The TH Interview: Andy Revkin--Climate in the Obama Age

TH: Does the White House actually have a white roof?

AR: You know, I'll have to look at Google. Well, actually they block out the White House roof on Google. I think it is kind of light, at least it is a white house, that's a good start!

TH: So, give us an overview: what exactly has Obama promised in the way of energy and climate policy? Can you give us the big picture?

AR: Well, the mantra for the moment is that part of the economic recovery will be a "green jobs" program, weatherizing and tightening low-income housing.

Annually we spend several billion dollars a year paying the heating bills of low-income families, but what we haven't been spending a few billion a year doing is insulating the houses of low-income people so those energy costs go down--or changing refrigerators, that kind of thing.

So there's a lot of low-hanging fruit right there. Both for the energy problem and the climate issue. And it can clearly be an economic stimulus to have new businesses spring up that are doing [those jobs], or government programs that are hiring people to do energy audits and insulate buildings.

[Obama] has said he recognizes the need to advance technology. There's this commitment of about fifteen million dollars a year to accelerate the innovation pipeline, meaning from the laboratory through to getting something to market and having efficient devices or better photovoltaic cells, better batteries.

All those things will have a payoff and they're things we've kind of been just nibbling at--as I've written extensively both in the blog and in the paper for years. We've been completely disinvested in this country from research that advances technology, and he seems to get that idea pretty clearly.

There are criticisms of some of the mantras. During the campaign he and McCain spoke repeatedly about clean coal as if it's just a matter of flipping a switch. That too requires fundamental, large-scale efforts to demonstrate this can even be done. Capturing the carbon dioxide from coal is a whole different ballgame from cleaning up the kind of emissions we've already proved pretty good at. That's the sulfur, the old-fashioned dirty kind of pollution that we're familiar with.

Oh, and by the way, auto efficiency obviously is another realm. And trying to find a model for nuclear that might work. Obviously the one that we have now hasn't worked economically and it hasn't resolved the issue of waste.

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