British Petroleum has finally figured out how to get under the skin of the American Commander in Chief. President Obama, clearly irritated by BP’s lackluster cleanup efforts, has suggested that the British oil giant place in escrow funds sufficient to compensate those American citizens affected by the spill. (BP has just agreed to put 20 billion into an escrow account.) As a political decision, this is both a necessary and shrewd move on Obama’s part. But the underlying geopolitical realities that this oil spill has brought to the surface cannot be understood unless one thinks a bit more carefully – and creatively – about what the BP debacle really is, and what President Obama’s initial failure to take charge really means.
On the surface, the oil spill in the Gulf is an ecological disaster. On this understanding of what the spill is, the main problem is that gigantic plumes of oil – a precious natural resource – are quickly and relentlessly destroying the environment. As BP’s rogue oil eagerly escapes its underwater prison, our wetlands and diverse wildlife expire ahead-of-schedule and unnecessarily. The theory, then, is one of environmental catastrophe, and the dramatis personae are as vanilla as the theory: Barack Obama, beleaguered American President keen to end the crisis; Tony Hayward, the incompetent CEO of BP who makes for an easy target for the world’s politicians, pundits and public intellectuals; the American public, at once enraged and confused; and the shareholders of BP, hiding in the shadows, hoping that the cost of this crisis will not fall on their backs.
A better theory – more powerful and descriptively accurate – is available. This is no mere ecological disaster, but is, correctly understood, an attack on our political, economic, and cultural infrastructure caused by no single individual or institution but enabled by many. It is now well known that a number of indicators pointed toward the possibility of a spill of this magnitude. And yet BP and the relevant U.S. regulators did nothing. (more…)
With the oil slick from Deepwater Horizon lapping at the shores of Louisiana, all sorts of doubts about the wisdom of offshore drilling are suddenly gushing up to the surface. Environmentalists and liberals long against offshore drilling are latching on to the disaster as hard proof that the potential costs of offshore drilling outweigh any possible benefits. In his recent op-ed for the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote, “President Obama needs to seize the moment; he needs to take on the “Drill, baby, drill” crowd, telling America that courting irreversible environmental disaster for the sake of a few barrels of oil, an amount that will hardly affect our dependence on imports, is a terrible bargain.” Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Florida, agreed, saying that “Drilling too close to the coast poses too great a risk to the economy and the environment of Florida and other coastal states.” Even Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has decided not to allow additional offshore drilling in California in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Obviously, many of these reactions have more to do with politics and popularity than a sustained analysis of the costs and benefits of offshore drilling. But as my colleague John Prandato recently wrote, this is true for almost every aspect of the offshore drilling debate, which tends to be highly political rather than pragmatic in nature. (more…)
On Wednesday, President Obama announced a proposal to lift the long-standing ban on offshore oil and natural gas drilling off much of the south Atlantic and north Alaskan coasts, as well as parts of the Gulf of Mexico. The announcement has drawn the ire of critics across the political spectrum. Some on the left are outraged by Obama’s “betrayal” of his environmentalist base, and some on the right have called the extent of new offshore access insufficient. In reality, the policy he outlined will do very little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and it will have no effect on oil prices in the foreseeable future. And Obama knows it. From the administration’s perspective, this announcement is about one thing: building support in the Senate for comprehensive climate change and energy legislation.
Studies have shown that offshore drilling will have very little impact on domestic oil prices. In fact, not a drop of new oil from this proposal would be seen for at least seven years, and the modest uptick in production and negligible price dip would not even be felt for two decades. Offshore drilling’s impact on real prices pales in comparison to that which could result from sound financial regulatory reform to curb speculation in commodity futures exchanges, or from putting a stop to the supply manipulation routinely practiced by OPEC in response to the artificially rising demand.
Nevertheless, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham – who is expected to introduce a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman within the next month – has insisted that offshore drilling be part of the energy equation of the future. Obama’s announcement on Wednesday follows similar concessions in recent months to conservative nuclear and coal interests. The administration’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request included $36 billion for the nuclear loan guarantee program and the stimulus bill included $3.8 billion for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) research and development. (more…)
By almost any standard, the outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last week fell well short of its increasingly humble expectations. Copenhagen was considered pivotal because the “Bali Roadmap” laid out in 2007 circled this meeting on the calendar as the conclusion of the negotiating period which was to create a legally-binding post-Kyoto agreement. But by the beginning of the conference, the goal had been reduced to just establishing a politically-binding framework that would set the world on a course toward reaching a comprehensive international agreement in 2010.
