American President-elect Barack Obama sent a video-taped message to a conference on climate change in Los Angeles yesterday that, under his administration, he would to promise a “new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change”, leading to a “new era of global cooperation” on the issue.
In his message, Obama pledged “a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change. We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050.”
So let’s look at some of the details of what Obama said. First, the good news: he is obviously convinced by the science, and the need for urgent action. “The science is beyond dispute, and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coast lines are shrinking. We have seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing Hurricane season” he said.
He then added: “Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations … Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”
But what about the specific policies he advocated? He pledged 5 million new “green” jobs in solar, wind and “new generation” biofuels, but then also advocated nuclear power “whilst making sure it is safe,” as well as developing “clean coal”.
Obama’s great oratory is undermined by his arguments. He must know that safe nuclear power and clean coal are both complete contradictions in terms. In this time of heightened global security he must understand the link between civil nuclear power and nuclear proliferation.
Moreover, the recent hijacking of the oil tanker, the Sirius Star carrying 2 million barrels of oil not only shows how vulnerable the oil transport network is, but, also more importantly how vulnerable any maritime vessel is, especially if it was carrying nuclear material.
There is also a huge amount of evidence to suggest that new nuclear power stations would do little to combat climate change. For example, one of Britain’s leading climate scientists, Kevin Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, argues “We can easily deal with climate change without nuclear power.”
In addition, there is no such thing as clean coal. The energy required to try and capture and store coal is huge and basically the technology remains unproven on a large commercial scale.
Obama finished by saying that: “When I am president, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States.”
But if this means that a whole army of nuclear and coal companies will have an ally in the White House, then it will be no different to the bad old days of President Bush.