Rope a Dope? Let’s Hope. Presidential Debate Recap

October 4, 2012

Briefly, I’ll say I was disappointed. Sorry, but Jim Lehrer – earnestly insipid  even at the peak of his powers 20 years ago, needs to go away.  160,000 signatures asking him to raise the most important issue of the century at this presidential debate went unheeded.

Here’s the fact check from Climate Progress.

ClimateProgress:

If you watched the real-time reaction to the debates, the disappointment among folks within the energy and environment community over the lack of attention to climate was palpable. Even with 160,000 signatures delivered to PBS’ Jim Lehrer calling on him to ask the candidates about climate change, the issue was completely ignored during the 90 minute conversation — continuing a long streak of silence throughout the campaign.

Apparently, neither of the candidates — particularly Obama — has been watching the polls showing that climate could be a major factor in how undecided and Independent voters cast their ballots.

Energy issues were sprinkled throughout the debate, however. The mentions were focused mostly on domestic drilling and clean energy spending. Obama stuck to his talking points about developing “new sources of energy,” repealing billions in tax credits for the oil & gas industry, and supporting an “all of the above” energy strategy. But other than making fluffy statements about supporting clean energy, Obama didn’t make any specific claims on the issue that required fact checking.

Romney, on the other hand, made a number of more specific, inaccurate statements on the issues:

1. “Gas prices have doubled under Obama.”

When Obama came into office, he was dealing with the impact of the greatest financial crisis and economic collapse since the Great Depression. That’s why gas prices were so low; demand had declined substantially. Even the Cato Institute and the Wall Street Journal have pointed out this obvious fact: “When Mr. Obama was inaugurated,demand was weak due to the recession. But now it’s stronger, and thus the price is higher.”

Here’s a chart that shows what happened to gas prices during the recession:

And as many analysts have pointed out, presidents have little control over oil and gasoline prices: Oil prices are set on the global market, which is controlled by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, a cartel. High oil prices are responsible for high gasoline prices: The cost of crude oil was 64 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas in September 2012.

2. “All of the increase in natural gas and oil has happened on private land, not on government land.”

Under Obama, domestic energy production has soared: The number of oil drilling rigs have quadrupled in number over the past three years. This has brought U.S. oil imports to the lowest level since 1996. And the Congressional Research Service issued a report showing that oil drilling on federal lands is higher, not lower. According to CRS, production from federal lands is up slightly in 2011 when compared to 2007. In addition, the oil and gas industry is sitting on 7,000 approved permits to drill, that it hasn’t begun exploring or developing.

3. “About half of [the clean energy companies that] have been invested in have gone out of business.”

This is blatantly false. In this statement, Romney is conflating the loan guarantee program with all economy-wide clean energy companies. And even when isolating the loan guarantee program that supported the bankrupt solar company Solyndra, an independent investigation led by John McCain’s former finance chairman found that these investments will cost $2 billion less than initially expected. That’s because most of the loan guarantees are going toward companies developing large-scale electricity generation projects with long-term agreements for the energy.

(Michael Grunwald, who literally wrote the book on the stimulus package, estimates that about 1 percent of the stimulus-funded clean-energy firms failed, not 50 percent. “Seriously, that was the lie of the night,” he said.)

4. “In one year, you provided $90 billion in tax breaks to green energy.”

This is also a piece of masterful spin, though not an outright lie. Since the stimulus package was passed, the Department of Energy has put $90 billion toward grants, loan guarantees, R&D programs, competitive prizes, and demonstration projects — everything we need in order to build a foundation to allow clean energy to scale. They are not all tax breaks and they were not all implemented in one year as Romney claimed. And according to the Government Accountability Office (h/t Washington Post), fossil fuel subsidies outnumbered clean energy investments 4 to 1 before the stimulus package was put in place.

What have these clean energy investments spawned? Renewable electricity has doubledin the last four years; we’ve built some of the most innovative “first of a kind”renewable energy projects in the world; content sourced from domestic wind manufacturing has doubled; we’ve created more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobsin the solar industry; and leveraged $100 billion in private investments.

