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Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President last night before a national television audience and 20,000 cheering Convention delegates. In contrast to the earlier Republican National Convention and to the Democratic speech-making before the President’s address, there was some talk about the most important political issue America faces: what to do about climate change. President Obama had good, if vague, language which gave some hope:
“Know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future.”
And later, Mr. Obama continued with:
“Yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet—because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And in this election, you can do something about it.”
Credible specifics on meeting the climate change “challenge” were invisible. The President talked of mining and burning America’s huge natural gas reserves, with a nod to alternative energy, but there was very little to back up his assertion that “my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet.” The move from coal to natural gas that is underway diminishes carbon dioxide emissions, but increases methane (CH4) emissions. Methane, the primary component of the natural gas the President extols, is 25 more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. So a small percentage loss of natural gas to the atmosphere in its mining, transport and use makes global warming worse than if the country had just burned coal in the first place.
There was nothing, nothing, President Obama said that hinted that Americans need to cut overall energy consumption. We have about 4% of world population and burn over 20% of the hydrocarbons the world consumes each year, close to one cubic mile of the four cubic miles of hydrocarbons the world eats in a year. Politicians believe, with good reason, that voters are generally allergic to talk of consuming less, or of a carbon tax that would use market forces to encourage lower greenhouse gas emissions. So the climate change problem is kicked back to us – American parents, grandparents, decision makers.
Still, it is encouraging that the Leader of the Free World acknowledges what scientists have been telling American Presidents since 1963: “carbon pollution is heating our planet.” The gap between acknowledging the “Duh” truth of human-caused climate change and taking the big steps needed seems just a little bit smaller than before last night’s acceptance speech.
Image by Official White House Photo by Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons