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Obama's climate diversion

So President Obama has thrown some crumbs to his supporters in the NGOs by giving a speech on climate (coverage here, for example). I'm not sure there's much to genuinely quicken the pulse here. The general theme seems to be some more fixing of markets to favour his supporters in the renewables industry and some more regulations to tie up the fossil fuel bogeyman.

It's just that it's only coal he intends to tie up in red tape; several commentators are noting that he almost seems to be smooching up to the fracking industry. So one could almost see this as "going with the flow" rather than an attempt to change anything.

Meanwhile, there are no carbon taxes or emissions pricing mechanisms on offer and none of the more suicidal actions longed for by environmentalists and other eccentrics. It seems like something of a damp squib, given the excited trailing of the speech beforehand.

And in fact, the sudden interest in climate is odd in itself. So late in his tenure, it's hard to see him as being able to achieve anything very much. Anyone would think he was trying to divert attention from his problems on the civil liberties front.

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Reader Comments (31)

Climate is one of those things that people want fixed but don't really think about how. From opposition it’s very easy to jeer and call for action on CO2 but once in office they discover how hard and expensive it is to achieve. All those grand promises made by European countries putting in windmills and solar. Now the projects can be seen for what they are – huge white elephants standing guard over cavernous money pits.

The problems Germany is now facing are particularly worrying for Obama and his crew. They can’t pretend that failure is the result of incompetence or corruption. If the Germans can’t make renewables work, who can?

So he’ll make grand speeches set a few balls rolling; kick the coal companies because nobody appreciates them; sign up for more fracking because it’s a no-brainer; blame sceptics and Republicans for causing trouble and then be out of office before anyone realises nothing much has changed. From there he’ll make a bomb telling everyone how he was on the verge of success and only if he’d had a bit longer in power we’d have seen the end of the CAGW.

Jun 26, 2013 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

"Anyone would think he was trying to divert attention from his problems on the civil liberties front."

Perish the thought!

Jun 26, 2013 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

It's also covered by James Delingpole, who has just a few harsh words of criticism.

Jun 26, 2013 at 9:36 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Getting my alarmist finger on the pulse from Michael Mann's twitter feed it seems initially there was much love for the taunting nature of Obama's "flat earther" comment and then some griping later when they realised how little news Obama's address generated.

It seems even the MSM realises now that Obama is really a pretty shallow button pusher on climate.

I think I have a common ground with the alarmists who say that Obama is not serious unless he outright blocks Keystone - Obama is squirming away from making a decision on that.

It seems fracking has allowed Obama to make some noises on the coal front but if you dig down the fact is that high density fossil energy is still the main driver of economies - all fracking does now is make the ratio of carbon to hydrogen atoms a battle ground - coal producers will be on the back foot for a while I guess.

Jun 26, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Thanks for the summary. I can't stand listening to the guy for 10 seconds let alone an hour or more.

Why the interest so late in his second term? He's after a slice of Gore's cake I would venture to suggest...

Jun 26, 2013 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh.

There was an intriguing reference to working with healthcare industries. What does it mean? Perhaps a scientific analogy would be homeopathy.

The depressing news for hard-pressed US taxpayers, most businesses and people looking for work is that the pork will keep rolling out. Plenty of money for friendly researchers, bureaucrats and NGOs. No letting up of the pressure on the coal industry, or positive steps to promote cheap energy.

Oh, and the frequent use of "carbon pollution" - apparently referring to CO2 emissions - is really galling. Apart from being scientifically illiterate, it continues the great lying tradition of pretending that CO2 and soot are the same thing.

With this numpty at the helm, the US will be overtaken by China in every practical sense in the next few decades. And a lot of it will be their own damn fault.

Jun 26, 2013 at 10:06 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

"...and none of the more suicidal actions longed for by environmentalists..." that's OK, we're running the experiment here in th UK

Jun 26, 2013 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

huge white elephants standing guard over cavernous money pits
Love it!

Jun 26, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

What I would really like to see is the briefing paper for the President that does the cost benefit of these new initiatives. Just exactly how will success be measured and when? By how much will the future climate be changed as a result of these measures? Does this represent value for money, and on what basis?

Jun 26, 2013 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterMJK

On the back of all the excitement, Gleick looked genuinely surprised on Twitter to discover Watts had never actually denied anything about climate change and even the greenhouse effect. I helped him with a link that he proceeded to misunderstand (talk about having to fly very low for some people). No reply when I gave him verbatim quotes.

Steve Bloom then intervened and it all ended up with him making a joke about 4,000 deaths a day. I presume that's mainstream if you think yourself green.

