Confessions of a Climate Change News Junkie: U.S. Presidential Edition

Now that Jay Inslee has ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I have to choose a new candidate to support. To that end, I recently watched the CNN town hall on climate change, which actually consisted of a lot of town halls, one for each participating contender.


I generally liked them all, but three stood out in my mind.

One is Elizabeth Warren. I haven’t been impressed with her previous discussions of climate change, but this time she managed to impress me. This woman is “wicked smart” and she does her homework. And, she intends to do the right thing. As a president, I think she’ll be a good choice for the climate fight.

As a candidate, I’m not so sure. She’s very animated and sometimes close to “strident.” I think this can lead to an unfavorable impression — one which has no basis in logic, and which has a lot to do with the fact that she’s female rather than male, but is still a real phenomenon.

Another is Pete Buttigieg. He’s one of two candidates who tended to pay attention to the question that was asked. He also spoke with a calmness, and a tone of genuine compassion, which I see as a winning attribute in a candidate.

The one who impressed me most, is perhaps the one I least expected to: Andrew Yang. He is well-informed, smart, and has done his homework. He knows the issue — really, I get the impression he might know the details better than the others. He said nothing about angry retribution for climate crimes, he talked about solutions — the emphasis is on problem solving. His plans are truly bold, but such that people can wrap their minds around them. On several specifics, he echoed my own opinion (e.g. nuclear power — don’t count on it, but don’t discourage it either because it can’t save us but it can help). And, he spoke with calmness, a firm tone of leadership, and with the true confidence that comes from ability and knowledge.

And, more than any other, Yang actually answered the questions he was asked. It was a breath of fresh air.

So I’m still undecided. I like Elizabeth Warren, but I see weaknesses as a candidate (not as a president). I have the same opinion of Bernie, who I also like. I like Buttigieg but his homosexuality could be a big weakness as a candidate (not as a president). And this Andrew Yang guy impresses the hell out of me.

Climate change bottom line: well done by most candidates, but Yang clearly best.

General bottom line: Too often, far too often, the candidates (all except Yang and maybe Buttageig), when asked a question, launched into a speech having little or nothing to do with the question. By the time they finished, you couldn’t even remember what the question was! Fortunately CNN was smart enough to put the question at the bottom of the screen while the candidate was speaking (good job!).

50 responses to “Confessions of a Climate Change News Junkie: U.S. Presidential Edition

  1. The only other thing I’d say about Senator Warren, since she is our Senator, is I’m afraid that on tough or unpopular choices on climate she might waiver.

    Case in point: When FEMA was trying to get coastal residents to own more of the risk they embrace by living at the seashore, rather than having it fully socialized, they worked with and got legislation passed by Congress to impose higher insurance fees for people in risky areas. That’s a sensible thing in my book and, eventually, coastal property owners — some of who have second homes there and some of who are actually absentee commercial landlords — need to bear the full costs of their risks. Also, the present legislation is bad because it only applies if you rebuild in place.

    Now, there are a lot of new ideas on how to handle this. But the point is at the time of the legislation there was a cry of protest from coastal owners. And, after the cry, Senator Warren came swooping down taking the side of the property owners, agreeing how unfair this was, and eventually worked to amend the legislation putting us all back in the seat of being primary payers.

    I was not happy about this and let her know it.

  2. Your system is broken.
    You need to fix it to go forwards .
    Find a candidate that is also addressing issues like citizen United if you want real change .

    • Most, if not all, of the candidates have ideas about that, too.

    • We don’t have time to fix Citizens United first, just like, to quote David Wallace- Wells, we don’t have time for a revolution. We don’t have time to develop new kinds of nuclear power either, as Tamino implied or even set out on a campaign to build massive amounts of new: They take so long to build, let alone that we can build triple or more of the generating capacity of any one via wind solar and batteries for the cost of one.

