Obama Goes All (Oil-Soaked) Climate Hawk in State of the Union Address

So Obama has once again thrilled people hoping for climate action by putting some strong messages into his State of the Union address. In particular, he announced that he was going to take executive action if Congress did not manage to pass legislation.

However, he also still keeps pushing for increasing oil and gas exploitation as part of an “all of the above” strategy and gave himself a pat on the back for how much more the US is drilling nowadays. Here’s the climate and energy part of the address with highlights by me.

“Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. (Applause.) We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar — with tens of thousands of good American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before — and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. (Applause.) Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods — all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late. (Applause.)

Now, the good news is we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. (Applause.) I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year — let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all in on clean energy, so must we.

Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. And that’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. (Applause.) That’s got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water.

In fact, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. 

I’m also issuing a new goal for America: Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. (Applause.) We’ll work with the states to do it. Those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen.”

Sounds all very reasonable, except for the fact that to actually combat climate change the majority of the remaining fossil fuel reserves need to be left underground. Two thirds of them according to the latest World Energy Outlook  from the International Energy Agency, or even four fifths according to other analysts taking as basis a global carbon budget that gives an 80% rather than only a 50% chance of actually staying below 2°C, as implied by the scenario used by the IEA.

The background is of course that the fossil fuel industry has a very strong position in the US. As the UK’s former top climate diplomat John Ashton recently put it in a speech, energy and climate policy is pitting energy consumer economies  – such as Europe, China, Japan, Korea – against energy producers – Russia, Saudi Arabia, Canada, OPEC – who have little interest in a low-carbon transformation.

“America is both producer and consumer. But it cannot be on both sides of this fence at once. On which side of the fence – which side of history – will America choose to stand?”

An oil-soaked climate hawk cannot fly.

In related new, there’s just been another study published showing how exactly corporate interests are trying to make sure that the US comes down on the fossil side of the fence. In this case it has been shown (and not for the first time) how the emergence of the Tea Party was engineered by wealthy industrialists rather than being a genuine grassroots uprising.

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