Monthly Archives: June 2013

Obama’s climate change plan: Some reactions

Here is a small selection of responses and reactions to President Obama’s climate change speech.

Michael Mann: ‘The most aggressive and promising climate plan’ from ‘executive branch in years’

Michael Mann is director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center, and a genuine hero, who has been attacked by the climate denial nexus, which has tried to destroy his career. And he is fighting back. His brief statement on President Obama’s climate speech needs to be read in its entirety, but here are some key points…

President Obama acts on climate change by enforcing the law

The centerpiece of the plan is the announcement that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, in addition to the rules already in draft form that are set to regulate emissions from new power plants. The White House released a video to explain the importance of these steps in addressing climate change by decarbonizing the economy.

Climate change: time for action, at last?

Ultimately, we need a comprehensive energy and climate policy that prices carbon pollution and levels the playing field for renewable sources of energy that are not degrading our climate and planet. But given that we have an intransigent congress (the current House Science committee leadership continues to deny even the existence of human-caused climate change), the president has been forced to turn to executive actions. His call for carbon emission limits on *all* coal-fired power plants, not just newly built plants, is a bold step forward. It will go some way to stemming our growing carbon emissions, and the impact they are having on our climate.

Artful and Delphic: Obama on Keystone Pipeline Is All Things at Once

As media tries to make sense of Obama’s obscure remarks on Keystone, the president becomes both an opponent and supporter of the project.


The photo, from NOAA, is a human settlement in/on a marsh in Florida. How much sea level rise, and what kind of storm, will it take to make those houses into nice fishing grounds?

Does idling a car or truck save gas?

In the old days, it was believed that you would save gas by leaving your car running if you planned to use it again within a few minutes. That has probably become less true over time as cars have gotten more and more efficient over time. Apparently, idling your car for even something like 10 seconds uses more gas than turning it off and on again. This is caused by the use of fancy fuel systems that cars use now. This technology is, of course, leveraged in hybrids which turn their internal combustion engines off and on as needed.

Anyway, here is an infographic that provides the details. The simple answer is, no, idling the vehicle is generally not a good idea, so stop doing that.

Idling_Infographic_01

Historic Heat Wave in the US West Next Week

This is just a weather prediction, so it is subject to revision, but the National Weather Service is expecting an historic heatwave in the American West next week, probably peaking next weekend. Temperatures in Death Valley will approach 130 degrees F, and Las Vegas will top 115 degrees F, if predictions pan out. The heat wave may extend to the Canadian Border.

From Andrew Freedman at Climate Central:

The furnace-like heat is coming courtesy of a “stuck” weather pattern that is setting up across the U.S. and Canada. By early next week, the jet stream — a fast-moving river of air at airliner altitudes that is responsible for steering weather systems — will form the shape of a massive, slithering snake with what meteorologists refer to as a deep “ridge” across the Western states, and an equally deep trough seting up across the Central and Eastern states.

One study, published in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences in 2012, found that the odds of extremely hot summers have significantly increased in tandem with global temperatures. Those odds, the study found, were about 1-in-300 during the 1951-1980 timeframe, but that had increased to nearly 1-in-10 by 1981-2010.

Records may be broken. Drink plenty of fluids!

Obama’s Climate Change Speech FTW

No time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.
No time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.

“I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it is not going to protect you from the coming storm. Ultimately we will be judges as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from here … push back on misinformation, speak up for the facts, broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future, convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution … invest, divest … remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.”


This particular speech by President Barack Obama could be used as an example of how to give a policy speech that includes specific initiatives, will rile the opposition, must inspire the base, and makes great use of the bully pulpit.

President Obama started his speech by underscoring the extra heat caused by global warming: he took off his jacket and invited everyone else to do the same. He noted, rightly, that what we do now about climate will have profound impacts on the younger generation and beyond. He then made reference to the famous Apollo photograph of the Earth, which reminded us that we live on a tiny blue dot. He noted that the basic idea of greenhouse gasses as a thing was not new back when that photograph was taken, and that the idea that our planet’s climate is changing is good science, reviewed and developed over decades. He spent a fair amount of time discussing the effects of climate change on life, livelihood, health and economy, and made a strong statement on indirect costs of climate change.

