The Climate Post: The Clean and Dirty of Obama's Energy Plan

The Climate Post is Produced by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Author: Travis Leipzig

Read this weeks re-posting of Duke University's Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions' Climate Post to learn: how much government subsidies for the fossil fuel industry outweighs subsidies for renewable energy industry; how much the price of oil might go up of turmoil finds it's way to Saudi Arabia; and just how much radioactive water was dumped into the ocean in Japan and how far it's effects are spreading.

The Climate Post is a weekly rundown of news, trends and events regarding all things climate that is put together by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Enjoy this week's Climate Post!

Following Obama’s energy speech a week ago, which set out a goal to cut U.S. oil imports by one-third within a decade, the administration unveiled more projects to bolster energy production—both clean and dirty. This included $112 million for solar power, $26 million for advanced hydropower, and lease sales for new coal mines and deepwater oil exploration. Global private investment in clean energy is also on the rise. This is according to a new report from the Cleantech Group, which indicated it reached $2.5 billion for the first quarter of this year, a 50 percent jump compared with the quarter before.

However, efforts to foster renewable energy have a long way to go, said the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its new “Clean Energy Progress Report.” Annual government subsidies for renewables amount to $57 billion, compared with $312 for fossil fuels, according to the IEA’s tally. “More aggressive clean energy policies are required,” the report argued, “including the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and implementation of transparent, predictable and adaptive incentives for cleaner, more efficient energy options.”

Meanwhile, President Obama promised to veto a bill that would handcuff the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and prevent it from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Several Republicans tried another tack, proposing amendments to another bill that would have the same effect—but all four amendments failed to pass the Senate.

Could we be Headed for a Double-dip Recession?

A new poll says Americans have become far more concerned about gasoline prices in the past several months than Iraq, Afghanistan, immigration, terrorism and taxes. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said there’s nothing they can do to keep oil below $120 a barrel, and gas prices will continue to rise, according to a Moody’s forecast, while Algeria’s former energy minister said at an oil summit that turmoil in Arab countries will have dramatic effects on energy markets for years to come.

If the turmoil in the region spreads to Saudi Arabia, the country’s oil minister warned, the price of oil could soar. “If something happens in Saudi Arabia it will go to $200 to $300 [per barrel],” the minister, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, told Reuters. “I don’t expect this for the time being, but who would have expected Tunisia?”

Today’s high oil prices are already hampering global economic growth, an IEA official said. In the U.S. as well, high gasoline prices are taking their toll on the U.S. economy, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich argues the U.S. is heading for a double-dip recession.

Even without a double-dip, governments’ belt-tightening measures have already eaten into green energy subsidies in Washington, D.C., as well as in Spain and France.

Fish Turning Up Radioactive

The fight continued to control the nuclear reactors in Japan, which are still facing the possibility of meltdowns. Authorities intentionally released 11,500 tons of radioactive water into the ocean before some uncontrolled leaks were sealed with a mix of sawdust, newspaper, concrete, and liquid glass. Despite these ongoing troubles, nuclear remains safer than many other energy sources, especially coal, according to an analysis of Europe’s energy sector and its effect on health.

Since the accident, U.K. environmental writer George Monbiot has been widely cited for his argument that Fukushima should actually make us more confident in nuclear power. This week he has stuck to his guns while sparring with Helen Caldicott, a Nobel Prize-winning anti-nuclear activist. Others have had their trust shaken,, however, including the European Union’s energy commissioner, who told Der Spiegel, “Fukushima has made me start to doubt” nuclear power.

The Japanese government is screening its fish, and finding some are highly radioactive—and halfway around the world from Japan, one New York restaurant has taken radiation scanning into its own hands, buying scanners to test incoming fish. Such fears are misplaced, argues risk expert David Ropeik—and fear itself may take a bigger toll on people’s health than radiation from the leaking plants.

Stern Rebuke

The latest round of United Nations climate talks, held in Bangkok, Thailand, got off to a rocky start. As the talks opened, U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, Todd Stern, was at an energy conference in New York, where he called for an agreement for developed and developing countries alike, without a “firewall” between them. But at the same time, he called a binding international agreement “unrealistic” and “not doable.” Rather than international agreements, Stern said, “it is the national plans of countries, written into law and regulations, that count and that bind.”

Developed and developing countries have set goals for cutting their emissions over the coming decades—but these don’t go far enough to avoid dangerous climate change, said Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres at the Bangkok meeting.

Didn’t See That Coming

After “Climategate” in late 2009, many climate skeptics launched studies independent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that took a closer look at the temperature record. Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is leading one such effort, which has received a large part of its funding from Koch Industries, known for fighting hard against emissions controls and accused by Greenpeace of funding a “climate denial machine.”

When Muller presented the initial results to a congressional hearing, “Republicans expected Muller to challenge the accepted wisdom,” according to Science. But he told the hearing, “we see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups.”

Post new comment

Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.