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27 Responses to “Rope a Dope? Let’s Hope. Presidential Debate Recap”

  1. Martin Lack Says:

    All very true but, just why did Obama look so tired and keen for the debate to end? He really did score an own goal there. With any luck, logic, or joined-up thinking, climate change will be addressed in one of the two remaining debates. Hopefully, if required – and taking its cue from the glaciers and permafrost hell will unfreeze first.

  2. rwegrzen Says:

    Hard to understand how Romney’s “Clean coal” mantra squares with his promise to rescind any regulation that causes older coal-fired plants to close if they don’t upgrade their pollution control systems. This is all about winning votes in swing states with coal mining operations. Pandering in a word.

    • andrewfez Says:

      What the heck is clean coal? It’s my understanding that none of the main coal plants in the U.S. use any significant type of carbon capture system. My understanding is using these systems with today’s tech makes the plants pretty inefficient and cost prohibitive. I don’t keep up with the CCS stuff, so maybe there are some working experiments out there, capturing a little bit?

      (I did see read something months ago about freezing the combustion emissions, which allows all the nasty stuff (mercury, CO2, SO2, etc.) to condense out, taking 90% of the CO2 out of the game. But this idea eats 25% of the power the plant generates)

      So when Romney says something about ‘clean coal’ is he talking about SO2 scrubbing? Or is he referencing CCS and hoping none of his potential voters have in their possession Google or Wikipedia?

      I’m independent – voting Obama, in hopes that we leave some of America’s oil in the ground, so that the next generation can use it to make things like IV bags for hospitals, transport lubricants, condoms and laptops, if such things were to be made here in the future. However, it’s naive to think that everything can be solved at the federal level. I watched a few classes of law lectures that focused on renewable laws and such. The take home was that there are pros and cons for tackling the problem at every level of government.

      • rwegrzen Says:

        Who knows what Romney is talking about when it comes to ‘clean coal’? Today he’s in SE Virginia blasting Obama for stopping the construction of new coal power plants through ‘excessive’ regulation. Must mean that you can make clean coal power plants too clean even if they don’t have CCS.

        Good thing W Virgina & Kentucky are not swing states or you would hear Romney praising mountaintop removal.


  3. This is something one simply can’t find in the mainstream media – so thanks a bunch, Peter.

    But what isn’t of benefit to either side won’t be a hot topic. Obama can score points on the AGW issue regarding acceptance of the science, but he simply can’t outline policies without turning off a lot of swing voters – especially in heavy coal-using states like Ohio. As a result, he’s just not going to be eager to address the issue during the campaign. Romney can divert the matter easily when talking about jobs and taxes, but he’s weak only in the fact that he might be grouped with the rest of GOP as extreme about disregarding the science. As a result, he isn’t likely to want to address the issue, either.

    Climate change MIGHT get one token mention during the debates. But if it is, it’ll be treated vaguely and then quickly dropped.

  4. otter17 Says:

    “… the disappointment among folks within the energy and environment community over the lack of attention to climate was palpable. ”

    That sums up my reaction…

  5. kiwiiano Says:

    The Americans really are snookered. When a 2 horse race is between two three-legged donkeys who can they vote for? Tweedle dum or Tweedle dummer.

  6. omnologos Says:

    One would be forced to think the 160k aren’t 160k actual people.

    • omnologos Says:

      Let me rephrase that…”aren’t 160k people who actually care a lot about the issue, rather than just ‘participate’ by signing any piece of paper or website that passes by”.

  7. Martin Lack Says:

    Re: Clean Coal, CCS, and Oil Shale Gas (Fracking): I have been on a bit of a personal odyssey on this subject in the last 6 months. With a background in geology and hydrogeology – and an MA in Environmental Politics – I would like to think I have a better-than-average appreciation of the issues. Although I think I have reached a destination, I still feel deeply troubled by both CCS and fracking.

    I think humanity has proven itself to be so stupid – and so willing to allow worship of the god of economics to subvert sensible acknowledgement of the reality of science – that we now need CCS to be made to work. If we don’t, modern civilisation is probably history. Fracking on the other hand, remains – as David Roberts called it – an insane piece of collective hypnosis. Fracking is definitely not the answer. Fossil fuels are like heroin; they are a self-destructive habit we need to get off ASAP.

