Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bush's Climate Change Speech: A brief analysis.

On the September 28, 2007, President George W. Bush gave a speech to leaders of the industrialized world about the challenges his government will spearhead in dealing with climate change. (Big, heady stuff, no? From a speech like this, one would expect things that were synonymous with the following word and phrases:
  • Leadership
  • Innovative approach
  • Focusing on the problem
  • Detailed discussion of mechanisms
  • Foresight
Well, I've done a brief analysis of the speech, and this is what I found. First, let me show a graphical interpretation of the different parts of the speech. Realizing that the speech itself was 20 minutes long (from 10:09 to 10:29), and assuming that the president didn't speak any faster or slower on any part, you can see that roughly 25-30% of his speech was spent on introductory remarks, welcomes, and concluding remarks (slightly longer, in fact, since there were pauses for applause). This is slightly odd - talking in generalities rather than on specific points of the problem - for a man who gathered 15 of the world's industrialized leaders together for.

He spent longer discussing the benefits of having energy compared to the challenges that are faced by climate change. Odd, since the meeting was to discuss the issue of climate change - to stand in counterpoint to the UN's own meeting on climate change.

He gave three discussion points on the advancement of three different areas of clean technology: clean energy, safe nuclear, and clean vehicles, spending less time on the clean vehicles than on either energy topic. If you were to generalize the topic to "non-CO2 energies", then you can say that the president spent more than double the amount of time on energy production compared to vehicles. He spent less time on technology transfer - almost a side note in comparison to other discussion points.

Finally, he discussed issues of deforestation for about as long as he discussed safe nuclear power. This is the only restoration/conservation topic that the president lent any discussion toward. Now, people might say that deforestation is an important player in anthropogenic climate change, and I would agree with them. However, there are other non-energy, non-deforestation levers that can be tugged. Things like CO2 sinks (of which I'm wary), seeding the waters with algae (again a topic of which I am wary), and carbon credits (which requires strong government oversight and regulation to manage) to name a few. These were left out as major talking points.

Moving from general content to specific talking points, let me take a few quotes from the president's speech to world leaders.

First, the president leads his argument with statements on energy security:
"This growing demand for energy is a sign of a vibrant, global economy. Yet it also possesses -- poses serious challenges, and one of them, of course, is energy security. Right now much of the world's energy comes from oil, and much of the oil comes from unstable regions and rogue states."
Next, the president says that there is not one solution to the problem:
"No one country has all the answers, including mine. The best way to tackle this problem is to think creatively and to learn from other's experiences and to come together on a way to achieve the objectives we share. Together, our nations will pave the way for a new international approach on greenhouse gas emissions."
Then, a few minutes later, the president comes out with an apparent solution that will (likely) be his energy policy:
"Electric power plants that burn coal are the world's leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions. The world's supply of coal is secure and abundant. And our challenge is take advantage of it while maintaining our commitment to the environment. One promising solution is advanced clean coal technology. The future of this technology will allow us to trap and store carbon emissions and air pollutants produced by burning coal."
Let me take this point first. The president links the need for electricity and power to energy security. He then says (after stating that issues of energy security and environmental protection have come closer) that coal is abundant and secure (thus saving you from the messy political entanglements surrounding oil). However, this is a disingenuous statement, and here is why: "oil" is not our abundant source of electricity energy. Coal is used as an energy source to produce electricity. In many countries electricity production is derived primarily from coal and natural gas, or from nuclear sources some countries (i.e., France and Japan). In fact, if you look at total energy use in this country, roughly 1/3 goes to the transportation sector, which primarily uses oil-derived products. This means that 2/3 of all energy produced and used in this country comes from non-oil sources. Should we do something to clean up existing coal power plants? Yes, of course. Should we rely primarily on coal power plants in the future? Well it depends on how non-emitting they are. If you are going to propose coal as an alternative for oil, Mr. President, you had best get your facts straight on what the coal and oil are used for in driving your economy!

Also, for the entire section discussing clean energy technologies, the president does NOT mention anything other than clean coal. (No wind, no hydro, no solar, no biofuels, nothing.) These don't get mentioned until just after his section on nuclear energy (which I accidentally mixed in with the nuclear energy discussion points in my diagram above - sorry). However, he lends only one paragraph toward discussing both wind and solar energy. He doesn't discuss how much monetary input his government has given wind or solar power. Only saying that wind power production has increased 300% (a 3-fold increase from piteously small to still piteously small), and that he launched the Solar America Initiative. Compared to the amount of money invested in creating a zero-emissions coal-fired power plant (stated at $2.5 billion), the Solar America Initiative was given $159 million (6.36% of the zero-emission coal plant), with an estimated future funding level of $200 million (8% of the zero-emission coal plant). I wouldn't call this a real investment in renewable energy production sources.

