Obama was both good and bad on the environment, and we should be honest about his record, rather than mindlessly praising him, since he appears so much better than the Republican administration that followed him.
On the one hand, Obama did some good things:
- Got additional funding for renewables and clean tech in the 2009 stimulus bill,
- Talked a lot about a Green Jobs program at beginning of his term, but only got it partially funded by the stimulus, because Republicans blocked it afterwards, so he gave up on it after 2 years.
- Worked hard to extend the incentives for renewables and had to negotiate with intransigent Republicans to do it,
- Dramatically increased the fleet fuel efficiency standards,
- Drafted the Clean Power Plan and tried to get it implemented despite Republican obstructionism,
- Implemented a hiatus on leasing coal on federal lands,
- Drafted new rules to prevent contamination of streams by coal mining,
- Negotiated bilateral deals with China and Canada/Mexico to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Signed the Paris Agreement and did not work behind the scenes to block it.
- Appointed smart Secretaries of Energy and other administrators, who helped promote alternative energy, clean transport and clean tech and approve the infrastructure for clean tech.
The Stanford economist Tony Seba and tech investor James Arbib just released a report entitled “Rethinking Transportation,” which makes an number of predictions about the impact that autonomous electric vehicles will have on the demand for vehicles and petroleum. Many of these predictions are based on faulty assumptions about human behavior and a misunderstanding of the auto supply chain.
I often struggle to name a political or economic philosophy which defines my beliefs. In Bolivia, where I reside, I don’t like to call myself a “socialist,” because that would align me with the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party and I strongly disagree with a number of their policies. I agree in some concepts of anarchism on a local level, especially the anarcho-syndicalism of Latin America a century ago, but I see anarchism as a hopeless ideology for governing. Anarchists essentially assume that humans are good by nature and will do the right thing if freed from the coercive power of the state. I don’t see this as a viable philosophy for confronting the concentration of wealth and power that governs today’s society. Noam Chomsky, who is probably the world’s most renowned anarchist, observes that dismantling the state in the face of concentrated corporate power is suicide and we currently need an organization like the state to protect against organized corporate interests.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas recently decided to sever its ties with the Girl Scouts. Instead, the Archdiocese will support the American Heritage Girls troops, which is a Christian-based scouting program. It is decisions like this which alienate me from my Catholic faith and make me question why I should invest much time or energy in organized religion in general.
The most energy efficient way to move things around the world is stick something in a 40 by 8 foot foot shipping container that is hauled to port by an 18 wheel truck and loaded on a gigantic container ship. These ships piled high with goods from all over the world can be as large as 400 by 59 meters and can carry up to 9000 of these 40 foot shipping containers at a time.
These ships are often designed to burn the dirtiest type of fuel, which is the residual sludge left over after oil distillation that is called heavy fuel oil. This sludge is so viscous that it has to be heated just to pump it into the ship engines to be burned. Most large ships operating today use a type of fuel known as intermediate fuel oil, which is a mixture of heavy fuel oil which has a viscosity up to 700 mm2 per second and marine gas oil, which is No. 2 distillate with a viscosity between 1.5 and 6 mm2/sec. This intermediate fuel oil is generally sold as IFO180 or IFO360, meaning it has a viscosity of 180 mm2/sec or 360 mm2/sec.
At the recent North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, US President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that the North American continent would produce 50% of its electricity from zero or low carbon sources, such as nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, etc.
Before we applaud too loudly, we need to analyze the numbers to understand what this really means. Canada already gets 63% of its electricity from renewable sources (mainly hydro) and 18% from nuclear, so Canada helps improve the continental average (although it only generates 15% as much electricity as the US). In order to fulfill its goals, the US will have to move from 13.7% to 23% renewable electricity between 2015 to 2025.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has been trotted out year after year as the fabled solution to climate change, but so far it has produced little except a few pilot CCS plants that are political boondoggles. The costs of CCS in these pilot plants are so high that the companies which burn fossil fuels have decided that their money is better spent lobbying against government regulation and financing global warming denial and junk science. A 2014 report by the UK government estimates that capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from steel production will cost around $75 per tonne and more than double that for oil refining. Sequestering it underground will add $15 more per tonne.
Even if the high costs of CCS can be solved, there is no guarantee that the CO2 dumped into old mine shafts and abandoned wells will stay locked underground. The CO2 could bubble up through seams in the earth and unexpected seismic activity could release large amounts of the stored gas at once. Nobody wants to live close to a CCS storage site, knowing that they might suddenly be suffocated by a CO2 leak and no fossil fuel or power company wants to be held financially liable for leaks that might occur decades or even centuries in the future.