Obama radio address: “For the first time, utility companies and corporate leaders are joining, not opposing, environmental advocates and labor leaders to create a new system of clean energy initiatives that will help unleash a new era of growth and prosperity.”

If you want to hear the best progressive messaging on energy and climate — if you want to know the best phrases and framing — look no further than the master messenger in the Oval Office.  Be warned, though, President Obama uses … rhetoric (see “Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1“)!

Obama devoted much of his radio address today to the House clean energy and climate bill (text and audio here):

Good morning. Over the past few months, as we have put in place a plan to speed our economic recovery, I have spoken repeatedly of the need to lay a new foundation for lasting prosperity; a foundation that will support good jobs and rising incomes; a foundation for economic growth where we no longer rely on excessive debt and reckless risk – but instead on skilled workers and sound investments to lead the world in the industries of the 21st century.

He is once again hammering home the notion that what we have been doing lo these many years is simply not sustainable (see similar quotes in “Is the U.S. consumption binge over?“).  Kudos for using two rhetorical figures of speech — alliteration and assonance — in the phrase “reckless risk.”  Kudos also for heavy use of the two most important figures in that opening paragraph — metaphor and simple repetition — in the triple use of “foundation.”

Visionary leaders and speakers use metaphors, simple as that — in part because metaphors are typically visual images.

Then Obama launched into his specific remarks on the importance of the Waxman-Markey bill and how it represents a coming together of different interests for the first time in US history to address our key energy and climate challenges:

Two pillars of this new foundation are clean energy and health care. And while there remains a great deal of difficult work ahead, I am heartened by what we have seen these past few days: a willingness of those with different points of view and disparate interests to come together around common goals – to embrace a shared sense of responsibility and make historic progress.

Chairman Henry Waxman and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee brought together stakeholders from all corners of the country — and every sector of our economy — to reach an historic agreement on comprehensive energy legislation.  It’s another promising sign of progress, as longtime opponents are sitting together, at the same table, to help solve one of America’s most serious challenges.

For the first time, utility companies and corporate leaders are joining, not opposing, environmental advocates and labor leaders to create a new system of clean energy initiatives that will help unleash a new era of growth and prosperity.

It’s a plan that will finally reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and cap the carbon pollution that threatens our health and our climate.  Most important, it’s a plan that will trigger the creation of millions of new jobs for Americans, who will produce the wind turbines and solar panels and develop the alternative fuels to power the future.  Because this we know: the nation that leads in 21st century clean energy is the nation that will lead the 21st century global economy. America can and must be that nation – and this agreement is a major step toward this goal.

Note how he leads with health — “carbon pollution that threatens our health and our climate.”  Note how he doesn’t use the generic phrase “renewable energy,” but says wind and solar (see Clean energy messaging 101: ‘Green’ jobs are out, ‘clean energy’ jobs are in).  The word gurus say you shouldn’t use “alternative energy,” but I’m not certain what they say about “alternative fuels.”  Perhaps “clean fuels” would be better, but alternative is at least pretty clearly the alternative to oil.

One of his favorite figure-filled phrases is “the nation that leads in 21st century clean energy is the nation that will lead the 21st century global economy.”  The rest of us would be wise to commit it to memory.

He ends by characterizing this as a team effort (although this team doesn’t happen to include inside-the-Beltway conservatives):

I have always believed that it is better to talk than not to talk; that it is far more productive to reach over a divide than to shake your fist across it. This has been an alien notion in Washington for far too long, but we are seeing that the ways of Washington are beginning to change. For the calling of this moment is too loud and too urgent to ignore. Our success as a nation — the future of our children and grandchildren — depends upon our willingness to cast aside old arguments, overcome stubborn divisions, and march forward as one people and one nation.

This is how progress has always been made. This is how a new foundation will be built. We cannot assume that interests will always align, or that fragile partnerships will not fray. There will be setbacks. There will be difficult days.  But we are off to a good start. And I am confident that we will – in the weeks, months, and years ahead — build on what we have already achieved and lay this foundation which will not only bring about prosperity for this generation, but for generations to come.


