it is you guys. The world waits for a hero with stars and stripes underpants.

    I really hope you Americans can deliver.

  10. From the other side of the pond – Absolutely, Mr President, the rest of the world needs you and the USA.

    As Winston Churchill said, the US always does the right thing, after it has tried everything else. The time is now.

    • I disagree that the time is now. When James Hansen is discussing a “standstill”, Obama will get his head handed to him on a platter.

  11. One thing that must be part of the way forward is an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

  12. There is more than what was highlighted in the text portion of this post (OK, it’s in the video, too, and I’m sure many watched it.)

    The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

    We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

    This part is what hasn’t changed, or not so much, at least: there has been significant support for renewables and energy research during the first term (and it has been a target for skepticons, who have often misrepresented it as a boondoggle marked by rampant bankruptcies and taxpayer losses, as indeed Mr. Romney did during the campaign.)

    But if there is a hint here of moving away from Mr. Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy which increases FF use even as renewables receive some support, I’d welcome it. And, as Tamino says, advocate actively! Another shot at ending the fossil fuel subsidies would be a good place to start, as Andy Jackson says. But we need to keep working to put in place a mechanism to price real emission costs–and we will have to fight like hell to make sure that it isn’t ‘branded’ in the mainstream as a tax grab/scam to enrich Al Gore/UN plot, as has been done already for the political right.

  13. It worries me when my fellow liberals tire of democracy and admonish the President for not acting like a dictator to solve problems near and dear to them. I agree that it is frustrating that a significant percentage or our fellow citizens elect idiots, but then, many of them are idiots, and this is representative democracy, after all.
    Despite what his critics say–right an left–Obama is neither a socialist nor a stooge. He is a centrist who knows how to count. If we wish him to help us, we need to help him count to the right numbers–e.g. 60 in the Senate and 218 in the House. [Response: Amen!] To really get things done, the numbers probably need to be more like 62 and 230, respectively. If Obama accomplishes nothing wrt climate change in his second term, he will merely be the messenger telling US we’ve fallen short.

    Look, folks, this is a black man with a middle name Hussein and a last name that reminds people who are so inclined of a certain terrorist, and yet he got himself elected to the highest office in the land. He managed to navigate the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression despite having half the Congress determined to make him fail. He passed the only significant health program since LBJ. Maybe we should give him some credit for intelligence.

    • Well said, sir…

      I’ve noticed a certain tendency toward amnesia about what things were like when Mr. Obama first took office. Some is no doubt disingenuous, but there is also a genuine tendency to forget past pains.

    • skeptictmac57

      This is one of the most level headed comments that I have ever seen regarding Obama’s leadership.Thank you! (and Amen!!!)

    • Indeed. Well said.

    • Well said, Ray (think I got that right). IIRC you are not far from Frederick, MD. If you or anybody else from the area are interested, I know someone who is organizing a bus to the 2/17 rally leaving from Frederick.

      The President has issued a call, and we have a chance to respond.

  14. Horatio Algeranon

    “Keystone is the Keystone”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    Keystone is the keystone
    To change the climate change
    “Write in” is the right tone
    To re-arrange the range

    Scientists Call on President to Reject the Keystone XL Pipeline

  15. So, if now is the time to do something, the next question is… what should we do? And I think the answer to that question will depend on just how much time do we have to do it.

    Many time frames are being bandied about, but my impression is that if we want to avoid a +4C world, we have about a decade to reduce our CO2 emissions to near zero.

    Anyone have a real handle on this question?

    • the next question… I recently visited Ironbridge Coalbrookdale, a few miles from me and the birth of the trouble we have now: a very simple thing that happened there changed everything. Charcoal production was the natural limit to production, coal was abundant but useless until the sulphur was burnt off and that simple discovery ..well that is history. So what will work for the new revolution? The HP workshop model of dozens of little innovations or a Manhattan project? Despite lots of little solar companies getting funding and going bust the best have survived bringing solar to extraordinary efficient and cheap levels. I don’t think fusion is viable as I remember in the 70s it was just 20 years away, but perhaps there is Manhattan/Apollo/coldwar type project and it is at least something the US does so well.

      I would suggest vision, you yanks just do vision so well. But accepting the science is a start.

      • skeptictmac57

        We already have (and have had) a fusion reactor in operation.All we need to do now,is to collect the free energy.