Jun 26, 2013 at 11:28 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

It's the political calculus that bedevils Obama. He simply doesn't have the votes in Congress to further his agenda, due, in large part, to the problems unchecked govenrment socialism and statism. In many ways, he's in the same postion as Bernanke with the QE (not the ocean liner) effort. Both walk a fine line of between disasters. For Obama, he can't very well kill fracking along with his other desires or the reaction will be swirt and truly diasterous for the 2014 midterms.

So, he's "leading from behind" and just delaying as much as he can until Nov 2014 is either behind or a projected outcome he believes heaves into view.

Jun 26, 2013 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

I suspect it is a diversionary tactic ... put out a lot of PR about being pro environment just as behind the scenes you do a major U-turn. The press and environmentalists will go crazy on the hollow environmental news allowing Obama to do a major technical U-turn without any serious coverage.

... and just to make it clear, that U-turn may have nothing to do with CO2 or the climate. But it will be "environmental".

Jun 26, 2013 at 12:07 PM | Registered CommenterMikeHaseler

It's got Geoffrey Lean excited - apparently the speech was 'rip-roaring' and puts ' global warming back on the national and international agenda'. Yawn...

Jun 26, 2013 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

So Obama is backing both nuclear power and fracking. Now where's the problem with that?

Jun 26, 2013 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered Commentersimon abingdon

Jimmy Haigh: "Why the interest so late in his second term?"

It may seem a long time ago, but Obama's second term started only this past January; there remains 3.5 years.

Jun 26, 2013 at 1:12 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

obummer's deep-thought was already obvious with his handling of Solyndra

Jun 26, 2013 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterptw

ptw, the sad thing for US taxpayers is that there is no sign that there will be no more solyandras (not to mention all the other taxpayer funded schemes that have gone belly-up). The executives and directors walk away with the megabucks, and the punters are left with the bills.

Green jobs, indeed.

Jun 26, 2013 at 2:16 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

HaroldW - in 18 months' time, next Presidential Campaign kicks off. Barry has very little time to do anything.

Jun 26, 2013 at 3:12 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

His executive orders are relevant. Looks like he is planning to shut down the Keystone Pipeline, and go after coal plants, all because of CO2.

Jun 26, 2013 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeN

You also leave out what Obama had already done. One agency slipped in a large increase in the carbon cost when calculating new regulations, making it easier to justify any number of regulations in a cost benefit scenario.

Then there is his auto fuel efficiency standards that are set to explode the price of cars while making them smaller, while simultaneously discouraging the use of used cars by buying them off the market and destroying them with Cash for Clunkers.

Jun 26, 2013 at 3:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterMIkeN

Honestly, the Chinese must not be able to believe their luck.

They don't have to do a thing.

Perhaps some Roman historians can help here. True, he's no Nero. But, even as his empire holds a gossamer thread over the known world, it is changing irrevocably.

OK, OK, I have been watching too much Time Team ...

Jun 26, 2013 at 4:19 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

It is pure Obama.

He can talk up a storm (and may even stop the oceans from rising), but that is all it is. Notice how his new regulations are not scheduled to be issued until the last year of his term. And there is a fair chance they will be tied up in court for some time after that. Our President will be "on record" as having pushed for action on climate change, without really doing anything. And any negative economic impacts will be the problem of whomever follows him into office. So what does he care.

Jun 26, 2013 at 5:32 PM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

Obama every once in a while needs to both throw crumbs to his faithful, and to divert attention (like any magician) from the other tricks. He's got extreme problems as the Bishop alludes to with the NSA, the IRS targetting and the reporters wiretaps etc. He's got Obamacare coming up and the immigration act and all sorts of backlash to look forward to. I think his climate nonsense is an attempt to deflect. It didn't say much of anything.
His green jobs program is so far estimated to have cost about $9 million per job. More of that certainly isn't needed, but since its not his money he doesn't care.
Pew Research has reported recently that the two most commonly offered survey descriptions of Obama are now "liar" and "incompetent".
Not much of a legacy is it.

Jun 26, 2013 at 6:05 PM | Unregistered Commentermikegeo

Say what you like about Obama but his climate change action plan appears to be working already. Look here:

Already approx 1,000,000 sq km more Arctic sea ice than last year.

That boy is good. (Just in case someone takes this seriously, I am being sarcastic).

Jun 26, 2013 at 6:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

It has been said in the past that Foreign Policy is often a politicians retreat. They can escape the concerns troubling the domestic voters and bask in the warmth of mutual admiration with other rulers from around the world in desirable locations. There they can discuss their plans for the rest of us with their perceived peers without being accused of megalomania, and maybe pick up ideas for the "legacy" they would like to leave behind. (Beware politicians seeking a legacy.) Climate is a more recent addition to the range of such topics. Weather is for the little people.