    In the UK, we are now being told we are less than 3 years from blackouts; because EU regulations will force the closure of our worst-polluting coal-fired power stations. The answer is not more of the same. The answer should have been micro-generation using solar PV. Just one problem – our stupid government implemented and then revoked subsidies to encourage individual households to make the investment and get themselves off the grid. So we continue on an unsustainable and very dirty path… I don’t think it will be a story with a happy ending.

    • rayduray Says:

      Re: In the UK, we are now being told we are less than 3 years from blackouts; because EU regulations will force the closure of our worst-polluting coal-fired power stations.

      Hi Martin,

      From what I’ve read, an equally significant issue with UK coal is that most of it is already burned up. I’ve seen statistics indicating that about 3% of the UK’s original endowment of anthracite is yet to be mined.

      It’s my understanding that the UK electricity shortfall possibly due to the curtailment of coal fired generation will be supplanted with natural gas turbines. The UK gas supply is intertied into the EU system, so new supplies like he Nordstream complex will eventually allow for adequate nat gas delivery to the UK. Or so I’ve been told.

      ***
      As to the “clean coal” meme, this was quite a popular expression with Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign as he was pandering to the vote of the coal mining regions of the US. One should simply not take anything a politician says here in the US seriously. There’s no penalty for lying and the public expects to be lied to. So talk of “clean coal” is just so much campaign gibberish and nothing more.

      • Martin Lack Says:

        Thank Ray. I have not heard that statistic before.

        However, irrespective of how much coal is left in the ground, our supposedly “greenest government ever” has removed Feed-in Tariff incentives for people to invest in Solar PV; overturned the presumption against opencast coal mining in UK planning policy; is forcing opencast developments on communities and County Councils that had rejected them; and is now ignoring its own scientific advisors to pursue decades of unabated gas-fired power generation…

        When in a hole, we should stop digging (and fracking) but, unfortunately, economists think they can defy the Laws of Physics so, as David Roberts has suggested, I think we are all screwed.

        • rayduray Says:

          Re: ” irrespective of how much coal is left in the ground, our supposedly “greenest government ever” has… overturned the presumption against opencast coal mining in UK planning policy; is forcing opencast developments on communities and County Councils that had rejected them… ”

          Dirty sons-of-bitches. They left Appalachia as a moonscape. Now they want to do you?

          This madness reminds me of a convention I attended in Las Vegas a while back. It was “The World of Concrete”. One vendor had a tee-shirt that summed up the mentality of the truly pathetically demented. It showed an image of the solar system, and the quip was “First we’ll pave the Earth, then Mars”.

          Needless to say, a significant percentage of the human population is stark raving mad.

          Most of them work for corporations. The rest are professional prostitutes like David Cameron.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            What time zone are you in, Ray? I have always assumed you are in the USA.

            I am (or have been) a Conservative voter but, despite his husky-sledging propaganda, David Cameron (Batman) and George Osborne (Robin) have proven themselves to be entirely in the pocket of big business and – even when confronted with the folly and/or illegality of what they are doing – they refuse to change course.

          • rayduray Says:

            Re: What time zone are you in, Ray?

            GMT -8:00 (U.S. Pacific Time)

            Were I to be in the UK, I’d have voted back in time for George Galloway, Tony Benn and Clement Atlee.

            In Canada, my hero politician is Tommy Douglas.

            We’re pretty much on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. I can’t find anyone too Left for my tastes and I regard Barack Obama as a right wing corporate whore while most idiot American Tea Baggers think he’s a socialist. And most moronic Democrats believe he’s left of center.

            Unlike these idiots, I happen to know what socialism is, and I endorse it. Barack Obama is no socialist. Francois Hollande only marginally so.

            If I were in Germany, I’d probably align with Die Linke. In Latin America, my favorite Leftie is Raphael Correa. He’s the smartest of the Lefties running a nation down there.

