President Obama spoke at a wind tower production facility in Iowa today. It was another brilliant speech underscoring his commitment to climate action and the clean energy transition.
Like no President before him — indeed, like no major U.S. politician — he has stated again and again that our current path is unsustainable and doomed to fail, using language very similar to the global economy is a Ponzi scheme metaphor.
- “We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand.” (4/14)
- “We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for our lasting prosperity.” (3/19)
His speech today was equally blunt and equally visionary — testimony to the fact that the best messaging on this subject has both the positive vision of the future if we change our path and the painful reality facing us if we don’t.
And don’t miss his extended discussion at the end about “closing the carbon loophole through this kind of market-based cap” and trade system. Anyone who thinks President Obama is not serious about passing a climate bill in the next year or so, that he is somehow softening on his campaign commitment, is simply not paying attention:
But just as we’ve led the global economy in developing new sources of energy, we’ve also led in consuming energy. While we make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, we produce roughly a quarter of the world’s demand for oil.
And this appetite comes now at a tremendous cost to our economy. It’s the cost measured by our trade deficit; 20 percent of what we spend on imports is the price of our oil imports. We send billions of dollars overseas to oil-exporting nations, and I think all of you know many of them are not our friends. It’s the same costs attributable to our vulnerability to the volatility of oil markets. Every time the world oil market goes up, you’re getting stuck at the pump. It’s the cost we feel in shifting weather patterns that are already causing record-breaking droughts, unprecedented wildfires, more intense storms….
Now, the choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors, or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity: The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.
… the bulk of our efforts must focus on unleashing a new, clean-energy economy that will begin to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, will cut our carbon pollution by about 80 percent by 2050, and create millions of new jobs right here in America….
My administration has already taken unprecedented action towards this goal. It’s work that begins with the simplest, fastest, most effective way we have to make our economy cleaner, and that is to make our economy more energy efficient. California has shown that it can be done; while electricity consumption grew 50 percent in this country over the last three decades, in California, it remained flat.
Think about this. I want everybody to think about this. Over the last several decades, the rest of the country, we used 50 percent more energy; California remained flat, used the same amount, even though that they were growing just as fast as the rest of the country — because they were more energy efficient. They put in some good policy early on that assured that they weren’t wasting energy. Now, if California can do it, then the whole country can do it. Iowa can do it….
And today I’m announcing that my administration is taking another historic step. Through the Department of Interior, we are establishing a program to authorize — for the very first time — the leasing of federal waters for projects to generate electricity from wind as well as from ocean currents and other renewable sources. And this will open the door to major investments in offshore clean energy. For example, there is enormous interest in wind projects off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware, and today’s announcement will enable these projects to move forward.
It’s estimated that if we fully pursue our potential for wind energy on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20 percent of our electricity by 2030 and create a quarter-million jobs in the process — 250,000 jobs in the process, jobs that pay well and provide good benefits. It’s a win-win: It’s good for the environment; it’s great for the economy….
But we haven’t placed any limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It’s what’s called the carbon loophole.
Now, last week, in response to a mandate from the United States Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that carbon dioxide and other tailpipe emissions are harmful to the health and well-being of our people. So there’s no question that we have to regulate carbon pollution in some way; the only question is how we do it.
I believe the best way to do it is through legislation that places a market-based cap on these kinds of emissions. And today, key members of my administration are testifying in Congress on a bill that seeks to enact exactly this kind of market-based approach. My hope is that this will be the vehicle through which we put this policy in effect.
And here’s how a market-based cap would work: We’d set a cap, a ceiling, on all the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that our economy is allowed to produce in total, combining the emissions from cars and trucks, coal-fired power plants, energy-intensive industries, all sources.
And by setting an overall cap, carbon pollution becomes like a commodity. It places a value on a limited resource, and that is the ability to pollute. And to determine that value, just like any other traded commodity, we’d create a market where companies could buy and sell the right to produce a certain amount of carbon pollution. And in this way, every company can determine for itself whether it makes sense to spend the money to become cleaner or more efficient, or to spend the money on a certain amount of allowable pollution.
Over time, as the cap on greenhouse gases is lowered, the commodity becomes scarcer — and the price goes up. And year by year, companies and consumers would have greater incentive to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency as the price of the status quo became more expensive.
What this does is it makes wind power more economical, makes solar power more economical. Clean energy all becomes more economical. And by closing the carbon loophole through this kind of market-based cap, we can address in a systematic way all the facets of the energy crisis: We lower our dependence on foreign oil, we reduce our use of fossil fuels, we promote new industries right here in America. We set up the right incentives so that everybody is moving in the same direction towards energy independence.