The eco-snipers can (misguidedly) attack this bill as a giveaway to polluters (when it is not — see the excellent press release from Markey’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming here).  Obama sees this instead as longtime opponents working together to solve one of the most complex and challenging problems the nation has ever faced.

Finally, Obama makes clear we simply can no longer focus on our prosperity to the exclusion of our children and grandchildren and generations to come.  That is a Ponzi scheme.

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20 Responses to Obama radio address: “For the first time, utility companies and corporate leaders are joining, not opposing, environmental advocates and labor leaders to create a new system of clean energy initiatives that will help unleash a new era of growth and prosperity.”

  1. Credit for “tricks and traps” goes to the woman who overseas TARP money who used that term relative to the credit card system. She was a guest on the Bill Maher show last night.

  2. James Newberry says:

    “Two pillars of this new foundation are clean energy and health care.”

    While this is true, and the president is proving to be an historic leader in many ways, the ramifications of his initiatives are more profound than “health care.” A transitional shift from fossil fuels to the use of sustainable strategies and technologies like weatherization of existing buildings, rail based transit and distributed clean power will alleviate many billions of dollars of annual health costs that are directly attributable to burning of these mined substances (“fuels”) as well as suffering from disease and mortality.

  3. Gail says:

    I am so proud and humbled that we have a genius with a heart leading us. It will be a miracle if he can pull us back form the brink of climate catastrophe, but if anyone can, it would be Obama.

  4. Modesty says:

    What Gail said.

    That’s why I would like to see Congress exact a real price from polluters–some real Climate Progress–when it sells (how’s that for a whole new interpretation on 100% auction) Obama’s authority (=the “potential” EPA has to do better than Congress).

    I agree with Joe that there’s all kinds of stuff that’s incredible about this bill, and it represents so much work…But: it’s…too big to fail.

    The real measure of any insufficient climate policy (and, clearly, W-M is insufficient, no matter how much of an achievement it also is) is how it positions us to improve upon it.

    Does it allow for/enable more ambitious cuts in the future?

    Giving up the Obama/EPA trump card (whether or not we were ever going to play it) in order “merely” to get going, as opposed to getting going with fervor…that’s a lot of hope to give up all at once.

    That’s not leadership.

    We ARE the leaders of the free world. WHAT are we waiting for?

  5. Steven Biel says:

    Joe–It’s bad strategy to shoot at your own left flank.

  6. Leland Palmer says:

    The planet is on its own schedule.

    Our climate is not impressed by rhetoric.

    Our climate speaks the language of billions of tons of carbon.

    The message our climate is hearing from us is that we have dumped perhaps half a trillion tons of carbon into our atmosphere, and from there into our oceans and biosphere, during the industrial revolution. The rate we are doing that is thousands of times faster than anything our climate has ever seen before.

    Waxman/Markey says we will continue doing that, we will just do it slower.

    Slower is good, stopping would be better, and putting carbon back underground would be best.

    Attempting to get the coal industry to innovate is like trying to move a mountain. If Obama and Waxman and Markey can pull that off, they are wizards. They are utterly sincere wizards, fine intelligent men.

    But our climate speaks the language of billions of tons of carbon.

    We need to drop our ideology, I think, and simply do what needs to be done as quickly as possible.

    We need to seize the coal fired power plants, and convert them into carbon negative power plants. It is possible to retrofit them to burn biocarbon, and do so with enough increased efficiency to pay for carbon capture and storage, which would make them into carbon negative power plants. By taking the worst problem, and turning it into the best solution, this strategy can have a hugely synergistic effect on the entire climate problem.

    Carbon negative technologies are a family of technologies, which combine biomass fuel sources with carbon capture and sequestration. Many variations are possible.

    The version I favor combines oxyfuel combustion, and a HiPPS topping cycle. If you go to the National Energy Technology Laboratory website, information is available on both oxyfuel and HiPPs.