  3. At the moment, I’m backing Warren, and Bernie second choice. But whoever gets the Democratic nomination gets my vote in November 2020. If the Democrats don’t win both the presidency and the Senate in 2020, the US is toast.

    • Yeah, it’s basically “Vote blue, no matter who!”

      When you’re running against a cross between Valdemort, Mussolini, and John Wayne Gacy in his clown costume, it’s a pretty easy choice.

  4. I’m a little surprised by your favorable impression of Yang, Tamino. I hasten to add that I’m not disagreeing; we don’t have cable, and so have been relying on reporting of the town halls, rather than our own perceptions. It’s just that what I’d previously heard him say on the topic had sounded rather unfocused, even a bit doomerish (if I’m allowed a neologism here.) In one case i heard, he actually did a ‘pivot’ from climate change to his Freedom Dividend proposal, which struck me as tangential, at best.

    But perhaps I should reconsider. I will say that I think he has a lot of work to do before he is thoroughly taken seriously as a candidate. (Though how Donald Trump ever could have been taken seriously as a candidate still puzzles me, so there’s that.)

  5. Surprising how often this happens, but following this post, I just came across a fairly detailed assessment of Yang’s climate proposals. For those interested:

    https://cleantechnica.com/2019/09/06/yang-would-spend-us3-trillion-on-residential-solar-but-the-same-money-could-decarbonize-the-grid-entirely/

  6. You might be interested in Green City Times’ greenhouse gas stabilization plan, and accompanying public policy proposals for climate change mitigation. In order to stop the devastating impacts of global warming on the environment, public policy should be focused on implementing clean energy technology. Similar to Jay Inslee’s public policy climate strategies, a switch to sustainable technologies, renewable energy, and energy efficiency translates into an increase in employment on a scale measured by an increase in millions of clean energy jobs. Unlike Jay Inslee’s proposals, and I also support(ed) Inslee because he has an exponentially more sophisticated grasp on climate change issues than the rest of the field, Green City Times does advocate for carbon pricing.

    https://www.greencitytimes.com/stabilize-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2/

  7. @Doc Snow, @Tamino,

    I give Yang a lot of credit for even mentioning SRM and direct air capture. I respect Jacobson, too, but I think, given the likelihood we’ll miss the mark on decarbonizing, it’s worth looking at direct air capture improvements: I want it to be more price competitive with SRM of the low altitude aerosol kind.

    There’s a lot to be said for decentralizing PV as in residential PV. There are bigger capital costs overall, but it depends who pays them. Also, in my opinion, for-profit utilities are some of the worst and most manipulative political players around energy that there are, and I see them as big impediments to any systematic rollout of zero Carbon energy. Jacobon’s Solutions Project plan, which is excellent, depends upon creating a much smarter grid, essentially replacing the one we have. From my perspective in Massachusetts, National Grid and Eversource have objected to and fought doing this every step of the way. Eversource was even given money to begin this, took it, and spent it on something else, and ended up being sued by AG Healey for it. (She lost.)

    Decentralizing energy generation means taking back political power from big energy producers and controllers. I normally wouldn’t say that in such a blog, but, after all, this post is about politics.

    Yang’s other suggestions (fusion? really?) are less than spot on. However, I do see his guaranteed basic income as something which a rapid transition to zero Carbon is going to need, except that the Green New Deal-ish people haven’t been that specific. There will be a lot of losers in such a rapid transition: The secondary markets that support ICE automotives and fossil fuel energy (e.g., maintainers of oil fired furnaces in homes) will be hurt when automobiles don’t need much maintenance because EVs are inherently more reliable, and people are using heat pumps with 20 year warranties.

    • Gen III is deployed or in the demonstration phase on a significant basis now. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-power-reactors/advanced-nuclear-power-reactors.aspx

      Gen III nuclear is much safer than Gens I and II, cost-effective, energy efficient, zero-emissions…Gen IV is in the R&D stage, is even invested in by Bill Gates, and would be even more cost-efficient than Gen III. Gen IV would run on spent uranium or thorium, would be safe, would not be subject to the possibility of a meltdown or nuclear weapons proliferation, and would still be a million times more energy abundant than the next most dense energy fuel source. All nuclear energy, although not produced from a renewable energy source, is zero-emissions, in that the actual generation of energy from nuclear fuel produces a nominal amount of greenhouse gases.

      • @GCITYTIMES,

        My principle concern is not safety. On the whole I think nuclear power is safe. My principle concern is that all existing nuclear power has a negative learning or cost curve. To that end, building small modular of the same type over and over so they become commodities is attractive. Repeatedly changing the design “to make them better” is precisely the problem. See Rangel and Lévêque.

      • Yes, I rather concur with ecoquant. My concern with nuclear power as a solution to climate change is encapsulated in the two words “opportunity cost.”

        As a former Georgian living in South Carolina since the beginning of 2017, I’ve had an interested perspective in the ongoing builds of the new reactors at Vogtle (Georgia) and Summer (South Carolina). Both projects, of course, were or are Gen III, and were supposed to deliver savings through the increased ‘modularity’ of the design. But ‘teething troubles’, as one nuclear power advocate on RealClimate called them, have been extremely, er, troublesome to both projects, leading to the financial collapse of the South Carolina project and massive delays and cost overruns, with the attendant political unhappiness, in the Georgia case.

        Note that I live within the 50-mile ‘plume’ radius of 3 nuclear stations (Catawba, Robinson, and Summer, with the last being ‘upwind’ in the prevailing circulation), and am not particularly concerned by that fact. I support continued operation of the state’s nuclear capacity, which is about 55+% of the generation mix, subject to proper safety oversight and economic reality. But I sure wish the $9 billion USD wasted on the Summer expansion had gone into solar panels instead. (South Carolina has a very good solar resource, not as yet very well utilized.)

        And I’m afraid that the failure of the project has so poisoned the (metaphorical) water that there is precisely zero chance of any large nuclear project even being considered here for a decade or more.

    • It seems that no 2020 candidate displays the comprehensive knowledge of the anthropogenic climate change issue that Jay Inslee does.

      • Yes, he is/was exceptional in that respect. It’s unfortunate that nature didn’t bless him with a higher charisma quotient. Still, he has helped move the issue into the forefront of the Democratic process.

    • Fusion is better-developed than most people give it credit for. Go and look at what Tokamak Energy in Oxford are doing, for example. For a few million quid they’re well on the way to a positive energy machine remarkably soon. Could be 6 years time. And that’ll be orders of magnitude cheaper than ITER. ST25 and ST-40 have performed as expected, proving the theory so far, so ST-F1 around 2025 should be able prove positive energy in a machine 1/10th the size of ITER. Whether than can be extended to a commerical reactor for a useful amount of money remains to be seen, but they (along with others) really have moved us beyond the ‘always 30 years away’ phase. https://www.tokamakenergy.co.uk/mission/

      • @Wookey,

        Yeah, but while surely this technology should be pursued, they don’t even have a cost curve yet. Traditional fission does, even if it’s a bad one.

        Why is it sensible to solve a high risk problem with a high risk solution?

      • Impressive, and thanks for sharing. However, I do note that the plan is to achieve a demonstration model by 2030. That’s quite good, but not really soon enough for the short term decarbonization we need. I guess if achieved, the real world usefulness of spherical tokamak tech will be being assessed in earnest around 2050. By that time, the mitigative die will have be well and truly cast.

        (I can imagine 2050 scenarios where sufficiently cheap fusion might be *very* useful, such as building massive amounts of carbon sequestration capacity to try to bring about an ‘overshoot’ scenario, in which carbon concentrations are artificially lowered as necessary following a collective failure to limit emissions sufficiently. Not an elegant solution, but preferable, I would think, to spraying sulphuric acid aerosols into the stratosphere in perpetuity.)

      • @Doc Snow, @Wookey,

        Yes, indeed, having lots of energy to support Direct Air Capture would be useful, but my understanding of the technology is that it is surface area limited, not energy limited, and there’s a need for millions of units. There may be energy needs downstream on the sequestration side, however: Not all places have molten basalt which is conveniently located, so this means pumping the CO2 in some form deep into the ground.

      • Well, that was rather a speculative comment. But Step 3 of the Carbon Engineering DAC paradigm does involve a fair bit of heat, which could be supplied by nuclear waste heat.

        https://carbonengineering.com/about-dac/

        I was also thinking, rather vaguely, of the energetic costs of building all the various equipment involved.

      • Carbon Engineering, inc isn’t the only game in town … For instance, Klaus Lackner‘s plan has moved to commercial testing:

      • Fusion is not going to save us for several reasons:
        1) Unfortunately, the reaction being used is inefficient–much of the energy of the fusion is lost to the fast neutron exiting
        2) The same fast neutron is going to require a metric shit-ton of shielding, which complicates extracting energy
        3) Fast neutrons are a really good way to generate radioactivity in shielding materials and damage structural integrity of the containment vessel. Shielding and containment vessel will be radioactive waste after a few years.
        4) It is a very long way from break-even to profitable.

      • @snarkrates,

        Thanks much for the update on fusion. I knew about containment vessel weakening, but I did not know if there had been any progress there.

      • I made this post because someone upthread dismissed fusion out of hand (and I can’t reply in-line for some reason), not because I particularly propose it as a decarbonisation solution. Clearly the timeline means it’s not that important over the now-critical 20-year decarbonisation period, but equally it’s wrong to dismiss it entirely, especially for the longer term.

      • eq, thanks for the update on the Lackner enterprise. I’d followed it for some years, even writing an article in which it figures, but had lost track of it during the ‘quiet years’ of private capitalization. It would be interesting to know what the business case is that they are pursuing during this ‘commercialization.’ The story doesn’t give much on that.

      • @Doc Snow,

        https://www.technologyreview.com/s/613447/startups-looking-to-suck-c02-from-the-air-are-suddenly-luring-big-bucks/

        https://www.technologyreview.com/f/612340/y-combinator-plans-to-back-carbon-removal-ventures/

        https://industryeurope.com/mechanical-trees-to-capture-CO2/

        https://www.vision-net.ie/Company-Info/Silicon-Kingdom-Holdings-Limited-624041

        It makes perfect sense to me that they be based in Dublin, certainly in the EU. Who knows what horrors will emerge in the USA. My sense is the same reason I’m happy both my sons are “there”, at least they are in London, which is close to “there”.

        And despite Brexit, at least Johnson is speaking at the UN Climate Summit, increasing ambitions, unlike the USA, Australia, and Japan, which have been banned from speaking (paywall).

  8. As a European I stumbled over Buttigieg some month ago and since listened to his audiobook and nearly every video on youtube I could find because I’m so fascinated by his way of thinking and speaking.
    For example here in a seminar about inovation 7 years ago: https://youtu.be/qPmGy3Mznwo?list=PLp8hpxjWHvEM7DOFRwEj6h6q1Xs7WHPIh&t=804

    He intentionally leaves out a lot of the policy details in his appearances for larger audiences and focuses on the moral questions, the language used to describe the problem and on appeals to those who are not already convinced that action is needed.

    Example for an interview: https://ask.peteforamerica.com/gsrjkQt60vI/1577
    His climate plan: https://peteforamerica.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Climate-Plan-White-Paper.pdf

  9. Hi, i really enjoy lurking at this site and I thought that this might be of intrest to this discussion:

    https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10092019/big-oil-money-blocked-jay-inslee-climate-change-policy-carbon-fee-bp-washington

    • Yeah, that’s dispiriting, but worth reading for insight into how this stuff goes down–or doesn’t.

