The Coming Political War on Global Warming

May 30, 2014

Anthony Leiserowitz for The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication:

In a nationally representative survey we conducted last month, we found that – by nearly a two to one margin – Americans support setting strict limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired plants, even if the cost of electricity to consumers and companies increases.

However, the country is divided on the issue by political party. A large majority of Democrats support setting such limits, fewer than half of Republicans support it, and Independents are evenly divided.

Greg Sargent in the Washington Post’s Plum Line:

In a speech last night, embattled Senator Kay Hagan blasted GOP challenger Thom Tillis over his climate denialism, arguing that North Carolina “needs a Senator who believes climate change exists.” Hagan added: “Unlike my opponent who flatly denied the existence of climate change, I know the EPA’s ability to responsibly regulate greenhouse gas emissions is key to protecting our environment for future generations.” However, Hagan has also called on the EPA to delay the introduction of pending new rules on carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, something Tillis has tried to turn into an issue. The two moves aren’t necessarily contradictory — Hagan says we need a longer public comment period for those who will be impacted, not that there shouldn’t be any new rules — but they do underscore that embattled Senate Dems may find themselves in a tricky political position when Obama rolls out the new rules next week. This is also the latest sign climate change could actually become something of an issue in this year’s campaigns, something environmentalists have long hoped for. Dem Rep. Gary Peters, who is running for Senate in Michigan, has already begun to make an issue of Land’s climate skepticism in Michigan, in part because of climate change’s potential impact on the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer has vowed to spend $100 million highlighting GOP climate denialism, singling out Land, Gardner, and Ernst. A Michigan newspaper is reporting that Land hit Peters today, accusing him of standing with a “billionaire radical from California.” (There’s no mention in the report of whether Land has yet clarified her climate skepticism.) The flip side of this, of course, is that Democrats can use the issue of climate change to draw more attention to the Koch brothers’ efforts to elect Land and other Republicans to the Senate. Indeed, the massive Koch expenditures are another reason climate change may draw more attention this year: As Forbes has noted, Koch industries has “contributed millions to organizations that have studied human-induced global warming with skepticism,” raising questions about “whether their political activities are blatantly self-interested,” given that Koch Industries is “a major carbon emitter, vulnerable to tighter emissions controls.” Dems will likely point to the Koch brothers when the next big climate change-related political issue flares up: those new EPA rules. Even as the Kochs spend tens of millions of dollars to transfer the Senate to Republicans, with the explicit goal of persuading Americans that the answer to their economic problems is fewer government regulations (such as environmental regs), the campaign arm of Senate Republicans is set to use the new EPA rules to put embattled Dems in a tough spot, by casting those rules as the latest in Job Killing Obummer Big Gummint.

The President brought up the National Security implications of climate change in a speech this week at West Point. National Journal:

Check out the progression of the few climate sentences in Obama’s wide-ranging remarks. He starts by telling the grads that battling global warming requires global cooperation. Then he says climate change is “a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we’re called on to respond to refugee flows, natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food.” OK, that’s worrisome, and that security message sets up Obama’s pitch for trying to reach a United Nations-brokered climate accord at a make-or-break 2015 meeting in Paris: “That’s why, next year, I intend to make sure America is out front in a global framework to preserve our planet.”
Then Obama looks at the U.S. role, and here’s where the speech includes what looks like a subtle pitch for imminent EPA regulations to cut power plants’ carbon emissions: “You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else,” Obama says. – Finally, we get to a thinly veiled jab at the GOP: “We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if so many of our political leaders deny that it is taking place.” Run it backwards: GOP climate skepticism is a roadblock to global cooperation on the “creeping” national security crisis that these graduates will face.
Huffington Post:

A reporter asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at Thursday morning’s Republican leadership press conference if, given his stated concerns about EPA regulations, “Are there steps you would support to take action against climate change, and do you think that’s a problem?” Boehner’s response didn’t exactly answer the question. “Well, listen. I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change. But I am astute enough to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs,” said Boehner. “That can’t be the prescription for dealing with changes in our climate.”

Which begs the next question – since the implicit assumption in your answer is that climate change is real – what exactly is your solution, Mr. Boehner?