            I’m baffled that someone as sensible as you are would vote Tory. From Margaret Thatcher on, they’ve all been crooks. The last British politician I could admire except for Galloway and Benn (oh, and Claire Short) was Paddy Ashdown when he ran the Lib-Dems back in the 90s. Too bad the Liberal brand is so ruined in your nation.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            I think you need to go to sleep, Ray. Embracing ecological modernisation (i.e. sustainability) presents problems for people of all political persuasions. Socialists do not have a monopoly on environmental justice. In fact, bioregionalism and/or localism conflict very strongly with authoritarianism. The main reason I am not a socialist is because of all the baggage that comes with it. I am therefore not an ideological Capitalist; I just cannot embrace the moral relativism of our post-modern society.

          • rayduray Says:

            Re: “Embracing ecological modernisation (i.e. sustainability) presents problems for people of all political persuasions.”

            I’m not a believer in the myth that modernizing means progress. Quite a lot of evidence to the contrary exists. Nor am I a Green Cormucopian with the naive belief that humanity can continue its profligate ways, as long as we find better way to squander the resources of the planet.

            For me the game is more of a matter of math. We live on a finite planet with dwindling resources in multiple important categories. As a species, humanity is living way beyond its means. While I am insistent in my opposition to the sort of austerity that the banker elite is attempting to impose on their lessers, I don’t actually find cutting back to be wrong, were it too be applied across the board, instead of in the fashion proposed by your Conservative shills who want to cheat the lower classes in order to feather their own nest. This is essentially why I could never be a Conservative. It is so patently unfair.

            ***
            Re: Socialists do not have a monopoly on environmental justice.

            Quite to the contrary, state socialism where it was most fully embedded behind the Iron Curtain was an absolute disaster for the environment. In this regard, Western economies have been far more intelligent in husbanding our planet.

            ***
            Re: “In fact, bioregionalism and/or localism conflict very strongly with authoritarianism.”

            If you are equating authoritarianism with socialism then I think we have parted company on what the term “socialism” means. To me bioregionalism and localism are much closer to the socialist ideal than is any form of the national security state. Heavens, I’m witnessing the U.S. head step-by-step into authoritarianism and there is not one shred of socialism to this madness, except for the way that the military and police are coddled by the elites with socialist perks and security blankets to keep them blind to what they are doing to the rest of society.

            ***
            Re: “I am therefore not an ideological Capitalist; I just cannot embrace the moral relativism of our post-modern society.”

            Well you leave me baffled. Not a capitalist, not a moral relativist, not a Leftie. What’s left? Are you declaring yourself to be a libertarian (heaven forfend) or an anarchist (hallelujah!)?

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Since it is wildly off-topic, if you want to understand what I am on about, please read the three posts on my blog reviewing chapters of Dobson and Eckersley’s Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge, starting here.

          • rayduray Says:

            Martin,

            I’m impressed by your diligence in creating the three reviews you’ve linked us to.

            One minor quibble I’d have relates to your third essay on Environmentalism and Socialism. In part it reads: ” … On the contrary, after the demise of the “red menace”, neo-Conservatives in the US had to find a new enemy to attack, so they chose the environment instead”

            My recollection is different. The new bogeyman after the collpse of the USSR was the “terrorist”. Remarkably, this has been an extremely profitable ruse for the Pentagon boys.

            Concern about environmentalism in the U.S. has largely been a butting of heads between rape-and-pillage style corporate plunderers versus the thoughtful types who would rather exploit the environment over several generations instead of just one. When Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency it was an act of political triangulation. Nixon reasoned that the leading Democrat of the day, Ed Muskie, was getting way too much traction out of campaigning on the basis of controlling the plundering of America and the embarrassments of burning rivers and dead/extinct species. Basically it was corporations who wanted to make dumping their wastes an externality versus the public interest represented the government. That’s pretty much the same alignment of forces we have today as was the case back in the 1970s. In this battle, the public are largely irrelevant, except to fetishize over trivial recycling gestures and impractical solar devices on individual residences.

            And with that, I think I’ve run out of anything remotely useful to add to this topic. Cheers.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Thanks for taking the time to read all 3 chapter reviews, Ray. I was merely trying to demonstrate fairness and objectivity… However, the sentence you quote was an attempt to rebut an argument made in James Delingpole’s Watermelon fantasy (that Communists outside the USSR adopted environmentalism as a flag of convenience).

