A powerful speech

Climate Crocks has already covered this, but I’ve been busy (lazy?) and so thought I would post this too. It’s a speech by US President, Barack Obama, in Alaska, at a meeting about Global Leadership in the Arctic. It’s a remarkably powerful speech and he seemed incredibly well informed. The first half is particularly good, and I could not find something that the usual suspects could justifiably criticise. To be clear, that’s not me suggesting that they won’t find something to criticise (because ignorant pedants always do), just that he seemed to say things carefully and was clearly well advised.

I’ll let you make up your own minds about the significance of this speech, but I certainly couldn’t imagine any other world leader today making a speech of this calibre. In fact, I didn’t even expect to hear the President of the USA doing so. In my opinion, it’s a welcome change.

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108 Responses to A powerful speech

  1. Bobby says:

    Watched it, too. I agree. My only concern is that it’s not being widely viewed.

  2. It’s new (yesterday) and it’s being quite heavily publicised, so there’s a chance that the views could rise substantially.

  3. I certainly couldn’t imagine any other world leader today making a speech of this calibre

    Sounds like almost any European prime minister could have made that speech, except for Poland and maybe the UK. That they do not do so, is because they do not need to. Also for the rest of the world, I would guess that as long as they do not speak English, this speech is mainstream.

  4. Victor,
    Are you suggesting that there are countries in continental Europe where climate science denial is not having a significant impact on climate policy?

  5. Yes, the countries that do not do much, just do not see it as a huge priority relative to other stuff that needs to be done. I fully understand the the prime minister of Greece had other priorities. And conservative government will find stuff to do that they see as more important. That is politics. But you will not find another Rick Santorum, a politician with some influence that is willing to make a complete fool of himself by setting himself up against science, on the continent.

    If you have a working political system and press, that should be the end of you. Even if you are a fool, who wants to be governed by a fool with a complete lack of judgement? Why that does not work that way in English speaking countries, I do not get. Getting money out of politics and the media may be part of it.

    I just found a great movement, with a good idea, that probably works, to get money out of politics: Wolf PAC.

    Getting money out of the media may be harder. Trying not to click on links to bad newspapers is a small start.

  6. Interesting, thanks. Given that most of what I notice is in countries like the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, it makes sense. I haven’t paid much attention to continental Europe, but that may be because there isn’t that much to pay attention to.

    What you say below may well be a major factor.

    Getting money out of politics and the media may be part of it.

  7. Richard says:

    Victor/ ATTP – Yet consider this. There was a joint statement of the Arctic Council (which includes the UK, I guess because of our historic scientific contribution) here >


    which includes phrases like ..

    “We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate. Loss of Arctic snow and ice is accelerating the warming of the planet as a whole by exposing darker surfaces that absorb more sunlight and heat. Sea ice, the Greenland Ice Sheet, and nearly all glaciers in the Arctic have shrunk over the past 100 years; indeed, glaciers that have endured since the last Ice Age are shrinking, in most cases at a very rapid rate.”

    But in the UK we have a Government that is undermining renewables (which have been moving ahead very well), but instead are quite happy to support new fossil fuel development. Our Minister Amber Rudd talked about a “solar revolution” in the UK and is now in the process of trying to kill it (and if that is not her intention, then we have to add incompetence to her other woes). Kevin Anderson wrote this critique …


    So, could David Cameron have made this speech? Well maybe, but it would have been different in several ways:
    – not as much detail, more vague and aspirational statements
    – he would have emphasised how great the UK is, and not repeated 10 times “we are not acting fast enough”, like Obama did
    – you would have the sneaking feeling that like his neighbour Osborne, he really does not “take seriously warnings by scientists”, and is merely going through the motions. Rather like the bleeding heart speeches about Syrian refugees but not lifting a finger to help.

    In other words, …, words, hollow words, and no prospect of actions.

  8. The thing that strikes me is that it’s one thing for a politician to ignore science when making policy decisions. In a sense, evidence can only inform, it doesn’t actually tell us what to do. However, for a politician to make poor political decisions seems very odd. It seems clear that the political winds are blowing in the direction of solar/wind at least playing some role in energy infrastructure. Rolling back the gains we’ve already made in the UK seems like a stupid political move. You’d think they’d be able to say things that might placate the noisy, ignorant crowd, without actually doing things that are actually stupid.

    Okay, having read that again, I guess politicians do stupid things all the time, but I’ve always assumed that maybe they aren’t quite as stupid as they may at first seem. Maybe that’s overly naive.

  9. verytallguy says:

    Thanks for highlighting this. Obama is a truly remarkable orator – I recall someone saying he could make reading a shopping list inspirational.

    A few reflections:
    – his message, whilst warning of the dangers, is fundamentally optimistic – we *can* do this, and there are opportunities as well as threats
    – he brings personal emotional stories (effects on the indigenous) into his narrative
    – he paints a vision, tells a story about the future
    – but also notice that the only cheer he gets is when attacking his enemies – the deniers

    In some ways, having the denial community to attack enables such a speech; without them it might be his own voters who would be querying the potential effect on their livelihoods. Having foolish opponents is not necessarily a bad thing.

  10. redbbs says:

    He meant positive feedbacks not negative. His speech writer should have caught that. Otherwise beautifully written and delivered.

  11. sullis02 says:

    Victor: FWIW, Rick Santorum has almost no influence in the US; he’s just a clown, a joke even in his own party. There are other far more powerful/influential/malignant GOP politician-fools that could be named in the science denier camp. Like, say, Rep. Darrell Issa.

