Transcript of the video above.
Anderson Cooper: A lot of questions about climate change. I want to go to Don Lemon. Don?
Don Lemon: This one is for Martin O’Malley. Governor O’Malley, this one is from Anna Bettis from Tempe Arizona.
Anna Bettis: As a young person I am very concerned about climate change and how it will affect my future. As presidential candidate, what will you do to address climate change?
Don Lemon: Governor O’Malley, please tell Anna how you will protect the environment better than all of the other candidates up on that stage.
Governor O’Malley: I have put forward a plan, and I am the only candidate, I believe, in either party to do this, to move America forward to a 100% clean electric grid by 2050.
We did not land a man on the moon with an all of the above strategy. It was an intentional engineering challenge, and we solved it as a nation. And our nation must solve this one. So I put forward the plan that will extend the investor tax credits for solar, and for wind. If you go across Iowa, you will see that 30% of their energy now comes from wind.
Here in Las Vegas, one of the most sustainable cities in America, doing important things like green building, architecture and design. We can get there as a nation but it’s going to require presidential leadership. As president, I intend to sign as my very first order in office an order that moves us as a nation and dedicates our resources to solving this problem and moving to a 100% clean electric grid by 2050.
Anderson Cooper: Governor O’Malley, thank you very much. Senator Webb, you have a very different view that just about anybody on this stage and unlike a lot of Democrats. You’re pro-coal, you’re pro-offshore drilling, you’re pro-Keystone Pipeline. The question is, are you out of step with the Democratic Party.
Senator Webb: The question really is how are we going to solve energy problems in the global environment if you really want to address climate change. When I was in the Senate, I was an all of the above energy voter. I introduced legislation to bring in alternate energy as well as nuclear power. I’m a strong proponent of nuclear power. It is safe, it is clean.
And really, we are not going to solve climate change simply with the laws here. We’ve done a good job in this country since 1970.
Aside: 1970 was the year that nuclear electricity production exceeded 1% of total US electricity production. It became visible in the Energy Information Agency annual graphs of electricity sources. End Aside.
If you look at China and India, they’re the greatest polluters in the world. 15 out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in one of those two countries. We need to solve this in a global way. It’s a global problem and I have been very strong in doing that. The agreements, the so-called agreements that we have had with China are illusory in terms of the immediate requirements of the Chinese government itself.
So let’s solve this problem in an international way and then we really will have a way to address climate change.
Anderson Cooper: Senator Sanders, are you tougher on climate change than Secretary Clinton?
Senator Sanders: Well, I will tell you this. I believe, and Pope Francis made this point, this is a moral issue. The scientists are telling us that we need to move extremely boldly. I am proud, that along with Senator Boxer a few years ago, we introduced the first piece of climate change legislation that called for a tax on carbon.
And let me also tell you that nothing that nothing is going to happen unless we are prepared to deal with campaign finance reform because the fossil fuel industry is funding the Republican Party which denies the reality of climate change and certainly is not prepared to go forward aggressively. This is a moral issue. We have got to be extremely aggressive about working with China, India, Russia. The planet, the future of the planet is at stake.
Anderson Cooper: Secretary Clinton, I want you to be able to respond and then I’ve got to go to Dana.
Secretary Clinton: Well that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. When we met in Copenhagen in 2009, and, literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese. Going throughout this huge convention center because we knew we had to get them to agree to something. Because there will be no effective effort to address climate change unless China and India join with the rest of the world. They told us they’d left for the airport. We found out that they were having a secret meeting. We marched up and broke in. We said we’ve been looking all over for you. Let’s sit down and talk about what we need to do. And we did come up with the first international agreement that China has signed.
Thanks to President Obama’s leadership, it’s now gone much further and I do believe that the bilateral agreement that the president made with the Chinese was significant. Now it needs to go further and there will be an international meeting at the end of this year. And we must get verifiable commitments to fight climate change from every country gathered there.
I have become a single issue voter, even though I understand that the world is a terribly complex place and there are many issues that must be addressed. In my view, however, nearly all of the issues have some relationship with the choices that we make about energy supplies.
For nearly 200 years, hydrocarbon/carbohydrate combustion has been the foundation of our modern society. It now enables billions of people to live on a planet that used to support only hundreds of millions, many of whom were terribly hungry for at least a portion of their lives, especially during winter and spring after poor harvests.
Most of us can command lights, air conditioning, heating, refrigeration, sanitary systems, laundries, and entertainment with the flick of a switch. We can travel, we can eat fresh fruits and vegetables no matter what season it is, and we can extract metals from rocks.
On the negative side, we are using the only atmosphere in the universe that we know that provides breathable air, protects our common home from excessive UV radiation, and traps just the right amount of radiant solar energy to keep most parts of the planet in the temperate range as a waste dump.
Pollution control devices have dramatically improved in the past half a century, enabling a vastly expanded use of fossil fuel while reducing the areas where waste product concentrations are high enough to cause a direct threat of negative health consequences in a moderately short period of time.
