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Entries tagged "keystone xl"

Climate Milestones in President Obama's Speech

June 26, 2013 ·

Obama climate speech photoPresident Obama's speech at Georgetown University was a milestone on climate change. It is a milestone in two ways. First, he made it clear he is not afraid to tackle coal as the primary culprit in climate change. Second, he made a major pivot in how he framed the Keystone XL pipeline debate. He’s no longer talking about "energy security" or "jobs" when talking about the pipeline but instead linking "our national interest" with whether or not the pipeline would have a significant impact on the changing climate.

Virtually all climate scientists who have weighed in on the Keystone XL pipeline agree that tar sands oil, if exploited, would result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. NASA's former top scientist, James Hansen, said it would be "game over" for the climate if the pipeline went forward.

But more significantly, Obama signaled in this speech that he is ready to use his executive authority, and not willing to compromise on two key things: the climate impacts of coal and tar sands.

He made a major pronouncement in stating that public financing of coal should end, such as financing via agencies such as U.S. Export-Import Bank.

The Institute for Policy Studies was the first organization, together with Friends of the Earth, to document the significant climate impacts of U.S. Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation's fossil fuel investments in 1998. That research resulted in a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the City of Boulder challenging both of those public financial institutions with violations under the National Environmental Protection Act, for not calculating the cumulative emissions of their projects on the global climate. Obama's statement today takes that research and legal action one step further and calls for an end to almost all U.S. government funding of coal overseas. The White House statement released today says:

"...The President calls for an end to U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas, except for (a) the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists, or (b) facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies. As part of this new commitment, we will work actively to secure the agreement of other countries and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies as soon as possible."

While this statement allows for some wiggle room on coal – if the carbon produced from the coal can be captured, which currently is not financially or technically feasible – it would eliminate U.S. Obama climate speech photo 2backing of coal financing in countries like India and South Africa, both of which have recently received billions of public dollars for massive coal-fired coal plants.

Obama also said he would encourage developing countries to transition to natural gas as they move away from coal, a posture consistent with what he is calling for at home. Such a statement is unfortunate as it encourages the expansion of fracking on U.S. lands, which results in fugitive methane emissions, water contamination, and health problems for nearby communities. The low price of natural gas, while welcome as a replacement for coal, is making truly clean and renewable energy less attractive financially.

Obama also continues to support nuclear power – a surprising posture in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, a disaster that is transforming Japan, causing it to shut down its nuclear power plants and replace them with renewable energy.

And Obama was unafraid to call out the climate deniers – the "flat earth society" – and shame them, while urging the public to "invest, divest," a statement sure to warm the hearts of students and faith groups across the country, who are urging their institutions to divest their endowments of fossil fuels.

But the significance of this speech is that Obama is finally showing us he is willing to fight – on coal, on tar sands, and on climate. Obama remains an "all of above" champion who believes he can simultaneously frack and drill our country's oil and gas resources and solve the climate crisis. But his apparent feistyness and willingness to challenge the climate impacts of coal and tar sands – after years of silence on both topics – is cause for some celebration.

A Mother's Plea for Sasha and Malia: No Tar Sands Pipeline

September 4, 2011 ·

As a single mother whose life's work has largely focused on solving the climate crisis, I'm often in a quandary. How much should I share of the work I do on this issue — which overwhelms those rare adults who immerse themselves in the details with grief — with my 11-year-old son?

When I posed this question in an interview with NASA's top climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, who often speaks of his grandchildren as his motivator for speaking out on climate change, he advised me that it's more important to let a child be a child. Let them experience the wonder and beauty of nature, not fear it, he said.

And so I was a bit perplexed as to what to tell my son as I prepared to get arrested for the first time in my life. It turned out I'd be joining over 1,000 people from around the United States and Canada in nonviolently protesting a pipeline that President Barack Obama is poised to approve.

Daphne Wysham gets arrested at the White House while protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. Photo by Shadia Fayne WoodThis isn't just any pipeline: It is, as Dr. Hansen calls it, a pipeline that, if opened, would ignite the "carbon bomb," a move that would signal "game over" for the climate.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, my son and I watched the movie Avatar on DVD (for the nth time). As it ended, I thought: This might be a good opportunity to explain my plans for that week.

"You know, this movie is very close to what's happening in Canada right now," I explained. "And it's one reason I'll be getting arrested this week."

As my son took in my explanation for my planned act of civil disobedience, he quickly concluded that he, too, wanted to be arrested. But, after some hours of contemplation, I had to reluctantly tell him no.

Why "reluctantly"? Because I felt I was denying my son the right to act, politically, on an issue that would very likely have a much larger impact on his life than on mine. He, far more than the adults who were weighing in, should have a vote on this issue. Yet he, and all our children, have little say on the world they'll inherit, one that may be changed utterly, in ways we can't even comprehend.

As I stood before the White House gates a few days later, listening to the police issue their warnings of our impending arrests to our group of over 100 demonstrators, I thought of what I would say as they carted me away — what cry I wanted the president to hear.

And I recalled the day Obama stood before the American people, in those days and months as BP's deepwater well billowed millions of barrels of oil from that horrifying wound in the Gulf of Mexico floor. I remembered him remarking that, yes, he was very concerned about the spill because, while he shaved one morning, his 11-year-old daughter Malia had asked him, "Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?"

Children have a way of speaking to our hearts. And so, I mused, even if President Obama didn't hear the songs and the chants of the more than 1,000 people who were arrested over the course of two weeks, even if the prayers of religious leaders and Native American elders went unanswered, even if he didn't read the editorial opposing the Keystone XL pipeline in The New York Times, even if he ignored the advice of his very own EPA, perhaps, in this instance, Sasha or Malia might see us outside the White House gates, and ask him, "Did you stop the pipeline yet, Daddy?"

As the police handcuffed my hands behind me and led me off to a white school bus, I shouted: "For Sasha and Malia!"

I don't think Obama or his daughters heard me, I thought, as I watched my fellow protesters be cuffed, searched and photographed through the bus's caged windows. But perhaps, if we keep this up, they will.

Daphne Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, and host of Earthbeat Radio. www.ips-dc.org