  12. sullis02 says:

    Victor: FWIW, Rick Santorum has almost no influence in the US; he’s just a clown, a joke even in his own party. There are other far more powerful/influential/malignant GOP politician-fools that could be named in the science denier camp. Like, say, Rep. Darrell Issa.

  13. @redbbs

    Maybe he meant that positive feedbacks have negative effects. So in everyday (ie non-scientific) parlance (as in a politician’s speech) they could be considered ‘negative feedbacks’.

    Climate science is not simple: something those with a denial agenda use to their advantage.

  14. redbbs says:

    I agree but that speech would have taken many weeks to write and one with a lot of scientific oversight. Watch the denialati scoff at the error.

  15. redbbs says:

    Correction “and done with a lot of scientific oversight”

  16. redbbs says:

    Quite possibly the President corrected it himself thinking that it was a typo.

  17. Positive feedback is probably better called reinforcing feedback when talking to the public if you want to avoid confusion.

    Rick Santorum was just an example that came to mind. There are many Republican in Congress with similar positions. I cannot imagine how they got there. If only because the majority of the Republican voters does accept climate science.

    People answering that climate change does not exist on a survey (that scientists do not agree on the climate change) likely mostly actually mean that they do not like mitigation. I once heard that the more scientific the survey is (combined with other science questions), the more people accept that climate change exists. (Does anyone have a link to that claim?) Thus also this part of the electorate must know that they are voting clowns into positions of power, where they can seriously hurt American interests.

  18. mwgrant says:

    I’ll let you make up your own minds about the significance of this speech

    Probably, in the USA: only in the dreams of some folks, nightmares of some others. In Asia: little. Europe maybe some vestiges of swoon are left…You know, rah, rah Paris and all that.

  19. redbbs says:

    This speech will put a whole lot of pressure on Tony Abbott and Stephen Harper. Both face general elections in the next 12 months and both are vastly disliked by their electorates. President Obama’s moral and political leadership strengthens the hands of the parliamentary left in Australia and Canada.

  20. redbbs says:

    Not only but also…


    Too many eggs in one filthy Alberta mine. BTW I haven’t heard too much from the GOP candidates re the XL pipe line. It was a major issue for Republicans in the 2012 General and the 2014 Mid Term Elections.

  21. mwgrant says:

    Looks to me like there are enough Canadian issues to stir the pot there. As for the climate, wouldn’t the electorate be interested in the Canadian INDC? I do not see Obama’s speech as significant to Canadian voters in light of what is already on the table. To think that it would be significant seems like a bit of a slam at Canadian sovereignty.

  22. Morbeau says:

    As a Canadian, I look to Obama to see where the elephant next door is going with its economy, and in this case for signs of social pressure around climate change. Prime Minister Harper has led a turning of our collective back on climate for some time, but it does feel like there’s increasing pressure on our politicians to recognize and address this issue. Particularly if we want to claim we have some responsible interest in “our” Arctic.

    But Harper’s constituency are the ignorant and Canada’s version of Republicans, and they have a lot of clout. Several analysts have pointed out that even if there were an election tomorrow and Willard’s poll numbers hold true it’s quite likely that the Conservatives would win enough seats for a majority government. Partly because they’ve spent the last 10 years rigging the system to give themselves an advantage, and they’ve got a huge (like 10x) amount of cash on hand compared to the other parties.

    Obama’s speech could have a galvanizing effect on liberal-leaning Canadians though, because we just don’t hear that kind of coherent argument from our pols, and we certainly don’t hear people saying we can do much about climate change – we’ll have to wait to hear about commitments from the US, China and India before we do anything. So that’s progress of a sort.

  23. Rachel M says:

    I’m not particularly impressed by his speech. I think our actions are more important than our words and Obama has given the go-ahead for Shell to drill the Arctic. This makes his speech seem false which is way worse than a conservative politician who agrees to the drilling AND admits it in his speech. At least he’s being consistent.

    I saw Bill McKibben Tweet about this:

  24. redbbs says:

    Australia’s Labor Party introduced the world’s most comprehensive carbon tax in 2012 and it was used by the conservatives to bash them at the polls 18 months later. It was repealed by this Conservative government in 2014. The Cons vehemently resist emission pricing and they use effective scare campaigns whenever pricing is discussed by Labor or The Greens

    The Labor Party is now in a timid let’s have an ETS mode.

    President Obama’s strength on mitigation will greatly assist the still sore and bleeding Labor Party to go hard on mitigation.
    The US President is greatly admired by the Australian electorate.

  25. redbbs says:

    Rachel I realise that 2015 is too late to come out as a policy relativist but Obama is all we have got.
    Sure if the US Congress was not criminally negligent then I’d join your let’s punch Obama queue but never before in the history of climate policy has anybody been so loud and so powerful.

  26. Rachel,
    As much as I sympathise with that view, I think it’s much better that he’s given such a speech than not. I agree that actions speak louder than words, but I have a feeling that Obama is genuinely trying to have a legacy where he will be seen as the first world leader to actually address climate change in a meaningful way.

  27. izen says:

    Politicians have made impressive speeches in the past about climate.

    The references to Darwin I suspect were particularly pointed at the US creationists!

  28. Rachel M says:


    …punch Obama queue

    I’m not punching Obama. I’m criticising one of his decisions which, for me, makes his speech feel fake rather than genuine.