      • Hi Doc,
        it certainly is dispiriting, but apparently, that’s what were going to have to deal with if we are to be successful in weaning ourselfs off the dreaded fossil fuels.
        Perhaps it will be less difficult in other countries, perhaps not, but it really is incumbent upon all of humanity to stop using the products of the industry, ASAP.
        To paraphrase an add I’ve seen about animal welfare:
        If the buying stops, the emissions will too.
        Perhaps too simple to be true, but we really have to get something done.

  10. I am somewhat amazed you think it is possible to solve climate change without solving systemic corruption in politics and media.

    Universal background checks have 90% in the population and have been blocked by Big Money lobbies for ages. Nearly every American would like to get out of Afghanistan and Iraq.

    How much popular support do you think you will get for climate policies? 99% (somehow the far right disappears)? Will that be enough?

    • Yes, there’s a lot in that. Although the current moment feels quite a bit different–Trump and Trumpism comprise a reductio ad absurdam of past politics, and so poses the opportunity (perhaps) to address some of the structural corruption you rightly identify. If not seized, there will, I think, be violent conflict at some level.

      • Personally speaking, I find it unbelievable that any company would want to continue peddling in fossil fuels when we know today the damage that CO2 is doing to our planet.

      • Joe, corporations are amoral tools/robots created to make money. They do not have moral values, they are not patriots, they are not American, they do not care about climate change, they do not care about humans. If any cancer cell inside this machine goes rogue and cares about something else as making money it will be replaced.

        Corporations can be useful, but as humans we have to set the limits to what corporations are allowed to do, they will not do this and the main limit is that they should never ever have political power.

      • @VariabilityBlog,

        Basically, but I strongly disagree with

        … they do not care about climate change …

        In particular, I can see a completely reasonable argument from their perspective that they have suppliers, fossil fuel companies, which sold them and everyone else products which had the indirect effect of harming them. That harm could be to their supply chains, it could be direct to their facilities and operations, it could be by costing them increases in insurance. So, to me, a future class action suit mounted by such companies against fossil fuel suppliers seems to me to make perfect sense.

      • You are right, ‘Joe,’ but when a fossil fuel exec reads that renewables are now cheaper without subsidies, I think that often registers as a fearful prospect, not a hopeful one.

        Denial is psychological defense that ameliorates that reality (and the emotional complications that follow)–not just a professional activity, as it is for some.

      • ecoquant, if make them pay, they will care. About the payment, not climate change.

  11. Hi Victor,
    I’m a great admirer of your perspective and enjoy reading your various posts and your blog.
    Yes I agree that corporations are indifferent to everything except profit for there investers, and buying politicians, and that’s them.
    For myself, I’ve always lived in the big city (Dublin) and so It’s easy for me to keep to a very low carbon budget. I encourage all the people I know to understand that C02 is just as filthy as cigarettes were and over time it’s very dangerous in well mixed concentrations in our atmosphere. And I do talk about ghg’s in those terms, they are dirty filthy and dangerous and you’d be better off investing in renewable energy.
    Ireland is doing fairly well on the renewable front supplying 30% energy to the grid, although we have other problems burning coal and turf, we bigger carbon footprint than Europe would prefer.
    My apologies for gibbering off topic, but I don’t have a good head for American politics.

    • Thank you. I could almost start a fan club in Ireland. :-)

      Compared to America we have it really good in Europe. Seeing how terrible it ends makes me more sensitive to small beginnings in Europe. Protecting our democratic systems should have more priorities, we should not wait until it is too late.

      As a Dutch person I am kinda responsible for this corporation stuff. When we invented it we knew we were playing with fire and were clear that if they did not behave their license would be taken away. It may help to do this more often.

  12. As a reminder, 2 days to the climate strike. For example, here:

    https://www.facebook.com/events/1443260849180825/

    And events near you (US) can be found on strikewithus.org. Consider attending one.

    [Response: YES! Find a strike near you and join in!]