23 Responses to “The Coming Political War on Global Warming”

  1. This may be a problem of how well informed one is on the topic. It would be a good bet that Republicans are uninformed or misinformed on the topic (from Fox News and Right Wing media). Additionally, one has to have some knowledge of science, which quite clearly Republicans as a group don’t have.

    My suggestion is to be more aggressive on the topic. Dems are too passive and too technical. Positions have to be attacked and in a way that better communicates with the voters.

  2. Physics and engineering allow this problem to be solved (a prerequisite).  There are certainly policies which could allow the engineers to do the job.  Similar policies were in effect in France in the wake of the oil price shocks, and essentially de-carbonized the French electric grid more or less by accident.

    Sadly, trying to do it deliberately in the USA runs up against hysterical opposition variously claiming that we’ll all die, or that industrial civilization should be destroyed anyway (in which case, most people would die).  I wish I was kidding.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      The French solution is partly the reason the German solution is so very different. Germany is, after all, down-wind of France. I celebrate both solutions, and hope this country can incorporate them both in its mix.

      • You’d think that the Germans would have noticed that the predictions of megadeaths following Chernobyl were all a lot of hot air.

        Apparently, only politically-correct historical lessons are worth learning.

          • France up 0.6%, Germany up 2.0%.  In absolute terms, German emissions were more than twice France’s despite a population just 28% larger.

            From your source:

            Paradoxically, European countries that are most involved in the fight against climate change did not make significant progress in terms of carbon emissions.

            Not so Green or climate-friendly, are they?

          • jimbills Says:

            Well, as you know, I take a skeptical view that an electricity source switch to a cleaner source (either nuclear or renewable) in a heavy industrialized nation does enough to cut emissions in the long run. The problem comes down to economic growth, which is never enough, and ends up eating the emission reductions given time – and they are still being produced at too high levels even in places like France right now.

            One thing you always harp on is that renewables require FF for peak periods, which is true. But I found this interesting from the linked article:

            “However, during periods of peak consumption (in France), the use of coal-fired and gas power plants is essential.”

            Also from that article:

            “The best performer was Cyprus, which recorded the greatest fall in CO2 emissions (-14.7%). Romania was close behind…”

            I wonder why Cyprus fell so much? More nuclear? Or was it reduced consumption?

            We never include reduced consumption, or reduced to negative economic growth, in the discussion. This is considered too radical an approach by both the right and left – but it’s the surest way of slashing emissions quickly. I know it’s a political non-starter, but the answer is staring us in the face – we just don’t want to see it.

            Anyway, Romania was interesting. Here’s another article:


            Romania, of course, isn’t very industrialized, so any reduction by electricity source swap and efficiencies will have a greater and quicker effect.

          • I take a skeptical view that an electricity source switch to a cleaner source (either nuclear or renewable) in a heavy industrialized nation does enough to cut emissions in the long run.

            Just keep heading to zero, or below zero.  We can make carbon-negative energy systems.  There are plenty of ways to manage the byproducts of bio-based fuels and materials to create carbon sinks, and that’s before you start getting creative with dump loads.

            The problem comes down to economic growth, which is never enough, and ends up eating the emission reductions given time

            You don’t have to grow, you just have to maintain and replace.  In the case of nuclear there seem to be large economies of scale (France’s build in the 1980’s was far cheaper than what we’re seeing today, probably because of standardization of parts and steps and the fruits of experience in the workforce) but that only requires accelerated retirement of dirt-burners.

            Once you have the generators, there are a host of ways to use them to cut emissions from things not usually thought of as being electric.  Plug-in hybrid vehicles can cut fuel consumption by 2/3 to 3/4 very easily.  If the electricity is nuclear, those emissions just disappear.

            One thing you always harp on is that renewables require FF for peak periods

            No, no.  Renewables require FF whenever they decide to take a break, which is often.

            “However, during periods of peak consumption (in France), the use of coal-fired and gas power plants is essential.”

            France didn’t over-build beyond basic electric demand, such as electrifying road vehicles and substituting electricity for fossil fuels in industry (and still got below 80 gCO2/kWh despite that).  Let me give you an example of a missed opportunity in the USA.  Autumn is a low-demand season on the grid, but that’s when crops are harvested.  If our electricity was nuclear and we built out to at least the average weekday load peak, grain could be dried at night using off-peak electricity instead of propane.  We’d have juice to convert the entire vehicle fleet to plug-in hybrids at the least.  Night-time heat demand could use excess electricity, dumped to resistors.