  29. Rachel,
    I have heard some suggest that he’s letting Shell spend a lot of money doing exploratory drilling in the Arctic, knowing that they probably won’t be able to actually do commercial drilling there. If so, maybe it’s not quite as hypocrtical as it at first seems 🙂

  30. Rachel M says:

    Well that’s just downright dishonest 🙂

  31. There’s no pleasing some people 😉

  32. redbbs says:

    ATTP There could be something to that. He’s managed to keep the XL Keystone pipeline tied up in a regulatory maze since he came to office. Meanwhile oil prices have tanked and the Alberta Tar Sands is facing financial ruin.

  33. pete best says:

    Makes you think that those interested in tackling ACC dont know what to think. You get the worlds most powerful politician making a speech about its threat and how to mitigate it would be applauded but for some obviously not. Our world is complex, arctic drilling will be looked into for all sorts of reasons of a political and economic nature. Its hardly dishonest or lessens his speech’s impact.

    Personally I think that although cuts are needed urgently it does appear that its all long in rhetoric and short on action but as fossil fuels permeate all of our lives all of the time you can see why this is. Its a very complex and often intractable problem but eliminating coal is technologically viable and as such its a reachable goal. Oil and gas can wait but its not proving easy though to eliminate coal, but I am sure it will be done.

  34. cosmicomics says:

    “Sounds like almost any European prime minister could have made that speech, except for Poland and maybe the UK. That they do not do so, is because they do not need to.”
    Victor Venema

    A few months ago the Danish election was won by the right-wing opposition. The climate spokesman for one of the parties backing the new government, Villum Christensen, is a denialist who seems to get his climate information from denialist blogs. Three of the four parties supporting the government believe that Denmark is doing too much. Recently, the government tried to finance the return of Bjørn Lomborg’s institutionalized effort to downplay climate change. That was blocked by the one party with an environmental profile. Two days ago a leaked paper indicated that the government was preparing to cut the amount of money being spent on climate initiatives, while lowering Denmark’s climate goals. The Orwellian term is “climate realism.” Fortunately, the initial response of the Conservatives (Connie Hedegaard’s old party) was again critical.

    Elections matter, and the results affect climate policy. In Europe too.

  35. BBD says:

    There is real danger in complacency, Victor V.

  36. Phil says:

    With regard to mainland Europe, there is this news http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/01/dutch-government-to-appeal-against-carbon-emissions-ruling which seems to imply some degree of heel dragging by a conservative government. (Shell is implicated here!)

    Rachel: “Well that’s just downright dishonest :)”
    Obama didn’t say Shell *must* go drilling in the Arctic, only that they *could* if they wanted. Shell will have assessed the risks including the likelihood that this investment will become “stranded” by (for example) policy decisions in Paris 2015 (we can but hope 🙂 ). Whether they assessed them *correctly* is another matter… I agree that it is however an unwelcome stick that deniers can beat Obama with. I wonder whether Obama had carte-blanche to refuse Shell, or whether there were explicit requirements (safety, spillage action plan etc etc) against which he was constrained to judge their application. If so, I would guess that likely CO2 emissions resulting to the oil extracted from the region were *not* part of them.

  37. Sam taylor says:

    Nobody is going to be drilling the arctic with oil sub $100. Hell, nobody is going to be drilling the north sea at the current price point. Shell are in some fairly deep financial shit these days, as my understanding goes. They borrowed to pay their dividend last year, and in general they’re kind of a bellweather for the majors, and they basically pinned their hopes on $100+ oil in perpetuity. It’s a nice irony that fracking (which has largely driven the current overproduction and price collapse) is probably the main factor keeping arctic drilling unprofitable.

    As for money corrupting politics, well, how much did the Kochs spend on the last election? And Obama still got in. Elections are zero sum games after all. In a way I think the hugely wealthy donors to American pacs are mugs, who are being taken advantage of by legions of advertisers and pollsters and so on. American presidential elections are so incredibly wasteful! And the money doesn’t even produce a well informed electorate.

  38. BBD says:

    Sam taylor

    As for money corrupting politics, well, how much did the Kochs spend on the last election? And Obama still got in.

    But was hamstrung from the start by the Republicans. And most people seem to think the *next* president will be a Republican. You might be forgiven for thinking that the Kochs et al. are playing – and winning – a long game.

  39. redbbs says:

    Sam Taylor
    “And the money doesn’t even produce a well informed electorate.

  40. Pierre-Normand Houle says:

    Judith Curry would advocate calling it a “wicked feedback(?)” and be quite uncertain about it being positive or negative. Maybe an unambiguous phrase that would also resonate with conservatives would be “evil feedback”.

  41. Sam taylor says:


    I would argue that that’s verging on conspiracy theory territory. I’m sure the Kochs, or whoever, would prefer a republican government in perpetuity.

    Besides, the American legislature is so utterly broken and gridlocked these days that it hardly seems to matter who’s in power, it’s still next to impossible to get anything done. Obama gets a lot of shit for, say, not closing Guantanamo (which I believe he honestly wanted to do), but the realities of how screwed up their political system is probably precluded it from ever happening.

  42. Rachel M says:

    A bit off-topic but I just read this:

    Let me get this straight. If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant, judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making amount of sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I’m at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I’ve amassed?


  43. Joshua says:

    redbbs –

    The best part:

    “Our new poll finds that Trump is benefiting from a GOP electorate that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in another country, and that immigrant children should be deported. 66% of Trump’s supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim to just 12% that grant he’s a Christian. 61% think Obama was not born in the United States to only 21% who accept that he was. And 63% want to amend the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, to only 20% who want to keep things the way they are..”

    Quite remarkable.

    The next time that a “skeptic” tells you that “skeptics” in the U.S.have formulated their views on climate change after investigating the science and finding what climate scientists say to be scientifically questionable….ask them why, then, the same ideological cohort believe that Obama is a Muslim who was born in another country.

