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Obama's 'all of the above' plan means nothing

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Okla. Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.

Kai Ryssdal: The visuals for the president's speech today in Cushing, Okla., were pretty good. Piles of big green pipes that'll eventually become part of the Keystone XL pipeline. Neat little pivot from the acres of solar panels we were sitting amidst yesterday.

Unlike solar, though, Keystone's controversial, a political flash point for environmentalists who want it stopped before it starts and Republicans in Congress who want the jobs it'll bring.

Commentator Bill McKibben says the president's all of the above energy strategy -- oil and renewables -- is missing a certain something.


Bill McKibben: The president made what could have been a landmark speech today in Cushing, Okla.

It came amidst a completely unprecedented March heatwave -- 3,500 high temperature records this week. Cities like Chicago were the hottest since record keeping began in the 19th century. It came on the tail of another record: 2011's record for multi-billion dollar weather disasters in America.

In other words, if there was a moment for talking about global warming, this would be it.

But the president didn't.

Instead, he focused on his "all of the above" energy policy. About how America has drilled a record number of oil and gas wells during his administration. How we've laid enough pipeline to encircle the earth. About how he wants to lay some more -- in particular the southern half of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will bring oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

But "all of the above" is definitely not a coherent energy policy.

Burning all the oil you can and then putting up a solar panel -- or even a solar farm -- is like drinking six martinis at lunch and then downing a VitaminWater on the way to your car. You're still drunk. You're still a danger to yourself and others. You've just got a few extra vitamins in you.

Think about it, if a presidential candidate said they had an "all of the above" foreign policy, where every other nation was an equal ally, they'd be thought silly. And dangerous. And they would be.

But with energy -- with $5 gas looming -- it apparently seems politic to insist we need never make a choice.


Ryssdal: Bill McKibben is the head of the environmental group 350.org. His most recent book is called "Eaarth."

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I have to disagree with Mr. McKibben about Mr. Obama's speeches about energy. First of all, Mr McKibben clearly doesn't understand atmospheric science or any pertinent details of global warming. He's only eschewing what he has heard elsewhere. If he would take the time to learn about it, he would understand that the real threat of global warming isn't more violent weather, but the long term affect on plant and animal life and by extension our own existence. In other words, climate change is a long-view, macro- sort of thing.

Secondly and related to the first - pointing to the unusual weather in 2011 and 2012 as evidence of global warming is fear-mongering. Although it may be true, skeptics would not be swayed, nor should they. As this is an election year, Obama did the wise thing and did not go there.

Third, "all of the above" is intended to convey a broad message in a bite-sized piece - something that people can understand and remember. It's not intended to be complete and cohesive. Besides his main point is we must develop other forms of energy and we simply aren't far enough along to declare a new energy path. So the short term demands more oil, but long term must include alternatives.

Fourth, even if the Keystone XL pipeline broke ground today - we will STILL see $5 tomorrow and frankly for the next few years. Why? Because it takes a long time to build this thing, test it, and turn it on, extract and refine the oil, then bring the gas to market. By then, gas prices may fall as the Middle East settles down, and then we'd forget all about Keystone. If we were really concerned about the price of oil today, we should have increased refining capacity years or decades ago. No oil company can afford to change their business plans based on the daily fluctuations of gas prices. They either build or they don't - a long-view strategy.

Fortunately Mr. Obama understands the politics and the science behind climate change. And thankfully Mr. McKibben isn't running for office.

"Fourth, even if the Keystone XL pipeline broke ground today - we will STILL see $5 tomorrow and frankly for the next few years."

I disagree. That's not the nature of commodities speculation.

You can trade futures that are less mature for those that are more mature (i.e. longer-term futures for nearer-term ones)... and if you believe that prices will come down in the future then you can start selling futures then for futures now at a discounted rate (to make sure you're unable to unload them now before they dump any further value).

Doing so does indeed drive near-term prices down.

Especially if you have futures nearing maturity that you think aren't going to make your target price, you might unload them in favor of longer-term futures in order to hedge your bets (or at least trade a smaller loss in the future in favor of a larger loss more imminently).

I agree with Mr. McKibben's commentary, though the analogy could have been a little better. The drunk should have had a failing liver. It is amazing to me that the words "Climate Change" now seem to be bad words, much as "Global Warming" and "liberal" were made into bad words by its critiques.

The reason why this is not an energy strategy is because it does not account for the damage to the environment caused by carbon-based fuel sources. Yes, carbon-based fuel sources will be needed in order to transition to a renewable energy economy. As W. Bush put it, "America is addicted to oil", and you don't cut a heroine addict off suddenly; you ween them off with methadone, or "heroine light". Let's call that natural gas.

But, the operative word is TRANSITION, and if you are just saying "burn whatever we can get our hands on", then you aren't going to transition to anything. Also, nuclear is not a "silver bullet", as some commentors have stated; uranium is predominately imported from Russia for our reactors at the moment. And, no, getting it out of the Grand Canyon is not a good idea if you actually care about a national treasure or the environment.

If the President is worried about $5/gallon gasoline, maybe he should focus on getting his DOJ to actually use those Antitrust Laws to break up the oligopoly of refiners that are now shutting in plants to artificially curtail supply? Unless, of course, he's already taken campaign contributions from them. Oh well, maybe in his second term...

I suspect that I'm likely under the same tent as Mr. McKibben on environmental issues but his commentary had me scratching my head.