    Both oxyfuel and HiPPS can be retrofitted simultaneously to existing power plants, and between the two of them should provide enough efficiency gain to pay for the carbon capture and storage energy costs.

    Regardless of which variation is chosen, combining biomass fuel with carbon capture and storage can be hugely effective:

    These emergency strategies, developed specifically for the grim scenario of ‘Abrupt Climate Change’ (ACC) consist of systems based on carbon-negative bioenergy. The Abrupt Climate Change Strategy Group (ACCS), whose mandate is to study ACC and its mitigation, writes that this concept, also known as ‘bioenery with carbon storage’ (BECS), is one of the few cost-effective and safe geo-engineering options that can be implemented at once and globally. If applied widely, BECS systems can radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bring back atmospheric CO2 levels by mid-century.

    Abrupt Climate Change is here. It is time to implement carbon negative energy ideas, by nationalizing the coal fired power plants, and retrofitting them to biocarbon fuel, oxyfuel combustion, HiPPS, and carbon capture and storage.

  7. Pat Richard says:

    “eco-snipers”, Joe?

    C’mon… demonizing the people who are actually on your side of the issues simply because they don’t agree with some of your specific evaluation of something and have the temerity to say so?

    I’m disappointed. When will the Obama Administration and Climate Progress be scheduling a purge of these traitorous eco-snipers, I wonder? This crack seems like the sort of thing one would expect not from from a crusading investigative journalist, but an eco-Uncle Tom. See? Cheap-shot name calling is a slippery slope. You owe a lot of us an apology.

  8. Amen, Pat Richard.

    While politicians balance and compromise, the climate keeps absorbing our wastes and morphing at its own, usually underestimated rate.

    I like to point out that it is not ‘the’ environment – some far away place that doesn’t matter to us, it is ‘our’ environment, our very source of life. Just because one screams the alarm ‘fire’, he/she can be called an alarmist, even while the fire really is burning the house down.

    Eco-minded folks need to keep speaking up as the coal and oil lobbies surely will continue to ramp up their influence. Our future depends on it.

  9. ecostew says:

    It appears that the US is not a member of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

  10. Joe says:

    I do not view “eco-snipers” as a “demonizing” term.

    I do view it has referring to people who miss the forest for the trees, indeed, they miss the trees for the bark, and they criticize (snipe at) the bark.

    Who ever called them traitorous? Why would a country that allows free speech — that allows people to criticize the bill and that allows me to criticize those people — “purge” anyone?

    That is a reductio ad absurdum.

    I myself have criticized the bill. The bill deserves to be criticized. And it should be strengthened. But I view it as nutty for someone claiming to be an environmentalist or claiming to care about the climate to “attack” the bill — specifically urge that it not be passed into law. I am primarily thinking of people like Hansen and no Greenpeace (see post later today).

    And where were you all when Hansen was claiming that anybody who supported any form of cap-and-trade was “worshiping at the Temple of Doom,” which makes “eco-snipers” words of praise in comparison?

  11. hapa says:

    helpful youtube link for iphone/itouch users:

  12. hapa says:

    oops, got bit by one of the iphone’s downsides, “inadvertently clicking a link.” correct youtube link:

  13. Pat Richards says:


    So, the word “sniper” actually has neutral or even positive semantic connotations, then?

    [JR: I dare say that “eco-sniper” is not a terribly harsh phrase for the blogosphere. Certainly I did not intend it to be one. It was meant to be a mildly negative phrase, a pulled punch.]

  14. Leland Palmer says:

    My view of Hansen’s remarks is that he was being quantitative.

    Scientists have a quantitative view of the world.

    He doesn’t see how cap and trade can keep the necessary billions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere, biosphere, and oceans. He thinks we ought to just close down the coal plants.

    All reasonable, quantitative positions.

    The proponents of Waxman/Markey say that the indirect effects of the bill will more than make up for the lack of direct action. Proponents could be right. There have been technological explosions of innovation by the American economy before – during the growth of the automobile industry, for example, or in the airline industry after WWII.