  44. Pierre-Normand Houle says:

    Trump just announced on Twitter that his first order of business when elected President will be to reverse Obama’s Mt. McKinley’s name change. I’m not too worried about his stance on Climate Change thought. One would just need to convey to The Donald that a more dynamic climate system likely will mess up his hair, and he will immediately get serious about the issue.

  45. Joshua says:

    Rachel –

    I wonder if those who support Trump because of his business acumen have considered that he’d probably have $10 billion more than he has now if he had simply put his inheritance into an unmanaged stock fund.

  46. Rachel M says:


    Is that why people like him? Because he’s rich? I can’t see anything likeable about him at all but then I personally am attracted to kindness and humility and I’ve been told I’m eccentric so perhaps others don’t value these things so much. I’d have thought Christians would though.

  47. Joshua says:

    OK… one more OT thought on this…

    Since “”skeptics” beliefs on climate change can be explained by a reaction to used car salesmen-like “activists” who distort science to create a scary scenarios….can we also argue that the same ideological cohort believes that Obama is a furiner Muslim because of used car salesmen-like activists who distort the facts to portray him as American and Christian?

  48. Joshua says:

    Rachel –

    It’s an interesting question as to why people like him. Certainly, I’d think that part of it is because he’s rich. That certainly is one of his attributes that he uses to advertise his campaign. No doubt, some of the thinking is that if you’re as successful as he is in the business world, you’re qualified to hold an executive position. As I’m sure that you know, there are many voters in the U.S. who believe that wealth is strongly associated with competence and strong ethics (like a work ethic).

    But while I wouldn’t argue that all of his supporters are racist, there are some other factors to consider:


    HIs anti-immigrant rhetoric certainly is a mobilizing factor. Personally, I would question the logic of anyone who supports Trump because of his supposed business acumen when Trump argues that changing the Constitution to prevent “anchor babies” would be a significant step towards improving our economy.

  49. bill shockley says:

    Sam Taylor wrote:
    As for money corrupting politics, well, how much did the Kochs spend on the last election? And Obama still got in.

    Koch’s money apparently isn’t any bigger or better than Goldman Sachs’ money.

    If money doesn’t dominate politics, explain why incumbents are re-elected at a staggering rate while job approval rates are simultaneously abysmal

    Congressional and senate representatives do not represent people, they represent the money that elected them.

    Climate policy lags not for lack of popular support

  50. Sam taylor says:

    Yes, Trump’s wealth is basically a result of the success to the successful feedback loop. It’s easy to win at monopoly if you already own loads of hotels at the start.

  51. Sam taylor says:


    There’s much more money in politics now than 50 years ago yet I don’t see any change in reelection rates. You’d have to find some correlation, at least. I’d attribute the low satisfaction rates to a system which is fundamentally broken and gridlocked, and the fact that most elected representatives in the US now seem spend more time trying to get re-elected than they do on governing. The canadian political philosopher Joseph Heath has written some interesting pieces on this recently.

  52. Morbeau says:

    If you want a shortish article about how the Right has gamed the US political system, and why it’s very difficult for even the president to get stuff done, this might do it:

    No Cost For Extremism

  53. mwgrant says:

    It really comes down to cynical manipulations of a predominantly lazy and dumb electorate…and technology’s ability for gradually displacing reflection in favor of quick response. Crafted appeal to Kahneman’s System 1 brain? ‘Propaganda’ is effective and cheap. Negative campaigning calls out the irrational demons.

  54. So one Danish politician reads blogs. 🙂

    I also know one German politician, naturally from the market fundamentalist party FDP, who made a fool of himself in a state parliament: Gero Hocker. The next election will be in 2018. I would be surprised if he is re-elected.

    I agree with BBD that in Europe complacency is the main problem. Also in Europe things are not moving fast enough. Climate change is a tragedy of the commons, all countries will have to participate in solving it. The perception that other do much less, reduces the willingness of countries to do more. Thus it is important that America does its fair share. Probably America also does more than you notice, at the state level there is a lot happening that is not very visible from the outside.

    I did not want to claim that Europe does enough, just that the discussion is a completely different one. Also here many conservatives do not see climate change as the priority I would give it, but you can normally have an adult conversation with them, without childish I-do-not-want-to-speak-about-this claims that climate changes is a hoax or worse.

  55. bill shockley says:

    The national primaries system also contributes by limiting choice to A (bad) and B (worse).

    In mayoral elections, for example, socialists like Bernie Sanders and Kshama Sawant have a chance and can even be hugely popular.

  56. bill shockley says:

    Victor Venema says:
    Probably America also does more than you notice, at the state level there is a lot happening that is not very visible from the outside.

    It’s true that some states are doing very well, for instance, liberal New York State has a successful cap and trade system, and Hawaii has just recently opted to skip the Coal to Natural Gas “step” in favor of a rapid change-over to renewables. But if the aggregate is mediocre or worse, that means that some other states are really dragging.

    I was turned off by Obama’s speech by his misrepresentation by omission of America’s track record in which he leaves out essential facts such as the diversion of unused coal mining output to export markets, the effect of a slower economy, and the export of emissions to Asia. He’s saying, “we’ve done our part, now it’s up to the rest of you”.

    He also omits the fact that while the climate plan is a step in the right direction, it is itself terribly inadequate (1-2% per year reduction rate, while 6% per year plus CO2 drawdown is doable and required). While his hands are tied to some extent by politics, his mouth is also muzzled by obligations to the Devil. While it is good to say yes to renewables, we must also say no to fossil fuels.