Now foreign policy doesn't actually much matter to a lot of countries. After all, who cares about the foreign policy of a Switzerland or Mexico? Unfortunately, Obama doesn't have that luxury because US foreign policy still does matter to much of the world. But he can indulge himself at home with climate-think: The bulk of the US electorate were not interested in the topic at election time and he can't have forgotten that. He's been in the job more than five years and probably feels the need for a break.

He also knows that while publicly slagging people off is generally not good policy if you have never met many of them, it can also be fun and temporarily relieve pent up stress. Especially if you are not personally going to seek their vote again.

His speech writers must also get some strange Jane Fonda-type relief by parading their contempt for science, and Chemistry in particular. It serves me right for ever thinking it was important or valuable.

Jun 27, 2013 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

there are no carbon taxes or emissions pricing mechanisms on offer

While on the surface this is true, it is irrelevant.
Regulations are taxes. Regulations are pricing mechanisms.
And there regulations by the thousands.

Regulations require a person to do things they would rather differently.
They require you to spend money on things and people you would not otherwise need. It is a tax -- it just does not go directly to the US. Treasury.
Regulations require you to design your products in a way you would not otherwise choose. This infact changes the price of things.

Thanks to a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in 2007 the Executive's ability to make regulations on "any air pollutant" to be virtually unchecked.

Any air pollutant.
That is why the President referred to "carbon pollution" 30 times and "carbon dioxide" twice.

Even the lack of media coverage is a boon to the president. It has, in fact, shut down debate.

Part of his Paragraph 15:
Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.

97% of scientists. All scientists, by meaning, not just climate scientists.
say "put that to rest". It is settled. No more debate.
'97% of scientists agree with me, so shut up, you Flat Earthers.'

This is no diversion. This IS the main battle. Everything else are diversions.

Jun 27, 2013 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Rasey

Not a diversion. Natural gas prices will rise in a few years, at which point it would be economical to switch back to coal. That is the point where the inability to use more coal will cause electricity prices to rise considerably.

Jun 28, 2013 at 4:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Please remember that this is the same Obama who gave full backing to the 2009 cap-and-trade bill, which did pass the House of Representatives but not the Senate, although both were controlled by the Democrats.

He is also the same Obama who, in 2008, talked about intentionally making "electricity prices skyrocket" and who made a big deal out of Copenhagen (like so many European leaders).

I think Obama is a true believer in the whole CAGW thing. But before 2010, he thought that that would actually help him politically. It was only after the failure of the cap-and-trade bill, and the defeat in the 2010 elections, that he realised that it wasn't so straightforward.

I don't think he mentioned "global warming" or "climate change" one single time between the 2010 and 2012 elections - at most he talked about "green energy". Even in the debates, the issue was avoided by both parties. Yet, the moment Obama was reelected, he mentioned climate change again - in his first speech after the election.

I think Obama is a true believer in the whole thing, but he has also learned that it's a hot potato politically - same as Keystone, but in reversed directions. It may be that he has concluded that he won't take the House in 2014 no matter what he does, and that if he loses or is weakened in the Senate, he can forget about doing anything in that area. I think he wants to be the "climate change president", as his legacy, but he doesn't want to commit total political suicide - ie losing the Senate - by talking or doing too much about it.

Jun 28, 2013 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter B

Johanna said,

Perhaps some Roman historians can help here. True, he's no Nero. But, even as his empire holds a gossamer thread over the known world, it is changing irrevocably.

A better comparison is Theodosius "the Great" - as he left office (ie died), in 395, the Roman Empire was still seemingly the same as always, still stretching from Hadrian's Wall to Mesopotamia. But the changes he had introduced weakened it, to the point that the Rhine frontier collapsed in 406, Britain was lost in 410, Rome was sacked in 410, and France and Spain were gradually lost in the next few years - and even north Africa in 429. All under Honorius, Theodosius's successor in the West. "Officially", the Western Roman Empire only "fell" a bit later, in 476. But that was only a third-world coup d'etat with the German army commander sending the last emperor packing. The western Roman Empire outside continental Italy had already all but ceased to exist by 455. Someone who was 15 years old at Theodosius's death and lived to be 75 would have had the "luck" of witnessing the whole process.

Jun 28, 2013 at 1:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter B

Thanks, Peter B. That's exactly what I meant.

It's like termites eating out a building. It looks OK to the naked eye, but the day comes when both the illusion and the walls crumble, and once it starts, it happens pretty quickly.

I used to think that the amazing resilience and ingenuity of the US would eventually triumph and pull it out of the quagmire. But in fact the Commander-in-Chief seems bent on leading it further in, while ever accruing more power to himself. It is perhaps not too late to save it, but they'd better get their skates on, IMO.

Jun 28, 2013 at 11:38 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Positive interview with Obama's new energy secretary here:
He supports fracking with regulation at state level and claims to be pushing through approvals for LNG export projects.

Jun 30, 2013 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikeH

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