Modest yet politically significant emissions reduction pledges by the US, China, and others prior to the conference contributed to a mood of cautious optimism at the outset of the two-week summit. But on just the second day, the massive rift between developed and developing countries was exposed with the leak of the so-called “Danish text” – drawn up by delegates from Denmark, Australia, the UK, and the US – which would allegedly place most of the power in the hands of developed countries at the expense of developing countries. The text was dismissed by the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, Yvo de Boer, as just an “informal” draft. But China quickly fired back with its own draft text, flipping the blame and the burden onto wealthy countries. A day later, delegates from the US and China traded barbs as the US State Department Envoy Todd Stern told reporters that “there’s no way to solve this problem by giving the major developing countries a pass,” to which Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that Stern either “lacks common sense” or is “extremely irresponsible”.
The controversy stirred up in the first few days served as a precursor for the deep division between rich and poor countries that would plague the remainder of the negotiations. The next week was remarkably unproductive. Countless controversial draft texts fluttered around the Bella Center amid a walkout by African countries and thousands of angry rioters – impatient with the lack of progress – taking to the streets. With the looming arrival of over a hundred heads of state, the symbolic dichotomy of rich vs. poor countries had grown ever clearer and was threatening to derail the negotiations. (more…)
On Friday President Obama will attend the Copenhagen climate change conference. There will be much anticipation about what commitments the United States and the other participating countries will make. While the big whigs discuss issues like “carbon caps” and “emission targets”, some folks back on the home front will probably feel relieved that they are doing their part – perhaps by driving less or turning to “green” technologies.
Mike Tidwell, however, tells these people in a column published last week to think again. It’s time to “stop going green” he says. No, he’s not a global warming denier. He’s a climate activist fed up with piecemeal contributions made voluntarily by individuals.
December should be national Green-Free Month. Instead of continuing our faddish and counterproductive emphasis on small, voluntary actions, we should follow the example of Americans during past moral crises and work toward large-scale change…..surveys show that very few people are willing to make significant voluntary changes, and those of us who do create the false impression of mass progress as the media hypes our actions.
Tidwell is right that the sum of the voluntary actions taken by Americans probably make little difference in the overall progress of global warming. The incentives in our society are set up to promote the exploitation of resources. A ton of coal not burned has no financial value. Most polluters pay little of the cost of the environmental damage they create. All the best intentions by well-meaning people can do little to overcome the power of the marketplace. Yes, Tidwell is right that broader systemic change is needed. This recognition, however, should not lead one to dismiss individual efforts. (more…)
Yesterday in Copenhagen, 15,000 delegates from 192 countries filled the cavernous meeting room of the Bella Center to commence the much-anticipated UN Climate Change conference. In the months leading up to the conference, hopes were slowly lost that a legally-binding global agreement would be reached in Copenhagen. By the time the conference began, world leaders had lowered expectations – due in no small part to the stall of U.S. legislation in Congress – to merely creating a politically-binding blueprint for concluding a comprehensive international agreement in 2010.
In September, PSA released a statement signed by 33 prominent Republicans and Democrats urging Congress and the Administration to “develop a clear, comprehensive, realistic and broadly bipartisan plan to address our role in the climate change crisis.” The signatories warned that “if we fail to take action now, we will have little hope of influencing other countries to reduce their own harmful contributions to climate change, or of forging a coordinated international response.” The Senate has already failed to deliver legislation prior to the conference, but it is not too late for the U.S. to take the lead in the negotiations, especially since it will be impossible for a global consensus to emerge from Copenhagen without strong U.S. support. (more…)
On Wednesday, Barbara Boxer and John Kerry introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, the long-awaited Senate version of the climate change bill that squeaked through the House in June. With the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen just nine weeks away, U.S. legislative action will be a key to successful global negotiations. Particularly, investment in international adaptation – the multilateral assistance to developing countries in order to withstand the impacts of climate change – is widely expected to be one of the central elements of the looming debate in Copenhagen. Whereas climate change mitigation policies aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation seeks to lessen the vulnerability and enhance the resilience of the most at-risk countries through disaster management and infrastructure capacity-building. Kerry has called international adaptation “part of the glue” holding together hopes of reaching a new global treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Still, investment in adaptation – at both the domestic and international levels – has been continuously overlooked.