    What needs to be done
    Young people sue Obama
    One recent study indicates that our emissions would be about 18% higher if we made everything at home.

  57. bill shockley says:

    Sam Taylor wrote:
    There’s much more money in politics now than 50 years ago yet I don’t see any change in reelection rates.

    But the disapproval rate has ranged from 40% in 1975 to 84% recently. That’s a correlation and it’s probably stronger if you go back pre-1970. I think the limiting of choice in national primaries is also a strong factor favoring incumbents, and is an essential feature of the system that can be traced back to its founding.

    Chomsky has researched and written on this extensively. He says surveys show that elections swing on the basis of a shallow personality referendum rather than on the basis of substantive issues.

    Probably things change at the time of major shakeups, such as the end of the depression when the populace forced FDR’s hand. Then, everything reverts slowly back to capitalism as usual.

  58. bill shockley says:

    elections swing on the basis of a shallow personality referendum
    He was speaking specifically of presidential elections.

  59. anoilman says:

    Meanwhile in Albertastan, the heart of denialism in Canada… We tossed Conservatives out after realizing that they can’t do math. (After 40 years of oil revenue, we have nothing to show for it but the lint in our pockets.) Our new socialist overlords the NDP are starting to look at things;

    (The discussion document is a sober look at the state of things.)

    I went to a Climate Leadership open house last night, and it was just a brainstorming session. The government simply wanted to hear ideas. What was funny was that the trolls were there too. Only …something we’ve all assumed… there weren’t many of them. Just a few loud blowhards. They were utterly drowned out by the sheer number of actual people, and their comments. (This gives me hope.)

  60. BBD says:

    Sam taylor

    I would argue that that’s verging on conspiracy theory territory.

    The fact that vested interest funds US political campaigns (and lobbies) and so distorts US public policy requires no conspiracy theory at all. Nor does the fact that the influence of money from vested interest on American politics appears to be increasing. It’s a miserable state of affairs, but not a conspiracy. Just capital serving its own interests.

  61. Sam taylor says:

    “But the disapproval rate has ranged from 40% in 1975 to 84% recently.”

    And it his 80% in 93, and then went down to 20% after 2001 and has shot back up recently. It’s a very poor correlation, at best. Even according to that article, the highs in disapprova came during the idiotic ‘debt ceiling’ negotiations, which are a wonderful example of just how broken and dysfunctional the US political system is at the moment. The reason that people are so annoyed is because congress seems to be unfit for purpose at the moment, due to the partisanship and so on and the general appalling state of the political machine in the states.

    I’d argue that this is because those in power have, over time, adapted very well to the rules of the particular game that they’re playing. Insofar as they’re very good at winning elections and very bad at governing. After all, that’s what the system rewards, is prowess at election winning, so why bother governing well if you only need to be great at winning elections? And yes, I think the two skills are exclusive.

  62. bill shockley says:

    I agree it’s more instructive to talk about governance in relation to monied interests rather than simply argue whether elections are skewed by campaign contributions and perhaps a stronger argument can be made for the governance correlation, at least without a closer look. The financialization of America since Reagan, the export of industry with “Free Trade”, repeal of Glass/Steagal with Clinton, Citizens United, the indisputable increasing concentration of wealth, etc. And Zinn, Chomsky and others have pointed out that the system was designed from the beginning to favor the propertied class so, to some extent, we are looking for a trend that doesn’t really have to be there, although capitalism does tend to swing the pendulum in one direction.

  63. Is America an Oligarchy?

    From the Dept. of Academics Confirming Something You Already Suspected comes a new study concluding that rich people and organizations representing business interests have a powerful grip on U.S. government policy. After examining differences in public opinion across income groups on a wide variety of issues, the political scientists Martin Gilens, of Princeton, and Benjamin Page, of Northwestern, found that the preferences of rich people had a much bigger impact on subsequent policy decisions than the views of middle-income and poor Americans. Indeed, the opinions of lower-income groups, and the interest groups that represent them, appear to have little or no independent impact on policy.

  64. Willard says:

    Miss Universe is speaking:

  65. anoilman says:

    Willard: ABC: Anything But Conservative.

  66. Joseph says:

    Rachel I don’t agree with all of Obama’s decisions either, but there is rarely a politician that I agree with a 100% of the time. Obama doesn’t have to talk about climate change at all. Polls show that most Americans are concerned about climate change, but it’s not one of their top priorities. Obama has already enacted the EPA regulations and I expect him to push for a comprehensive deal in Paris.

  67. Please be aware that the Shell approval story is not as it appears. I do not approve of President Obama’s reticence about this, but it is very like him. imho, it has done harm to let people think it is his doing. Extracted from a comment elsewhere:

    <blockquoteBefore going all in on "blame Obama" (a tactic encouraged by Republican strategists) please note from a friend who has been checking the facts:

    "the drilling permits were based on leases set by George W. Bush for which Shell already paid $2.1 billion. Done deal. Permits were signed by government agencies, not the President. That's why articles carefully say "Obama Administration" rather than "Obama." Specifically, the Dept. Of the Interior and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued the approvals. All Obama could have done, theoretically, was delay the drilling then get into heavy, expensive litigation over it that precedent shows would LOSE – "any moratorium would likely be challenged in court immediately, and the legal burden would be on the Obama administration to prove that the area should not be drilled. The precedent for such a thing would not be in the administration’s favor: in 2011, a New Orleans judge found the Obama administration acted in contempt by continuing its deepwater drilling moratorium following the BP oil spill, the worst oil spill in U.S. history." Also, if they delayed drilling, "whatever administration follows Obama could reopen the area to drilling, and wouldn’t necessarily be as inclined to include the limitations and regulations Obama claims his administration is requiring.""

  68. redbbs says:

    Thanks Susan. Sometimes McKibben’s judgment goes awry. His drink with Anthony Watts in Chico earlier this year was also ill advised and as predicted, it only benefited Watts.

  69. dhogaza says:

    Thanks, Susan, I was going to post something along the same lines, but not so detailed.

    Even if the current administration prevailed in overturning the previously-issued permits, that were issued according to the regulatory laws that exist, making that very highly unlikely, Shell would still have a strong case for compensation for what amounts to breach of contract.

    Current laws and the regulations which implement them favor energy development. That’s not Obama’s fault or choice, in fact he has nothing to do with them.

  70. Rachel M says:

    I really like Bill McKibben and I think his impact on the climate change movement is huge and effective. Obama made a mistake giving Shell a permit to drill in the Arctic. I’m surprised to see people who favour action on climate change supporting this decision or making excuses for it or blaming someone else.

    Bill McKibben has a good article about this called Physics Doesn’t Negotiate. He says:

    It’s as if the health teacher giving the anti-smoking talk to junior-high assembly had a Marlboro dangling from her lip.

    View at Medium.com

  71. redbbs says:

    And Then There’s Politics.

    Public policy is the only thing that will save my grandchildren from a catastrophically disrupted life. Bill is a romantic but yes he has done more than most of us could ever do to lower our awful trajectory, but right now we need government intervention and in the US that intervention is impossible.

    No lame duck President would ever attempt to see out his or her days upsetting the Congressional majority nor the the majority of the US electorate. It will never happen.
    Except it has. Using a loophole granted by the US Supreme Court President Obama has said fuck you to the people who are determined to make my grand children’s life hell.

    Faced with a congress whose main priority is to build a filthy and vulnerable tar sand pipeline across the entire length of the contiguous US and to destroy the Affordable (health) Care Act -the only thing that gives its citizens a decent stab at a normal and bankrupt free life, President Obama has found a way to limit emissions from coal fired power plants and has used his bully pulpit to urge all nations to join him in cutting emissions and embracing renewables.

    Rachel, in the fight to give my grandchildren a reasonable stab at happiness the President of the United States of America has already achieved more than anybody on this planet and by design it should have been impossible for him to have done so. I’m old, I have cancer I have no time to entertain Bill McKibben’s romanticism.

  72. Roger Jones says:

    I’d like to congratulate everyone on this thread for a great discussion (so far). ATTP, you must be pleased.

  73. Roger,
    To be honest, I have been rather busy and haven’t been following it closely. Assuming you’re not being ironic, then yes 🙂

  74. Rachel M says:

    I think he’s being sarcastic 🙂

    One of the best speeches I’ve seen recently is this one:

    Sadly it has only had 5000 views.

  75. Roger Jones says:

    Not sarcastic 🙂 Everyone has contributed and it has been interesting reading their responses. (Would say something soppy here about positive social reinforcement, but hey)

  76. cosmicomics says:

    Victor –
    Pia Kjærsgaard, the former chairman of our second largest party, Dansk Folkeparti, is a denialist. Morten Messerschmidt, who represents the party in the EU parliament, and who received more votes than any other Danish candidate, is a denialist. Villum Christensen, the denialist I mentioned before, represents a smaller party, Liberal Alliance. Our governing party, Venstre, seeks to roll back measures that would regulate emissions from agriculture, lower the cost of industrial pollution, and give motorists a free pass. It supports the development of shale gas, and wants to slow down the deployment of wind energy. The party’s goal seems to be not doing more than anyone else, while still capitalizing on Denmark’s image as a climate leader.

    Our current Danish prime minister could not have given Obama’s speech.

  77. cosmicomics says:

    Re. broken politics in the U.S:
    Most of the political damage has been done in the states, and is a consequence of Democrats tending to congregate in cities, Republican efforts to take over state legislatures, and redistricting. To quote from the beginning of an article by Jane Mayer:

    “In the spring of 2010, the conservative political strategist Ed Gillespie flew from Washington, D.C., to Raleigh, North Carolina, to spend a day laying the groundwork for REDMAP, a new project aimed at engineering a Republican takeover of state legislatures. Gillespie hoped to help his party get control of statehouses where congressional redistricting was pending, thereby leveraging victories in cheap local races into a means of shifting the balance of power in Washington.”

    In a winner take all system like the American, the result is that Republican votes are politically over-represented.

  78. Rachel, be careful what you wish for. The mitigation sceptical campaign has some paid shrills, but most people doing this are right-wing altruists. They can never hope to get the time they invested back by preventing a greening of the tax system, no matter how much they drive and how bad the quality of their house is. The few mitigation sceptics who are not anonymous cowards (to use Anthony Watts favourite term) can never hope be to paid back for the enormous damage they do to their intellectual credibility. In a networked society have a good reputation for honesty and decency is crucial and in a globalized society there are always people with the same skills, but a better reputation. They are destroying their lives and careers (the non-pensioners) for their political ideals.

  79. Yes cosmicomics, the world is a sad place, but would you really compare Denmark to the USA? And please distinguish between making a fool of yourself by fighting facts and having other policy preferences.

  80. Rachel M says:

    I have no idea what you’re talking about, Victor? I wish for an end to the burning of fossil fuels. What’s this got to do with mitigation skeptics?