            I wonder why Cyprus fell so much?

            Economic collapse after the banks siezed everyone’s money.

        • ubrew12 Says:

          “You’d think that the Germans would have noticed that the predictions of megadeaths following Chernobyl were all a lot of hot air.” That’s the first time someone used Chernobyl to try to sell Nuclear Power to me. “Hey, look, it didn’t kill millions so: its all good!” Isn’t much of an argument.

          • That’s the first time someone used Chernobyl to try to sell Nuclear Power to me.

            Oh, come on.  It was arguably the worst-possible plant design (graphite moderator, no containment), the worst management (barely-trained operators conducting experiments with the safety systems locked out), and the worst government response ever seen (3 days of no news at all, while people went about their business).  I hesitate to say “it can’t get any worse”, but to make anything worse you would have to really, really work at it.  Certainly no design, current or contemplated, shares any of the features which made Chernobyl an international event.

            DESPITE ALL THAT, the death toll was less than you see in several coal-mining accidents in a typical year.  Meanwhile, tropical diseases kill hundreds of thousands each year, and climate change pushes those diseases further poleward each year.  For overall safety, even RMBKs are preferable to fossil fuel.  ANY fossil fuel.

            “Hey, look, it didn’t kill millions so: its all good!” Isn’t much of an argument.

            It was good enough for George Monbiot.  When the worst nuclear can do is preferable to the best that you can achieve with the gas backup that all renewables will still require, it’s time to get with the program.

    • redskylite Says:

      According to this International Energy Outlook 2013 issued by the US Energy Information Administration, it’s China we need to focus on, as it predicts sharp and continued growth, while the U.S is flattening out and stabilizing. France and Germany are just not that significant when compared with the giants.

    • Note that reducing greenhouse gases is well down the list of priorities.

      • jpcowdrey Says:

        What? Clicking on “Why the Energiewende” (first category) results in “A – Fighting climate change” (first category). Atmospheric carbon reduction would seem to be the top priority.

        • The first policy item (Tab 3, item A) is “nuclear phaseout”.  Those plants were replaced by base-load coal-burners, and Germany’s trend of decreasing carbon emissions reversed as a consequence.

          • greenman3610 Says:

            “those plants were replaced by base load coal burners” not strictly correct. Recent additions to Germany’s coal fleet are plants already planned and in progress years before the Fukushima event caused Germans to pull the plug on nuclear. Meanwhile, renewables have been added at an unexpectedly rapid pace. Germany remains a net exporter of power,even to nuclear heavy France. Should we say that France’s “Low carbon” nuclear plants are really being backed up by German coal?

          • Germany’s nuclear phaseout was planned long before the Tohoku quake and tsunami.  It was quid pro quo for Green support in a governing coalition.

        • This is getting old. All the same tired arguments repeated.
          The following traits are clues:
          Does the person ask the same questions worded in different ways? Does the person ignore suggestions or responses from other members of the community? If the community has a frequently asked question (FAQ) section, does the person seemingly refuse to read it?
          Has the person posted inflammatory remarks that have no real substance to them?
          Does he or she make it a habit to post messages that include insults and vulgar language?
          Does he or she respond to other members in a purely negative, critical way?
          Does the person post messages that are generally off-topic? Does he or she seem to want only attention rather than discuss the topic at hand?
          Does the person resurrect old conversations or discussions that were once controversial within the community? Some trolls enjoy bringing back old arguments to encourage dissent within a group.
          When confronted with a counter argument, does the person in question change tactics rather than answer the points made by another member? Does the person employ logical fallacies within their posts?
          If the answer to these questions is yes, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a troll

  3. Who do you think will win this war; political ideology or the laws of thermodynamics?

  4. Lets get the record straight on Energiewende.

    “Renewables have grown more than nuclear been shut down. Coal? In decline again.”

    ” Germany is well on track to reach the target of 35% renewable energy electricity generation in 2020. The figure for 2013 was already at 25.4%”.

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