He discussed what has been done so far by his administration regarding climate and energy policy, but acknowledged that there was more to do. He noted that he had already asked Congress to come up with a plan, and reiterated this request. Which they have not done.

The President said we should use less dirty energy, use more clean energy, waste less energy. He made the specific proposal that we make use of the Clean Air Act, which as he noted passed the Senate unanimously and the house with only one dissenting vote, and signed into law by a Republican president; we will incorporate regulation on “Carbon Pollution” (That’s what we will be calling it from now on) in the existing regulation. New and existing power plants will now be regulated vis-a-vis CO2 output.

He noted that naysayers would claim that all sorts of bad things would happen with these new regulatory applications, but noted that this had been said before whenever major pollution-stemming actions were proposed, and these doomsday scenarios never happened. President Obama made specific reference to earlier uses of the clean air act, removing lead from gasoline, cancer-causing compounds in plastics, and automobile fuel standards. In short, he said we should not bet against American industry or workers, or falsely believe that we must choose between the health of future generations and business.

On the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Obama quickly reviewed the current process and noted that in order to build it it would have to be “in our national interest” and our national interest would only be served if the project’s net effects did not increase carbon pollution. This seems a good indicator that the pipeline won’t be built, because it would have such effects. We shall see.

President Obama wants to use Natural Gas as a “Transition fuel.” That’s OK, but it may increase the use of Fracking, so again, we’ll see. President Obama noted that over the last four years we’ve doubled the amount of energy we produce with solar and wind power, and that costs have reduced for these technology and that this has created jobs. He noted that 75% of the jobs created by these industries are in Republican districts despite national-level Republican opposition to creating these jobs. The President proposed greenlighting the development of renewable energy technology on public lands sufficient to power 60 million homes by 2020. That seems like a lot, which is good.

He note that he has directed the Department of Defense to install major renewable energy production technology.

One of the most interesting aspects of the new policy is President Obama’s call for Congress to end tax breaks for carbon-polluting industries and invest instead in clean energy. This will require changing the composition of Congress, which can happen during the next midterm election.

The President is calling for new efficiency standards in vehicles, homes, business, and industry. He also called for the federal government to expand its use of renewable energy to 20% over the next seven years. I wonder if this will mean putting solar panels back on the White House!

He then spoke about mitigation. This is what we do because we’ve already messed up the planet too much to avoid severe negative effects. He talked about building better storm-proofing for homes, power grids, coastlines, etc. His proposals include both executive action and budget items that will require Congressional action. So again, the composition of Congress is important.

Internationally, the President discussed various aspects of development that will have strong impacts on climate in the near and medium future, and the increased vulnerably of developing nations to climate change effects. He called for an end to public financing of inefficient or polluting coal plants in developing countries, and global free trade in clean energy technologies.

It is notable that the leader of the free world frequently referred to the basic habitability of the planet a number of times.

He talked about international agreements and the importance of developing an ambitious and inclusive, yet flexible, international plan.

When he completed announcing his plan there was spontaneous extensive and thunderous applause.

President Obama then took up the bully pulpit, encouraging businesses, engineers, etc. to get on board. He then said that those in power (like himself) need to be “…less concerned with the judgement of special interests and well connected donors and more concerned with the judgement of prosperity” because future generations will have to live with the consequences of our decisions. He noted (for the second or third time in the speech) that climate change and related concerns were not always, in the past, a partisan issue. He put in a strong plug for his EPA head nominee, Gina McCarthy, whose appointment is being held up by Senate Republicans for no good reason. This also elicited thunderous applause.

The coolest part of his speech was when he said this:

I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. [spontaneous thunderous applause, laughter, hooting] Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it is not going to protect you from the coming storm. Ultimately we will be judges as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from here.

He also encouraged people to bring this issue to their own social and professional circles as a matter of discussion. He said “…push back on misinformation, speak up for the facts, broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future, convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution … invest, divest … remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.”

The speech was substantive, effective, impressive, and inspiring. It may have been the best speech President Obama has ever given, and he’s given some darn good ones.

Now, let’s get to work.

If you saw the speech on TV you should know that, depending on which network you watched, various parts were cut out or interrupted. Here is the uncut version:

The President and his people produced the Largest Infographic Ever Seen, so large that it can be seen from the International Space Station when it flies over, on the new climate change policies. Here it is.