  81. anoilman says:

    Pete… Keep your eyes open on that one. Getting carbon from a source to a hole in the ground can be complicated. If they are mentioning the North Sea oil fields, I’d bet dollars to donuts that EOR is hidden in there somewhere.

    Lastly SaskPower has been successful because it was generated there, and buried there.

    We attempted CCS/EOR in Alberta, and it failed due to skyrocketing costs.. (EOR required CO2 purification filters, and pipelines to oil fields.) Furthermore straight up CO2 capture isn’t an option here primarily because there are so many holes in the ground that we are reasonably certain that it won’t stay down.

  82. Rachel, I mean your video about effective altruism. I know you mean it differently.

  83. Rachel M says:

    Oh you mean the people behind the drive for effective altruism are right-wing altruists? It’s actually a Peter Singer initiative and I think he’s long been a green party supporter. He’s got a site about it here:

    And he’s written books about it:

  84. Rachel M says:

    Actually, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say effective altruism is a Peter Singer initiative. But he’s behind the site I linked to and it’s a philosophy he follows: http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_singer_the_why_and_how_of_effective_altruism

  85. Pete Best says:

    Yes EOR is in there if you read it as it means keeping oil production alive in the north sea for a long time to come. Oddly enough CCS matches their mantra well of cutting solar and wind subsidies as they don’t like it blighting the countryside (their voters owned countryside).

  86. anoilman says:

    Pete Best: Don’t forget to stop using the phrase ‘CCS’ online and constantly refer to it as ‘Subsidized Enhanced Oil Recovery’. In Canada I was able to silence the silly crowd with that statement over and over.

  87. cosmicomics says:

    Victor Venema –
    “…but would you really compare Denmark to the USA?”

    Compare, why not? But claim that the U.S. is better, no. And that conclusion would have to be the result of a comparison. Wouldn’t it?
    My point is that we shouldn’t make Europe better than it is. As BBD wrote, “There is real danger in complacency, Victor V.”

    “And please distinguish between making a fool of yourself by fighting facts and having other policy preferences.”

    I don’t understand what you’re getting at here. If you think I’m fighting facts, please tell me which facts I’m fighting. I’ve tried to provide some information about developments in Denmark and the U.S. that others may not be aware of. Also, I can’t see where I’ve written explicitly about my policy preferences.

  88. Rachel, no sorry, it was just an association on the term “altruisms”. It had little to do with your comment/video. Great, by the way, that people try to estimate how to effectively do good.

    I find it ironic that the people who denote greens as “good people”, are actually altruists themselves, just for a more limited group. Then they put a tip jar on their blogs because they do not like to see themselves as altruists.

    This was something I was just thinking about and your comment triggered that association.

  89. cosmicomics, and I agreed with BBD that an important problem in Europe is complacency.

    Maybe we only think we disagree because we are talking about fully different things. You and BBD argue that climate changes is not solved fast enough and that that is also true for Europe. I fully agree with that. And also in Europe money in politics is much too important, Europe also does not not have one person, one vote.

    In addition, I find it interesting how the different cultures make politicians say different things. Yes, there are some fools that fight the facts on climate change in Europe, but most are in the USA and other English speaking countries. (And I did not mean you, I was talking about the US politicians.) Politicians that do not like mitigation in Europe typically block it in a much more subtle way, mostly they just do not prioritise it and there is always enough to do or they find some hair in the soup as an excuse to vote against mitigation measures.

    Both are naturally caricatures, but I have the feeling that this difference exists and I would like to understand where that comes from.

    It might be comparable to the difference in the reaction to science that does not fit with the Bible. In Europe, people just keep the ethics and see the Bible as providing stories that explain these rules and do not make a big deal out of the discrepancies. In America there is a large part of the population that does not accept that humans descended from apes or even say to think that the Earth is only 6000 years old.

    The Americans seem to talk about being consistent a lot. Could that be the difference? If someone would accept the science of climate change, they would feel they would have to sell their car and turn of the heating. If you are against mitigation, then for consistency, you immediately have to reject that CO2 is increasing, or that that is man-made, or that it is warming, or that that is man-made, or that it will be great and all scientists are criminals. If you want to be a consistent Christian then you have to accept every word of the Bible as historical fact.

  90. izen says:

    Times change and the general perception of what is expected, and what is exceptional shifts.

    Obama’s speech is noted for just being made, as much as for its entirely laudable content.

    1989 was the hottest year in the historical record when a right-wing politician made a speech to the UN on climate change. While Thatcher may have been an early adopter of the issue, she was not alone on the right or just in Europe in treating this as a real and potentially serious global problem.

    Just 10 years after that, since the year 2000, every year has been hotter than 1989, even the coldest years of the recent past have ALL been warmer than the warmest year of the 1980s.
    Despite that apparently strong evidence, we are now applauding a politician of the left for daring to make a speech that in colder times would have been largely common ground. I get the impression that as the discourse on this subject, on both sides of the Atlantic has in some senses deteriorated over the last 3 decades, rather than progressed.

    I would hesitate to attribute this entirely to malicious manipulation of the media and industry funded unpropoganda casting ‘doubt’ on how settled the science may be.

  91. MikeH says:

    Off topic but this may be of interest given you have covered Ridley and the “eco-modernists” previously.

  92. bill shockley says:

    8 minutes of Richard Wolff (on Bill Maher)

    “Marx didn’t write about socialism or communism. He wrote about capitalism”.

    I LOVE this man.

  93. Andrew Dodds says:

    cosmicomics –

    Of course, UK politicians are much more sophisticated. They don’t bother (generally) openly denying the science, they just take every action that a bunch of denialists would. Whilst going on about long term plans for hard working people (gonna cook ’em).