      • Interestingly, last time I ran the numbers, Solar is just about viable in the UK without FiTs (emphasis on ‘just’); if they switched to net metering it would certainly be viable.

        But solar and wind can’t get us to a 100% carbon-free energy system. The problem becomes one of energy storage past a certain point, and energy storage is a HARD problem – anyone who thinks it isn’t, show me the numbers.

        I too have my doubts about fusion, although quite frankly the investment in the area has been peppercorn compared to the size of the problem and the potential return. Uranium and Thorium breeder reactor designs (Yes, I know..) are far more ‘do-able’ – this is also an area where research has basically ground to a halt in the past couple of decades. Bear in mind that Energy is a multi-trillion dollar industry worldwide.. against which a few billion dollars investment IS peppercorn(!).

        My ‘vision’ is that of an energy system in which we deliberately aim to always produce more electricity than we actually need, and can then divert the surplus into variable-demand plants – synthetic liquid fuels, aluminium production, fertiliser production,etc – thereby being able to fully use all intermittent sources without having to store electricity – something that will always involve waste.

      • “show me the numbers”

        There’s a very interesting study just out. The authors took on the question of whether it would be possible to run a real world grid on only wind, solar and storage and do it for a reasonable price. They found that they needed to include a tiny bit (0.1%) of natural gas to keep it affordable.

        Let me summarize it for you…

        Researchers at University of Delaware used four years of weather and electricity demand/load data in one minute blocks to determine 1) if a combination of wind, solar and storage could meet 99.9% of demand and 2) the most cost effective mix of each to meet demand.

        The data for 1999 through 2002 came from the PJM Interconnection, a large regional grid that services all or part of 13 states from New Jersey to Illinois, from Pennsylvania south into Tennessee and North Carolina. This is the world’s largest competitive wholesale electricity market, serving 60 million customers, and it represents one-fifth of the United States’ total electric grid.

        They used currently available technology and its projected price in 2030. They included no subsidies for wind and solar in their calculation. They did not include hydro, nuclear, tidal or other possible inputs. They also did not include power sales to and purchases from adjacent grids.

        They found that by 2030 we could obtain 99.9% of our electricity from renewable energy/storage and the remainder 0.1% from fossil fuels for about what we currently pay “all-in” for electricity. The all-in price of electricity which includes coal and oil produced health costs currently paid via tax dollars and health insurance premiums.

        During the four year period there were five brief periods, a total of 35 hours, when renewables plus storage were insufficient to fully power the grid and natural gas plants came into play. These were summer days when wind supply was low and demand was high. The cheapest way to cover these ~7 hour events was to use existing natural gas plants rather than to build additional storage. Adding in hydro, tidal, etc. would further reduce this number.

        After 28 billion simulations using differing amount of wind, solar, storage and fossil fuels they found the best solution was to over-build wind and solar and at times simply “throw away” some of the produced power. Building “too much” wind and solar turns out to be cheaper than building more storage given the storage solutions we have at this time. Finding markets for the extra production, selling electricity to offset natural gas heating for example, further reduced costs.

        Budischak, Sewell, Thomson, Mach, Veron, and Kempton Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time Journal of Power Sources 225 (2013) 60-74


        Remember, this is a “worst case” study. Add in hydro, tidal, geothermal, and residual nuclear and the price drops because less storage will be needed. The same happens when there is exchange of power between grids.

        And we seem to have better storage in development.

      • Bob –

        I have a couple of issues with that..

        First, I have extreme doubts about the practical viability of GIV (which is what they appear to use to make costs viable). I honestly don’t see this as a viable technology – or at least a technology that will last past the first cold morning when 100,000 EV owners find that they can’t go to work. And if you arrange things so that that scenario cannot arise, you cannot regard GIV as a fully dispatchable storage solution.

        Second, ANY system which attempts to match supply to demand (as opposed to the other way around) is going to be intrinsically more expensive, especially with renewables. The only reasons we have a demand-following grid is because it was relatively simple and we pay for fuel.

        Over-generation is a characteristic of grids that have high penetrations of renewables or nuclear or both. Any real vision should seek to utilize this, not try to force it to fit the current paradigm.

        (I suppose I should have qualified the initial statement as ‘Solar and Wind cannot generate 100% of demand at any reasonable cost’, given that batteries exist. But I could probably come up with a dozen decarbonisation strategies if cost ceases to be an issue, without even having to use 3000 cpus..)