The international security crises associated with climate change are dramatic and self-perpetuating. Drought, rising sea levels, and resource scarcity will lead to disease, mass migration, and political instability, ultimately causing fragile states to collapse into failed states. These cascading effects are intensified with the Earth’s population projected to reach nine billion by 2050. And in a cruel twist of irony, the most devastating effects will be felt in parts of the world that are least responsible for global climate change, specifically Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.
In North Africa, subsistence farming will suffer a 20-40% reduction in crop yield due to prolonged drought and desertification. Drought will hit the Middle East hard as well, a region that is already home to 6% of the world’s population but just 2% of the Earth’s water supply. And with 60% of the Middle East’s bodies of water lying trans-boundary, the stage is set for conflict. As John Kerry said, “a demographic boom and a shrinking water supply will only tighten the squeeze on a region that doesn’t need another reason to disagree violently.” (more…)
Every February and March, a black haze descends onto mainland Southeast Asia, lowering visibility and driving thousands of people with respiratory complaints into hospital emergency rooms. The cause of this haze has been known for years- the widespread use of slash-and-burn agriculture that results in large swathes of farmland going up in flames annually. What hasn’t been known until recently, however, is the global impact that hazes like this, made up of airborne soot, has had not only on air quality but on the earth’s rising temperature. Scientists now believe that soot, more formally known as black carbon, is responsible for almost twenty percent of the increase in the earth’s temperature over the past century, making it the largest contributing factor to climate change after carbon dioxide. Through legislation aimed at further reducing domestic black carbon emissions and promoting international projects and agreements aimed at emissions cuts, Congress can take immediate, definitive steps towards reducing black carbon’s effect on the rate of climate change.
During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India last week, Indian environmental minister Jairam Ramesh expressed India’s views on climate change policy: “There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have been among the lowest emitters per capita, face to actually reduce emissions.” Other less-developed countries (LDCs) have similar, though perhaps less aggressive, attitudes. The problem is, developing countries now make up a significant portion of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (China emits the most carbon dioxide of any country, and India is fourth). While it’s true that LDCs still emit greenhouse gases at much lower per capita rates than developed nations, a successful policy to combat climate change will require their cooperation.
The arguments about whose responsibility it is to curb climate change are well-worn by this point, but they still threaten to thwart meaningful international collaboration. Developed nations point out that the LDCs will soon account for a large majority of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. LDCs shoot back that industrialized nations created the climate change problem and that it’s only fair that LDCs also get a chance to modernize their economies without environmental restrictions. Both sides have valid points. But the developing world’s unwillingness to address the problem will have devastating consequences that will harm LDCs far worse than the developed world.
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The nation can’t seem to get enough of Sarah Palin. Many social conservatives adore her just as many liberals seem to be giddy over her repeated missteps. Whether one loves her or hates her, there’s no question that she draws much attention whenever she speaks. So, like many others, I was quite interested to read her recent op-ed in the Washington Post criticizing the proposed cap and trade plan to deal with energy and global warming.
Perhaps as one of the defacto figureheads of the Republican party, this would provide an opportunity for her to present some new ideas on these vexing problems. The reality is that there’s no free lunch when it comes to energy and the environment. All solutions have costs and will involve some pain. Unfortunately, rather than addressing these tradeoffs constructively, Palin chose instead to just ignore the problem. This is not to say that she was all wrong. She raised some important points. It’s just that her proposed solutions are the exact opposite of what needs to be done.
Probably the most concerning aspect of Palin’s piece is its glaring omission of any serious thinking about how to deal with the environmental impact of our energy usage. The cap and trade program addresses two interrelated issues: energy and environment. While Palin seems eager to speak about utilizing domestic sources of energy, she says virtually nothing about how to deal with emissions. I was struck by Palin’s dismissal of the cap and trade program. She wrote, “It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.”
Yes, there will likely be some short term financial costs to this effort. However, I’m not sure how ignoring global warming can be considered good long term planning. It seems to me that dramatically altering our environment such that coastal regions are flooded and the nation’s agricultural output is significantly altered could be considered “permanent damage.” (more…)
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.