            My assertion that it was the neo-Cons that adopted environmentalism as the new enemy is based on the fact that the German Environment Minister at the 1992 Rio Summit is reported to have said “I am afraid that conservatives in the United States are picking ‘ecologism’ as their new enemy”… and the fact that the Cold War physicists Jastrow, Nierenberg, Sietz, & Singer had already done this in the 1980s (with the creation of the George C Marshall Institute).

          • rayduray Says:

            Martin,

            1992. I read Al Gore’s “Earth in the Balance”. And then during the Rio Summit, I listened to conservative radio thug Rush Limbaugh mock the Summit and the book, calling it “Earth in the Lurch”.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            So then, Limbaugh does not seem to have been worried about terrorists at the time. Then – as now – he was content to dismiss environmentalists as “alarmists”. This leaves us with only one question: What (in his mind) was the difference? If there is none, then, this validates the argument that environmentalists are seen as the enemy.

          • rayduray Says:

            Martin,

            Re: “So then, Limbaugh does not seem to have been worried about terrorists at the time.”

            Huh? Limbaugh spent the two weeks of the 1992 Rio Summit spending a small percentage of his time attacking Al Gore and the environmentalists as delusional anti-business idealists.

            But please recall that the year prior that George H.W. Bush had singular success at chasing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. For every one minute Limbaugh spent on the environmentalists in 1992, Limbaugh probably spent about 15 minutes railing against Terrorist#1, Saddam Hussein and as campaign season commenced lots more time on the threat that Terrorist #2, Ross Perot, was causing to the electoral prospects of Bush 41. And even more time in 1992 chastising the Governor of Arkansas for his involvement with Paula Jones and other perverse peccadilloes.

            Limbaugh is a equal opportunity hater. He hates Democrats most of all, but he also hates foreign people and he hates big government except that the Pentagon needs much more love from the American public.

            Environmentalists are almost an afterthought when it comes to who Limbaugh hates.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            I am not sure why we are arguing about this, Ray. Yo seem to agree that Limbaugh saw environmentalists as an enemy of progress (if not freedom). Please read Timothy Luke’s paper (linked-to in above quote from German environment minister).

          • rayduray Says:

            Re: “I am not sure why we are arguing about this, Ray. Yo seem to agree that Limbaugh saw environmentalists as an enemy of progress (if not freedom).”

            Arguing? Martin, you’ll know when I’m arguing. I thought I was reminiscing about a bygone age of innocence.

            You’ve got your language just slightly off-kilter. Limbaugh will only use the word “progress” in a disparaging fashion. In Limbaugh land, progress is a bad thing. Otherwise, why be a Conservative? [I'm well aware that "Conservative" can mean quite different things in the US and the UK.]

            Limbaugh does use “freedom” as a loaded word. Generally in his usage it means absolute licentiousness and escape from regulatory shackles for profit-seeking rape-and-pillage corporations. Though Limbaugh and his ilk are often circumspect about the term “profit”. They prefer to use “free market solutions”.

          • Martin Lack Says:

            Yes, you’r right – it was a poor choice of jargon. However, I would maintain that to the libertarian ideologues in this world there is little difference between terrorism and alarmism – especially when your old enemy has just disintergrated. Therefore, environmentalists were portrayed as being regressive. I think conservative (+/- capital letter) mean exactly the same thing anywhere in the English speaking world; and I understand the almost synonymous use of liberal and progressive in political science. However, in a climate change denial context, anti-progress remains a common label for environmentalists.

  8. rayduray Says:

    Noam Chomsky, of all people, seems to see climate disruption as one of the two most significant threats facing humanity today. Disappointingly, here’s his observation about the two wings of the US Corporate Party:

    The official Democratic and Republican platforms on climate matters are reviewed in Science magazine’s Sept. 14 issue. In a rare instance of bipartisanship, both parties demand that we make the problem worse.

    Read more at: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/11956-noam-chomsky-issues-that-obama-and-romney-avoid


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