    Personally, I’m tired of waiting for indirect effects to kick in. Sure, we should pass Waxman/Markey, so long as it is written to not interfere with future drastic direct action.

    Obama could solve this crisis tomorrow, though, by declaring a state of national emergency, and seizing the coal fired power plants, I think. Similar things have recently been done in the banking industry, and the sky has not fallen, in fact the situation seems to have stabilized somewhat. The coal plants should then be transformed by fiat, by the top scientists and engineers in the country, into carbon negative biomass/CCS power plants.

    I believe that Waxman/Markey will indeed stimulate growth of clean energy technologies. But I believe that Waxman/Markey will still leave the core of our fossil fuel power plants intact, and they will continue to spew CO2 with very little regulation for at least a decade.

    This is what Hansen meant by “worshiping at the Temple of Doom”, I think. He’s looking at an accelerating climate crisis, and if we waste a decade, he doesn’t see how we can get the numbers to add to anything less than a catastrophe, and possibly to Armageddon.

    My view is that we need to pass Waxman/Markey, but continue to push for stronger action, such as nationalizing the coal fired power plants and converting them into carbon negative power plants.

  15. R Paul says:

    I agree with Leland. We have to nationalize the coal burning power plants and make them carbon negative. I need to read up on HiPPS, oxyfuel at the National Energy Technology Laboratory website to learn more about the details. If the US is out in front on converting CO2 producing power plants into CO2-reducing power plants, we can export the technology to China and the rest of the world.

  16. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi R Paul-

    If the technological problem of converting existing coal fired power plants to practical carbon negative power plants can be solved, without any drastic loss of themal efficiency, this would indeed be a marketable technology, IMO.

    Any rational system of carbon credits or carbon taxes should hugely reward such power plants.

    I think it is possible to do this, by combining biocarbon fuel with existing technologies, such as the work of the Jupiter Oxygen Corporation and DOE’s NETL on oxyfuel, and with NETL’s past work on HiPPS topping cycles:

    Many of these things were part of the Clinton Era “Combustion 2000” effort by the Department of Energy and a consortium of corporations. Many of these ideas seemed to be promising and practical, but were delayed under the Bush Administration (hard to believe, huh?)

    Such power plants would produce tremendous quantities of CO2, and storing it would of course be a challenge. Deep injection into saline aquifers and depleted natural gas fields would be OK for a while, but long term we need to develop carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation, and put some fraction of the carbon we have released during the industrial revolution back into stable sequestration as a mineral carbonate, IMO.

  17. David B. Benson says:

    Leland Palmer — Go, go go! :-)

  18. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi David B. Benson-

    Since we’re being honest here, there is one problem with this solution that bothers me, a little.

    That is how do we keep other countries from accepting the efficiency gains (and so economic benefits) of oxyfuel /HiPPS, but not compressing and deep injecting the CO2?

    I think maybe we need a worldwide monitoring surveillance system that would monitor huge sources of CO2 such as biocarbon power plants, for as long as they exist, and make sure that the CO2 goes into the ground or into mineral carbonation, and not into the air.

    Maybe what we really need is a worldwide agency, with the authority to run such plants and make sure that the CO2 goes into the ground, and not into the air, until the crisis is over and these plants are phased out in favor of carbon neutral sources of energy like solar.

  19. Leland and David…

    A report for the British government on climate change recommended a radical change to how we monitor climate change and international cooperation.

  20. Leland Palmer says:

    Thanks, Richard :)

    In principle, it is possible to monitor such huge sources of CO2, more easily than individual cars, for example. It’s a lot easier in principle to monitor a thousand biocarbon plants than 100 million cars, for example. So, it’s not a real roadblock to the idea, IMO.

    Also, if companies or governments are being paid for carbon offsets for injected CO2, it’s not unreasonable to set up a monitoring system to show that the CO2 is actually going into the ground, and staying there. Billions of tons of magnesium carbonate from carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation should be pretty easy to track, too.

    But public awareness and watchfulness is mandatory, IMO. We’ve been asleep at the wheel, can’t afford to ever fall asleep again, IMO.