      • “Solar and Wind cannot generate 100% of demand at any reasonable cost’, given that batteries exist.”

        I’m not sure what you mean. Perhaps you’re saying that battery storage is too expensive?

        There’s a new report on the web today. It’s about PV changing the utility business in Europe. It’s published by UBS, a major European bank. A most interesting and eye-opening read. Let me copy over the part about storage….

        “We expect the end-customer cost of lithium-ion technology applied in the PV sector to decline significantly over the next few years. We do not attribute this to any technological leaps, but rather to the start of industrial manufacturing, which should lead to lower unit costs; higher production volumes should improve components purchase conditions, and a more widespread application should decrease margins for sales agents,” UBS says. And because the characteristics required by batteries used to store solar power are similar to those for batteries used in e-vehicles, progress in the production of batteries for e-vehicles should directly benefit solutions in the field of solar power storage.

        “We also highlight that the current cost of an e-vehicle battery pack based on the lithium-ion technology and manufactured at low volumes ranges from 800 to 900 €/kWh, while in the area of consumer electronics, the battery cost ranges from 200 to 300 €/kWh. In our analysis, we assume that a complete battery solution for storing PV power currently comes at a total cost of 2,500-3,000 €/kWh and will decline by 10% per year.”


        Now let me throw in something from a study on EV batteries…

        “Battery prices will be down to €180–200 per kWh for large-format battery cells in 2014/2015.”

        That’s $238 – 264/kWh.

        Click to access Roland_Berger_Li-Ion-Batteries-Bubble_20121019.pdf

        It sounds to me that we are going to have affordable battery storage soon.

        And then there is Ambri’s liquid metal battery which seems to be progressing well and would be dirt cheap if it works as well as prototypes are reported to be working.


        Finally, EVs and cold mornings. We should, before long, have 200 mile range EVs. Someone with a 20 mile daily RT commute might set their minimum acceptable range at 50 miles and rent out the other 150 to the grid. Even set up different minimums for different days and reset their min, if desired, from cell phone or computer.

        A plugged in EV should be nice and toasty on cold mornings, for both driver and batteries. Some EVs already have the ability to warm themselves up using grid power even before the driver climbs in.

      • Bob –

        I’m not sure you get my point.

        Unless storage costs are trivial (which they are not, and are unlikely to ever be even with very rosy cost projections), then any electric system which relies on the them will be more expensive than one that does not.

        As far as grid tie goes.. WHEN we see practical family EV cars with 200+ mile ranges, then you can start thinking about GIV. Although I think you’ll find very few people willing to accept large scale discharge. I can run an IC car down to a 50-mile range in the knowledge that refuelling will take 5 minutes if I suddenly need to go somewhere. Can’t do that with an EV.

        But the main point I’m trying to make is that what you (and those you quote) are trying to do is hammer a square peg into a round hole. Demand following only works well when most of your grid is dispatchable; trying to make renewables dispatchable is always going to be more expensive and resource intensive than not doing so.

        Whereas a grid with sufficient baseload (and that means nuclear for much of the world, like is or not) and variable demand – which can be achieved in many ways – can be run in a much more efficient manner, and accept any additional electricity source. When the wind blows and/or the sun shines, you make ammonia, methanol, aluminum, hot water.. and other things of economic value.

      • “Unless storage costs are trivial (which they are not, and are unlikely to ever be even with very rosy cost projections), then any electric system which relies on the them will be more expensive than one that does not.”

        Obviously that is incorrect. Wind at 5 cents and stored for 5 cents would be cheaper than nuclear at 9 cents. Part of the time, say 50%. the power would be flowing directly for 5 and part of the time it would be 10 (5+5).

        Now let’s look at the rosy storage predictions.

        Multiple battery developers are predicting prices at or less than $200/kWh. Aquion is projecting under $200 and 20,000 cycles. They have independently tested at over 5,000 cycles.

        $200/kWh and 10,000 cycles = $0.02/kWh storage. Add in some for battery inefficiency, operating expenses and profits and we’re still under 3 cents.

        Ambri’s liquid metal battery should be even cheaper. From what I can tell it uses less expensive materials and seems to have essentially an unlimited cycle life. At least I can’t figure out what might wear out.

