As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Blinding Me With Science

Politico has a piece today on Obama's cabinet being a middle-of-the-roader's dream. I guess that's true, and it's not entirely unexpected. Obama always told us who he was throughout the campaign, despite the hopes of those inclined to spin his cultural uniqueness into obvious progressivism.

But I would argue that this centrism is not uniform throughout the cabinet. In the green and labor spaces, the cabinet does live up to the promise of idealists for the most part. Hilda Solis is a fiery progressive at Labor, and all of the environmental picks are pretty solid. Most of all, we have a President who clearly values science and pays attention to scientific reason. That's a major change from the past eight years. The Presidential Science Advisor is going to be a Harvard physicist, and the head of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) will be a marine biologist and MacArthur genius grant recipient.

John P. Holdren, a Harvard physicist best known as a strong proponent of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and a specialist on energy technology policy and nuclear nonproliferation, has been chosen to be Mr. Obama’s science adviser, according to two people close to Dr. Holdren and one person involved in the decision [...] Also, Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State University and longtime contact of mine on marine conservation issues and climate, will be nominated by Mr. Obama to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dr. Holdren has long been pressing for prompt action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and advance research on non-polluting energy sources. He has told me in the past that he consciously eschewed getting involved with the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to maintain an independent view of the science.

This is how Dr. Holdren described his stance to me in 2007: “I am one of those who believes that any reasonably comprehensive and up-to-date look at the evidence makes clear that civilization has already generated dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system…. What keeps me going is my belief that there is still a chance of avoiding catastrophe.”

You can add this to Dr. Stephen Chu, the new Energy Secretary, and you have a cadre of scientists who understand the very real dangers for planetary sustainability that come with continued burning of harmful greenhouse gases. We have to reduce the CO2 burden on the planet and come up with a new energy future that doesn't just reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but on fossil fuels entirely. A recent climate study by the American Geophysicist Union makes it clear that an American return to native fuels like coal would be disastrous for the world.

Some commentators have argued that falling reserves of oil and gas will automatically limit CO2's rise.
But at an American Geophysical Union meeting, researchers said reserves of coal dwarfed those of other fuels.

It was even possible oil's demise could trigger an acceleration in emissions through more coal use, they added.

"We can replace oil with liquid fuels derived from coal," said Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University in California.

"But these liquid fuels emit even more carbon dioxide than oil, so the end of oil can mean an increase in coal and even more carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, and even more rapid onset of dangerous climate change."

In the past, there would be nobody in the highest reaches of government to stop the headlong rush to boost parochial interests by burning coal as somehow a way to mitigate the effects of climate change and get us off oil. But now, we have an Energy Secretary who has called coal a nightmare.

Carbon capture and storage research is still in its early stages, said Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist announced by Obama this week as his nominee to run the U.S. Department of Energy. Real-world projects to pump millions of tons of carbon dioxide might also be rejected unless scientists show it can be done safely, Chu said during an April speech.

"Coal is my worst nightmare," said Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Stanford University professor.

Chu noted that coal is the current "default option" for meeting growing energy needs in the United States, China and India. But coal is also firing continued increases in worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, even at a time when scientists say the need to dramatically reduce those emissions is critical.

"We have lots of fossil fuel," Chu said during a talk outlining his views on energy policy. "That's really both good and bad news. We won't run out of energy, but there's enough carbon in the ground to really cook us."

This is a return to SCIENCE driving policy, instead of policymakers driving a truck through science and doing whatever they want. Nothing about that is middle of the road.

...I just want to make it clear that I am not advocating living in a cave, in case you were wondering.

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