There are still areas in the world where pollution can cause disease and death rather quickly and other areas that experience occasional periods of dangerously high levels when air exchange is limited by weather patterns.
Even with improved pollution controls, combustion produces carbon dioxide that must be released to the atmosphere. That gas, though benign from a health prospective at levels below about 8,000 parts per million (0.8%) traps heat and causes effects that are somewhat unpredictable without more detailed, larger scale experimentation to validate computer models.
I’m not a fan of experimenting on the only atmosphere we have. Though I am sure we will never eliminate combustion, we should be working to turn the curve from concave up to concave down and pass through peak CO2 production as soon as possible.
There are also a few billion people who cannot afford to burn fossil fuels to provide reliable access to power. Even in wealthy areas, fossil fuel prices are highly variable and often drive massive shifts in wealth. Occasional periods of scarcity and uneven distribution around the world also make us vulnerable if we continue to allow fossil fuels to be our dominate source of power.
The best available alternative to continuing to increase our dependence on fossil fuel combustion is actinide fission. Even with our currently primitive fuel cycles, nuclear energy releases about as much CO2 for its full life cycle as wind and substantially less than is released in the life cycle of photovoltaic devices.
We know that uranium, thorium and plutonium are all fissionable materials and that the earth has a large enough inventory of those super fuels to last as long as human society can last. Uranium and thorium are widely dispersed around the world.
In other words, before any presidential candidate can get my vote, that candidate will have to acknowledge that fission will have a powerful role in our future.
Here is my take on how the current Democratic Party candidates score on my single issue.
Aside: I suspect none of the candidates really care about my opinion, but this is my blog, so I suspect anyone who bothers to read it might care — at least a little. End Aside.
Martin O’Malley is carefully trying to woo Iowa voters and not scare off too many people in the Democratic Party base. His 100% clean energy plan as currently described is completely silent on nuclear power and reads as if he is cribbing notes from Mark Z. Jacobson. The glimmer of hope I’m nourishing is based on my personal long term memory and that which is stored for everyone to find on the web.
Back in 2009, when I was still a Maryland resident and O’Malley was the governor, I was closely tracking the discussions and public meetings associated with the project to build Calvert Cliffs unit 3 in Calvert County, Maryland. Though the project is currently dead, Governor O’Malley was a strong supporter and included nuclear energy in his definition of clean energy, at least up until the time that he began running for president.
I remain encouraged by his description of the problem as one that cannot be addressed with an all of the above approach and instead must be solved with good engineering.
Few engineers that are not directly tied to the wind or solar industry would agree that a 100% “renewable” energy system is an elegant or efficient way to provide reliable electricity to today’s population and that it is even less suitable for a larger future population.
I suspect that O’Malley still supports nuclear energy, but that he has been given poor advice to remain silent on the issue, even though it could help capture the attention his campaign needs in order to have a hope of getting past the front runners.
Jim Webb confidently asserts that he is a strong supporter of nuclear energy because it is clean and safe. That is a great statement and does not obscure a secret animosity by implying that he would only support some kind of idealized, future development of nuclear that is “safer” than what we have already proven in commercial applications. I’m sure that he would support efforts to improve the technology, but that shouldn’t deter immediate deployment of more of what we already have.
Bernie Sanders has a personal conundrum. He claims that effectively addressing climate change is a moral issue and aligns himself with the Pope. He also claims that the world’s scientists have identified the problem and tell us that we need to address it promptly.
However, he is also proud about his alignment with Senator Barbara Boxer. She successfully pushed San Onofre out of the electricity production business and is working to rid her state of the last remaining nuclear plant. Sanders was opposed to the continued operation of Vermont Yankee and contributed to that state’s disappearance from the top of the list in terms of best per capital CO2 emissions among states in the US.
Sanders demonstrates selective reading skills by appealing to to the work of scientists in identifying the problem and pushing for a solution while also rejecting one of the most effective solutions identified by the IPCC and by independent scientists like James Hansen, Tim Wigley, Ken Caldeira, and Kerry Emanuel.
I’m fine with his call to put a price on carbon, especially if he adheres to his democratic socialist philosophy and returns all proceeds of the tax equally to every citizen except those in the top 1% of income already.
Sanders needs to flop on this issue in the face of his apparent desire to effective address the issue using the best available science. Until he does, I will continue working to expose his illogical and unsupportable stance.
Clinton’s response was, in my opinion, bizarre.
I’m cannot begin to understand why she proudly told a story that gives the impression that the President of the United States and his Secretary of State can only meet with Chinese leaders after a paparazzi-like hunt. Her version of the tale results in the President and the Secretary of State breaking into a private room in a large convention center and demanding an immediate, binding negotiation without any reference to technical advice on an exceedingly technical and far reaching topic.
I would expect that the leader of the free world has better schedulers and staff support than that.