In his 2013 Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama referenced climate change and energy in a very major way. The New York Times wrote: “President Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address, setting in motion what Democrats say will be a deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition.”
Here is what he said:
“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
Let’s analyze this sentence by sentence.
Obama: “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.”
Yes, that is certainly true. Any society that does not feel, and act upon, an obligation to future generations will not have much of a future.
Obama: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Correct. History is replete with examples of societies that collapsed because they did not properly respond to the threat of climate change and so indeed “betrayed [their] children and future generations.“ The Greenland Vikings and the pre-Incan civilizations in South America died out for this reason. While modern societies are more robust due to technology, primarily the ready availability of food and energy from across the globe, we too must get ready for climate change or suffer the consequences.
Obama: “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science…”
This is code. Based on his previous statements and his actions in the first term, we can assume the President is referencing the supposed consensus among experts that carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from human activity are causing dangerous climate change.
But it has never actually been demonstrated that any consensus about the causes of climate change exists among scientists who specialize in this research, even within the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) itself. Polls that have attempted to make this connection either asked the wrong questions or are so methodologically flawed that they cannot being taken seriously (I discuss the problems in two of these polls in previous FCPP blog OpEds here and here). Yet, the U. S. and most other developed nations continue to base climate and energy policies on the conclusions of IPCC reports even though they have been seriously discredited.
Citing thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) presents a more realistic perspective. It shows how the IPCC have ignored or misinterpreted much of the research that challenges the need for CO2 controls. The NIPCC concludes that much of the science being relied upon to create multi-billion dollar climate policies across the world is almost certainly wrong.
Obama: “but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
Yes, it certainly would be devastating if these events were increasing significantly. But, as demonstrated by the NIPCC, and as ICSC advisor and extreme weather expert Dr. Madhav Khandekar and I discuss here, it is not happening.
Regardless, if there were indeed an increased threat from “raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms”, as the President implied, then America would need vastly more energy to prepare for and cope with these hazards. So let’s see how the President proposes that America’s vitally-needed energy is to be generated.
Obama: “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.”
The sustainable energy sources Obama has most in mind are wind and solar power, among the most expensive and least reliable energy sources available.
Obama: “But America cannot resist this transition [to sustainable energy sources]; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality…”
No, that is how you ruin a country’s economy. Sustainable energy sources have had decades to mature. Yet, to use energy from wind and solar power still requires that consumers pay between three and ten times the price of energy from conventional sources like coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear. In addition, it was necessary for the Government to funnel billions of dollars into subsidies for “green energy” technologies just to keep them afloat during Obama’s first term in office, and some failed even then. Data from the Energy Information Administration indicates that in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the U.S. added more non‐hydroelectric renewable capacity than was added in natural gas, coal, oil, and nuclear. This is a dangerous trend that must be reversed as soon as possible.
No country, the U.S. included, can afford to sustain this indefinitely. And no industrialized society has any chance of successfully replacing significant amounts of conventional energy supplies with intermittent and diffuse sources such as wind and solar. We need massive quantities of reliable, high quality power to run steel mills, Internet servers and our transportation system, even when the wind drops or a cloud passes in front of the sun. Trying to base a modern energy-intensive society on what most people think of as “sustainable energy sources” is not sustainable.
Energy independence is not a good reason for promoting these technologies either. Energy independence is more easily–and much more cheaply–attained by exploiting abundant national fossil fuel reserves and those of close allies such as Canada. Then, some of the wealth created can be spent on research into potential new energy technologies.
But then Obama’s promotion of “sustainable energy sources” is not really about providing for America’s energy or economic security—it is climate policy by stealth simply to appease misguided activists among his base supporters. The fact that these weak energy sources are not even remotely up to the task is immaterial. He is basing America’s energy policy on the unproven and increasingly improbable hypothesis that (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion is a major contributor to dangerous climate change that humanity is supposedly causing.
Obama: “That is how we will maintain…our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”
This is simply a reach-out to religious conservatives and others who may support conservation but know little about the science of climate change. It may be politically expedient for the President to have said this but it is strangely out of sync with his next statement as follows:
Obama: “That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
While none of the Founding Fathers were atheists, most were Deists. According to several sources (here is one), they thought that the universe had a creator,
“but that that creator does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans, and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books.”
“The men responsible for building the foundation of the United States were men of The Enlightenment… They were Freethinkers who relied on their reason…”
Hopefully, today’s freethinkers will see President Obama’s comments about climate and energy in his second Inaugural Address as dangerous propaganda, something that must be countered at every opportunity.
Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition and an advisor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.