The White House has produced a number of infographics that outline the plan, which you can see here

Californial Prop 8 Struck Down by Scotus

From Mercury News:

In a ruling that assures further legal battles, the high court found that backers of Proposition 8 did not have the legal right to defend the voter-approved gay marriage ban in place of the governor and attorney general, who have refused to press appeals of a federal judge’s 2010 ruling finding the law unconstitutional.

It was a 5-4 decision, usual suspects.

Reminder: Who is on the Supreme Court matters.

Reminder: Who is in the White House matters to who is on the Supreme Court.

Reminder: Which party controls the Senate matters to the ability of whomever is in the White House to determine who is on the Supreme Court.

Reminder: The Senate has boneheaded rules so the above reminder isn’t just about a majority, but about a “supermajority” of 60/100.

Reminder: The Republicans want to restrict marriage, what you do in your bedroom, and reproductive rights of women. The Democrats don’t.

Reminder: Party politics is important, ignore that at your peril.

“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons”

The Supreme Court of the United States has truck down the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” as unconstitutional. It was a 5-4 decision. A ruling on California Prop 8 is expected soon.

From NPR:

Section 3 of the law defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” That provision had been struck down by eight lower courts before the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in United States v. Windsor.

This decision means that legally married same-sex couples are now entitled to the same federal benefits as married opposite sex couples.

Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissented.

Reminder: Who is on the Supreme Court matters.

Reminder: Who is in the White House matters to who is on the Supreme Court.

Reminder: Which party controls the Senate matters to the ability of whomever is in the White House to determine who is on the Supreme Court.

Reminder: The Senate has boneheaded rules so the above reminder isn’t just about a majority, but about a “supermajority” of 60/100.

Reminder: The Republicans want to restrict marriage, what you do in your bedroom, and reproductive rights of women. The Democrats don’t.

Reminder: Party politics is important, ignore that at your peril.

A Republican Failure in Massachusetts

And a win for everyone else. Ed Markey is projected to win the special election for the Senate seat recently vacated by John Kerry, who is now Secretary of State. When Hilary Clinton first announced that she’d be leaving that position, Republicans promised to stop Susan Rice from getting that seat, for totally bogus reasons. The real reason was to increase the chances that Kerry would be appointed in that position, so they could take that Senate seat in Massachusetts.

They didn’t.

Twin Cities June 21st Mega-Storm

The video below has meteorologist Paul Douglas talking about the big storm we had in the Twin Cities a few days ago (from his excellent series of climate change and weather related videos). The storm actually followed on a number of days with a fair amount of rain, and up here in the northern part of the Twin Cities, we had a pretty bad blow with high wind gusts and lots of rain the day before. But on the 21st, a storm swept mainly through the Western Suburbs and Minneapolis, but actually a much wider area than that. I drove down to pick up Julia near Roseville yesterday, a couple of days after the storm went through, and had to change directions four times because of roads being closed, three of those due to the storm (one had to do with a stuck semi, I think unrelated). At present over 10,000 Twin Cities people are without power, and we are having a heat wave. At least one major grocery store in the Western Suburbs (probably several but I only have direct knowledge of one) had to throw out huge quantities of food that they could not refrigerate. Many areas of the city of Minneapolis were left essentially un-navigable, due to down trees and power lines. As Paul points out in his video this was roughly like a 20+ mile wide F0 tornado passing through the area. That’s a great analogy for Twin Cities people because we have tornadoes here. As a person from the East Coast, I might also say it was roughly like a somewhat diminutive Category I hurricane going through (though the hurricane would have lasted an hour or more rather than 20 minutes or more at that intensity).

Anyway, have a look at the video, which is produced by Weather Nation‘s Paul Douglas:

Welcome to the new normal.


Photo from the Pioneer Press.

OBAMA OPPOSES KEYSTONE XL … if …

And this is not a very big if, I think. I’ve only just learned of this, and don’t have details and have not thought about it much but you need to know: It is said that President Obama will nix the Keystone XL Pipeline in the event that the State Department’s study can not prove that it will not increase greenhouse gas emissions. Which is impossible, so ….

We shall see.

Listen to today’s speech to find out what really happens.

More later, of course. Meanwhile, spread it around that he’s gonna say no, then he’ll HAVE to say no. I saw them do that on the West Wing once and it worked great.