Barack Obama Faces Environmental Clean Up After Two Centuries of Bingeing: Bill McKibben

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photo: Barack Obama and Joe Biden

Barack Obama comes to office having to deal with the most difficult circumstances since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Perhaps even more difficult, since the environmental bill from 200 years of unchecked of fossil fuel burning has finally come due and Obama will have to deal with the convergence of deep financial crisis and deep environmental crisis at the same time. Indeed the only way out of either is by addressing them as a whole. And to make it worse, now is perhaps last chance to act before global warming fundamentally changes the planet into a much less hospitable place for humanity.

That's the gist of a new piece in Yale Environment 360 by Middlebury College scholar-in-residence Bill McKibben. This is some of what McKibben says Obama must push for:Government Led Investment in Renewable Energy

Massive government investment in green energy. For this to have any hope of being politically viable, it will need to be seen as the single huge stimulus effort that might lift us out of our financial swamp.

As McKibben says, we've got a good deal of the technology needed to do this already. And though McKibben says 'no holds barred' in making the transition to green energy, he also points out that financially nuclear energy is "probably too expensive to make a rational list" of our energy options.

Caps on Carbon

A stiff cap on carbon, which will help drive the process. Again, to have any chance of passing politically, it will need to come with the feature proposed in recent years by Peter Barnes, and that Obama has semi-endorsed: a "cap and share" approach that would return the revenue raised directly to consumers. That is, Exxon would pay for the permit to pour carbon into the atmosphere, a cost that would rise steadily as the cap was lowered. But instead of the money going into government coffers, every American would get a check each year for their share of the proceeds. They'd be made whole against the rising cost of energy, while the shock that the price signal would send would be preserved. Current versions of cap-and-trade are too weak and too riddled with loopholes — getting a clean, tough bill through Congress needs to be a preoccupation of President Obama.

Reengage International Community on Global Warming
McKibben describes next year's meeting in Copenhagen to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol as the last "legitimate shot the world has at putting itself on a new carbon regime in time to make any difference", and goes on to say,
It will be incredibly difficult, mostly because we begin from such unequal places. China has lots of coal and it would like to burn it, because it's the cheapest way to pull rural Chinese out of dire poverty (something the country's leaders would quite like to do because otherwise they won't be the country's leaders much longer). If we want them to use, say, windmills instead, we're going to need to "share some wealth," north to south, to make it happen. The Chinese opened the bidding last week, with a suggestion that one percent of the U.S. annual GDP would be a good amount to send their way. That's going to be quite a political ask — it means that Americans would be working roughly one hour every two weeks just to help the global South build up their clean alternatives. What we're talking about is a carbon version of the Marshall Plan, and it would mean Obama needs to be not just FDR but Truman and Ike as well.

McKibben concludes that one of the first indicators for Obama being serious on these issues, is whether he goes to Poland next month for the UN Climate Change Conference.

It seems that at least on this count the president-elect is already taking action: The Guardian is reporting that while Obama himself will not be attending, he will be sending his representatives.

More McKibben on Yale Environment 360: President Obama's Big Climate Challenge
Climate Change, Renewable Energy, Carbon Caps
Carbon Tax, Not More Financial Engineering, Best Way to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Jeffrey Sachs
Renewable Energy Economy 101: Lester Brown Updates Us on the Story So Far
Nuclear Power "Economics Are Just Not There": Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute
Climate Change Will Cost U.S. States Billions of Dollars

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