        It’s really hard to nail down the cost of pump-up hydro but I’ve seen it listed several times as 1.8 cents per kWh.

        “WHEN we see practical family EV cars with 200+ mile ranges, then you can start thinking about GIV. Although I think you’ll find very few people willing to accept large scale discharge. ”

        I’m not thinking that EV storage will be used. I think we’ll see large scale battery storage based on the above. Budischak, et al. used EV storage because it is a technology currently being used and they kept their factors ‘real’.

        EV storage would require installing inverters in garages in order to turn the vehicle DC into grid frequency/voltage AC. Likely an unnecessary expense and bother.

        “Demand following only works well when most of your grid is dispatchable”

        No, all you need it the ability to supply demand when it is demanded.

        Right now over 50% of our generation is not dispatchable (37% coal, 19% nuclear, and 3.5% wind).

        “trying to make renewables dispatchable is always going to be more expensive and resource intensive than not doing so”

        Back to the top. We’re at 6 cents (median) for wind, solar is getting ready to drop under 10 cents, we can see storage emerging for under 5 cents.

        Wind and solar will get even cheaper, wind is predicted to drop to 3 cents and solar to about 5 cents. If that happens then storage doesn’t need to get super cheap to make renewables the most affordable solution.

  16. Tamino, a very wise editorial. Thanks.

  17. “The devastating impact raging fires crippling droughts and more powerful storms” Is happening now.

    “The path to more sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.” Sounds like this is decades away.

    “The overwhelming judgment of science” is that climate change is happening and caused by us – but mainstream science, characterised by the IPCC, is seriously lagging behind the real world.

    Many institutions are waiting on the next IPCC report,. When published, it will be seriously out of date. This report may even be forecasting the end of Arctic summer sea ice by 2030/2040 – but by the time of publication in 2014 the ice will have already gone. This will cause more raging fires, crippling droughts and more powerful storms.

    So what do we tell the President?

    [Response: Just an idea: first, tell him you wholeheartedly support his commitment to address the global warming problem seriously, and it was courageous to frontline the issue in his inaugural address. Second, tell him that the first step is to kill the Keystone pipeline.]

  18. I’m not sure killing the Keystone pipeline will help very much.

    Try going down to your local mall/whatever and try to talk people into giving up their cars. People are going to continue to drive even if they realize that it is killing the planet.

    We must give people acceptable alternatives to the internal combustion engine. We can do that right now, at least partially.

    85% of all American driving days are 40 miles or less. The Chevy Volt will go 40 miles on electricity. On 85% of all days US drivers would use zero gasoline.

    Many households have more than one car. Very few households drive more than 75 miles a day with more than one car. Those households could use a Nissan LEAF for the longest (under 75 mile) driving day. The LEAF uses zero gasoline. They could use their gasmobile for long trips.

    Driving an EV on average price electricity is like driving a 50 MPG Prius on $1.80/gallon gas. Even cheaper when you figure in oil changes, maintenance, more frequent brake rebuilds….

    The only thing holding buyers back is the initial purchase price of the Volt and LEAF. The price of the LEAF just dropped 18%. With the federal subsidy that makes the LEAF less than $20k.

    GM has announced that the next model Volt will cost several thousand dollars less.

    Prices will come down as manufacturing volume increase. It’s an economy of scale issue.

    If you’re in the market for a new car, or you know anyone who is, consider an EV or PHEV. Help drive up the sales numbers. Help drive down the purchase price.

    When people can buy an EV or PHEV for only a little more than an ICEV the market will switch. People will largely quit buying liquid fuel cars.

    That’s how we kill all the pipelines.

    • Keystone XL feeds the export market. Killing it makes not a jot of difference to US drivers. Just worth pointing out although I agree with the rest of your comment.

      • Building it will help reduce the glut of oil in the North American market, by making it possible to increase exports. If US drivers own shares in US oil companies, this may be a good thing as profits rise. The ones that don’t own shares may only be affected by increased gas prices at the pump… Conversely, killing it may help keep prices down.

  19. Tamino

    Thanks. That’s a good start but should he be told that the IPCC – evidenced by the leaked Chapter 9 – is seriously lagging behind the real world.

  20. Horatio Algeranon

    “Glocken Keystone”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    Keystone is
    The warning bell,
    For opening
    The Gates of Hell.