    Rachel M –

    Bill McKibben is OK, but I do take some issue with someone who points out quite correctly that you can’t do compromise with physics, and then has a throwaway line of ‘All we can do is move as quickly as possible towards a renewable future’. It grates horribly.

  94. Andrew Dodds says:

    izen –



    I just see it as a fact – the ‘skeptics’ have won so far. The entire topic has been made toxic – you can’t discuss it casually. It’s also been politicized into a left/right issue. Let’s face it, the coal industry could and should have been would down, globally, by now; that’s a huge loss.

  95. BBD says:

    Andrew Dodds

    ‘All we can do is move as quickly as possible towards a renewable future’. It grates horribly.

    Have you seen this ghastly thread at Eli’s? Read through if you can stomach it.

  96. BBD says:

    There’s more than one kind of ‘sceptic’.

  97. cosmicomics says:

    Victor Venema –

    Thanks for the clarification. I don’t have a scientific background, so my few comments at a site named and Then There’s Physics are written with trepidation from a position of vulnerability.

    I’ve heard that some of the American politicians who deny climate change in public accept it off the record in private. So they may not be as ignorant as they seem, but instead of leading and educating and presenting viable policies, they pander to ignorance because they see that as the path to electoral success. They contribute to the polarization that is making America ungovernable.

    And Andrew Dodds –

    The Danish public is fairly knowledgeable about climate change, the public media (generally) don’t attempt to create a false balance, and to the best of my knowledge we don’t have newspapers that cater to denialists. I mentioned that the environmental spokesman for the party Liberal Alliance rejects ACC. What happened during the election is illustrative of the difference between Denmark and the U.S. The spokesman’s denialism was roundly criticized, and the party’s leader was forced to come out and state that, of course the party supports the scientific position. (Which doesn’t, however, prevent him from supporting policy measures that are illogical in relation to the need for mitigation.)

  98. Rachel M says:


    I’m not sure what’s wrong with this sentence:

    All we can do is move as quickly as possible towards a renewable future

    Is it because he omits nuclear? If so, I agree we need nuclear in the mix. Also omitted and this is omitted by most people, is the impact of livestock farming. This doesn’t require any policy changes though. It just requires us to stop eating meat, something most people seem unwilling to contemplate.

  99. Pingback: You can’t negotiate with Physics | …and Then There's Physics

  100. MikeH,
    Unbelievable that Owen Patterson has the gall to run a seminar with a subtitle restoring science to Environment Policy. People have been trying to do this for ages, and it’s those like Patterson – and his brother-in-law Ridley – who’ve made it harder to do so.

  101. BBD says:

    Super-polite gloss: chutzpah

  102. MikeH says:

    ATTP. Indeed. I was noting the number of joint functions that the BTI & the GWPF are holding. In July they also had a seminar that featured Richard Tol.


    Maybe there has been others in the past that I have not noticed. There certainly appears to be plenty of common ground and I don’t intend that to be praise. 🙂

  103. Brandon Gates says:


    Have you seen this ghastly thread at Eli’s?

    I saw it. I thought your comment along the lines of using tactics as bad or worse as the other side was on the money. Was wondering why Eli hasn’t permabanned him.

  104. cosmicomics says:

    Correction to my comment September 2, 2015 at 9:08 am:

    “The Orwellian term is ‘climate realism.’ ”

    Should be: green realism.

  105. @Rachel, finally had time to look at the video, and that’s lovely, put it on my G+ page fwiw.

    McKibben is one of my heroes, but he is one man doing his possible in the way he is able to. In 2009 I went to a conference at MIT with all the Obama higher ups and a variety of others (including McKibben) and the mood was optimistic. In what I tend to think of as the long defeat (Tolkien) I don’t forget that Democrats had only a few months between Al Franken’s finally taking office (clever obstruction on counting went on for months) and Ted Kennedy’s death when it was possible to get 60 votes to prevent one Republican senator from gumming up the works. There were three issues, health care, the environment, and (oops I forget for the moment) and he chose health care to use his leverage to complete; I understood the argument.

    The environment is the most dangerous to human continuation, but political operatives and big money have further poisoned the public’s knowledge of what is real and what is not. Struggling working class people just want cheaper gas at the pump. A living wage would go a long way to further action on what is good rather than what wealth and power and media (marketing seamlessly from the news to product, a sorcerer’s apprentice Rube Goldberg thing) promote. I’d guess people who know better number less than 10 percent?

    So you could say, it doesn’t matter that Obama was powerless to cancel the Alaska oil deal, but he unlike us or McKibben is actually president, and he knows what can and can’t be done. Sure, it’s not enough. But it’s a whole lot better than anybody else. Where we are headed, and whether a global awakening can occur in time, is not yet settled, but I am fearful about it. I just remind myself that despair and apathy are lazy.

  106. bill shockley says:

    bill shockley said:
    I was turned off by Obama’s speech by his misrepresentation by omission of America’s track record in which he leaves out essential facts such as the diversion of unused coal mining output to export markets, the effect of a slower economy, and the export of emissions to Asia. He’s saying, “we’ve done our part, now it’s up to the rest of you”.

    This new article at Climate Progress highlights how India is starving for coal and how available product from overseas will feed that market, lower the price and compete with carbon-free generation.

    Unlike a direct deterrent to FF use such as a carbon tax, the Obama/EPA regulations may prove chimerical. Promises undelivered. As has been the history of global mitigation efforts. We can’t afford to do that anymore.

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