The president states:
"We're investing millions of dollars to develop the next generation of sustainable biofuels like cellulosic ethanol, which means we'll use everything from wood chips to grasses to agricultural waste to make ethanol."
Erm... again, millions of dollars to help decrease all the greenhouse gas emissions of the country's vehicle emissions (with the possibility of technology transfer), versus billions of dollars to create a zero-emission coal-fired powerplant? How is that equitable? How does ethanol begin to translate into a viable fuel source for the developing world (where food shortages may make ethanol production a non-starter), or to countries like Japan (that would have to import ethanol, due to a lack of arable lands, thus incurring a CO2 cost from importing their fuel). Also, the president doesn't discuss the problem of energy use in transforming cellulose or sugars into ethanol.
"We're offering tax credits to encourage Americans to drive fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles."
And how does offering tax credits in the US help in the world? Are you proposing that other countries do the same? No. You don't this is a throw-away statement that isn't followed up with any policy implications that other industrialized countries might try. Oh, and by the way, what was the tax credit and structure? Oh, you aren't mentioning that it was of a limited time? You aren't mentioning that it only really helps people who are rich? Oh, well, so forget it then.
"We're on track to meet our pledge of investing $1.2 billion to develop advanced hydrogen-powered vehicles that emit pure water instead of exhaust fumes. We're also taking steps to make sure these technologies reach the market."
And where is this hydrogen coming from? Well, you need to use electricity to split hydrogen from oxygen in water, and you need energy to do it in other reactions as well. So, where is this electricity coming from? Well, currently, it comes from an electricity grid that is powered primarily by coal. True, by shifting greenhouse gas emissions from non-point sources (a fancy way of saying mobile sources that used to be effectively non-trackable in an era before GPS) to point sources (a fancy way of saying a big non-movable polluting source) you can dump regulation into a forum that already exists (the Clean Air Act) rather than needing to create a new forum.
"We've asked Congress to set a new mandatory -- I repeat, mandatory -- fuel standard that requires 35 billion gallons of renewable and other alternative fuels in 2017, and to reform fuel economy standards for cars the same way we did for light trucks. Together these two steps will help us cut America's consumption of gasoline by 20 percent in 10 years. It's an initiative I've called 20-in-10."
Well, Mr. President, looking at the 20-in-10 webpage, there is an interesting caveat listed:
"The EPA Administrator and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy will have authority to waive or modify the standard if they deem it necessary, and the new fuel standard will include an automatic "safety valve" to protect against unforeseen increases in the prices of alternative fuels or their feedstocks."
So, this "safety valve" is controlled by the EPA administrator, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Secretary of Energy. Hmm... All these posts are appointed by the president, right? There is very little democratic oversight on these people, right? And the "safety valve" can effectively make this policy null-and-void if they so choose? All, I really have to say is, "Hmm..."

Also, the 20-in-10 webpage says that this plan will help America lead the world to energy security. How does this "ambitious fuel standard" lead the world? The last time I checked, Europe, Japan and China all had proposed fuel economy standards much higher than our own. This would mean that US auto manufacturers would have to sell effectively different vehicles in Europe, China, and Japan as compared to the "domestic" consumer (if they choose to meet the minimum requirements of each country). I think this statement is empty propaganda. (Sorry.)
"Today the United States and Japan fund most of the research and development for clean energy technologies."
Well, maybe, if you include "clean coal" technologies, and don't count the EU as a single bloc. However, if you take out "clean coal" and do count the EU as a single bloc, I would imagine that the picture would be very different.

Okay, enough for now. I think you can see how a little close reading of the text of the speech may give someone who is a little skeptical (like myself) reason to doubt that veracity of the statements. But enough about me. What about the other delegates? What were their opinions on this fine meeting?

Well, Deutsche Welle leads off their story by saying:
"Europeans expressed disappointment at US President Bush's speech on climate change in which he urged the world's worst polluters to cut emissions but stuck to his opposition to mandatory targets on global warming."
The [London] Times was not very happy with the president, saying:
"President Bush yesterday rejected calls from Britain and the European Union to take a tougher approach on global warming when he renewed his opposition to binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking at his own climate-change conference in Washington, which European diplomats dismissed as a cynical attempt by the White House to derail UN efforts on a new global-warming accord, Mr Bush called on polluters to cut emissions, but only through voluntary steps."

Well, if I was a leader invited to the conference, I wouldn't know what I was supposed to think when Mr. Bush made - as one of his concluding statements - this brilliant feat of iterative reasoning:
"We will harness the power of technology. There is a way forward that will enable us to grow our economies and protect the environment, and that's called technology."
(Also, as a side note, calling upon your version of a Christian God twice in a speech may not endear you to some other world leaders. Just thought I should let you know that.)

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