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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

President Obama Proposes Expanded Growth of Sustainable Energy

Summary.  In his second inaugural address U. S. President Barack Obama highlighted the need for developing sustainable energy sources.  He noted the damages inflicted by recent extreme weather and climate events.  He then set forth the objective of expanding the role of sustainable energy in the American economy, expressing the intent to make the U. S. a world leader in this field.  By including this topic among the relatively few areas covered in his remarks, he emphasized the importance he ascribes to making sustainable energy a significant portion of the American economy.

Introduction. Each passing day brings new evidence of the ravages that worsening global warming wreaks on our planet.  In recent months we have witnessed destructive weather-related disasters, including worsening droughts coupled to  forest wildfires, droughts that lead to shortages in important food staples, and intense storms with heavy rainfall, floods, damaging winds and coastal storm surges.  These calamities have been experienced across America and around the entire world.  They invariably cause physical damage valued in the billions of dollars, long-lasting disruptions in economic activity worth additional billions of dollars, disruption to social structures and loss of life.  The world’s climate scientists are in overwhelming agreement that these events are consistent with, indeed are manifestations of, global warming brought on by increased emissions of man-made greenhouse gases.

President Obama’s Inaugural Address. U. S. President Barack Obama recognized these facts, and the need for action on the warming climate, in his second inaugural address delivered Jan. 21, 2013.  According to the transcript of his speech he committed to “respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations”.  The President pointed out that although there remain some who deny the scientific truth of global warming, in the face of severe weather and cliimate events “none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms”.   In order to combat these trends, the President called on the nation not to “resist this transition” to “sustainable energy sources”, but rather to “lead it”, by taking a primary role among nations to develop the new “technology that will power new jobs and new industries….That is how we will preserve our planet…”.


These objectives are highly significant in many ways.  Although to date the U. S. has failed to enact a legislated national energy policy, President Obama’s administration has already put policies in place that will roughly double the fuel efficiency in cars and trucks by 2025, and significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants.    Second, further undertakings along the lines outlined in his address would expand on these initiatives.  The role of sustainable sources in providing the energy supply for the country will be expanded.  This goal is foreseen to be accomplished by restoring American research, development and deployment of renewable energy to a prominent place among nations.

The President’s pledge in this regard is very important.  Every renewable energy facility will supplant energy currently provided by fossil fuels.  For this reason it is not true that reducing the demand for fossil fuels will lead to job losses, as some opponents state, because the new energy forms being developed will themselves require large investments in both labor and capital.  The President clearly pointed this out.  Moving toward sustainable energy does not destroy jobs.

Perhaps one way of expanding energy production using sustainable technologies would be to encourage the major fossil fuel producers themselves to undertake research, development and deployment of new technologies as a new business model.  Currently oil companies, for example, expend vast resources to find and exploit yet more fossil fuel reserves.  Every new production facility, however, enshrines a new capability to emit still more greenhouse gases, when the fuel is burned, for the full service lifetime of the installation, i.e., for several decades.  This expanded use of fossil fuels serves to worsen the global warming we create.  In contrast, an alternative choice within these companies to develop and deploy industrial scale renewable energy sources would relieve the world of an added burden of greenhouse gases, and would still preserve the need for investment in labor and facilities.  President Obama’s initiative on sustainable energy could be promoted if a suitable incentive could be found to encourage these companies to let fossil fuel development lapse in favor of renewable energy sources.

President Obama is to be commended for including the policy objective of combating global warming by developing a robust American renewable energy industry in his second inaugural address.  This emphasis is highly significant, for it is one of only a few major policy themes developed in the speech, showing that he regards this issue with high priority.  This policy is broadly supported among the American public.  Practical implementation of this policy would be a major accomplishment of President Obama’s final term in office.

© 2013 Henry Auer

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