How is an "all of the above" energy options policy not coherent? Is it not possible to have a coherent plan that involves doing several things at once? If I decide that in order to make more money I should:

1. search for a higher paying job
2. maintain that current job I have and attempt to get a raise
3. take on a part time job that won't interfere with my first one

Is that not a coherent plan?

In the same way, how could our energy policy be nothing but an all of the above options plan? We still need to consume oil (keep our current job) while we explore new technologies (search for a higher paying job) and implement some technologies with promise (take on a part time job).

Mr. McKibben's analogies to consuming martinis and making foreign policy did provide some comic relief. Sound bites are memorable even if they are incoherent with respect to the point they are trying to make.

I disagree with Mr. McKibben's analogy. I feel his pain but I think the analogy is somewhat flawed, and here's why: It takes energy to make energy and energy = $$.

The time to pursue alternative energy infrastructure is while we still have enough relatively cheap fossil fuels that we can spare the extra energy to build the new energy infrastructure. The key to making it work is also pushing efficiency, which the President has also been doing ( but needs to do more) so that we can do more with less energy.

Meanwhile, you can't drastically reduce the energy supply because our economy is based on converting energy to dollars. A barrel of oil is equal to something like 22,000 man hours of labor, IIRC. In some ideal world you can wish that might happen, but in reality, you have to account for the human factor and people aren't going to just voluntarily do with less. It's just not human nature. (recall President Carter's sweater speech in the 1970s). Just like telling people to drink more Vitamin Water and less alcohol isn't going to work either (remember prohibition?)

So, as President of a bunch of humans acting on human nature, President Obama can't just reduce the energy supply. He has to keep the energy supply as high as possible while also building the infrastructure that's eventually going to replace today's energy.

I must say that this commentary is the most disappointing one I’ve ever heard on Marketplace. What Kai did not make clear was that Bill McKibben is the head of a climate crisis organization that fought the Keystone XL pipeline (http://act.350.org/sign/kxl/). So that he believes that President Obama should have talked about Global Warming and was against the pipeline was not surprising or interesting. What would be interesting is when Mr. McKibben thinks President Obama shouldn’t talk about Global Warming. Climate change is important but I would rather have heard a thoughtful commentary on our energy policy instead. Kai should have been more clear on who Mr. McKibben was. The name 350.org does not mean much to most people.

I am also disappointed in what Mr. McKibben had to say. Playing fast and loose with the facts might work for Rush Limbaugh but it hurts the environmental movement. McKibben said, “…the southern half of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which will bring oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.” The entire pipeline would bring oil from Canada to Texas but the part President Obama was talking about goes from Oklahoma to Texas. McKibben said, “But "all of the above" is definitely not a coherent energy policy. Burning all the oil you can and then putting up a solar panel…”, claiming that “burning all the oil you can” is part of President Obama’s energy policy sounds terrible but is not true (http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/email-files/fact_sheet_oba...). An all of the above strategy has to include oil because there is not a replacement for oil at this moment. While using oil we must make our use more efficient. President Obama raised the CAFÉ standards for cars for the first time in 20 years (http://www.nhtsa.gov/fuel-economy).

Mr. McKibben compared President Obama to a drunk driver. Then he compared his policy to one that is silly and dangerous because President Obama’s plan still contains the use of oil. The 350.org website is for renewable energy, protecting forest, clean transportation and improved efficiency. President Obama supports renewable energy, raises CAFÉ standards for cleaner transportation and is spending billions of dollars on energy efficiency (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/02/presidential-memor...). President Obama’s plan recognizes that we do not have the technology yet to move completely away from fossil fuels. The 350.org website does not explain how we move away from fossil fuels just that we should. This difference makes President Obama a silly, dangerous drunk?

This commentary might make Mr. McKibben feel good about himself but it was not helpful. If you think we shouldn’t use any more fossil fuels then tell us how to get there. Without that silver bullet all we can do is increase or efficiency, advance alternative energy technology and try to send less money to countries that don’t like us for the fuel we use right now until we have a replacement. A commentary of ideas how to get there would be useful. This commentary, sadly was not.

There is a silver bullet: it's called "nuclear energy".

And yes, "The China Syndrome" was just a bad movie. 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima were all antiquated designs.

As for the analogy of the President to a drunk driver, I found that very offensive.

He's much more like a drunken sailor... except that drunken sailors only spend their own money.

I do agree that the agenda of the author was not adequately disclosed (to put it mildly). Nor was any attempt made to balance it by having an opposing opinion.

McKibben: [...] Unlike solar, though, Keystone's controversial, a political flash point for environmentalists who want it stopped before it starts and Republicans in Congress who want the jobs it'll bring.

That's misrepresentation: many labor unions are also pushing for the pipeline. To portray this as a conservative vs. liberal (or pro-industry vs. ecologists) dichotomy is dishonest and misleading.

Within the President's own constituencies, there are rifts. To ignore this is to flatter the emperor on his new clothes.

"Commentator Bill McKibben says the president's all of the above energy strategy -- oil and renewables -- is missing a certain something."

You mean nuclear power? The renewable, carbon-free, greenhouse gas-free energy source which is viable today, not susceptible to night-time (solar), doldrums (windpower), low rainfall/snowfall (hydro)... Is that the 'certain something' that's missing?

It is painfully obvious when vitriol supersedes one’s own common sense. It is painfully obvious when vitriol supersedes one’s own common sense. How can one come on your show offering "officialized" opinions of current events orbiting this currently charged political environment, while not understanding the need for the president to "cover his tail" - he would be foolish not to! But as a Black person, I must wonder to what degree stark and outmoded
racism play into this deficiency of honest realization and fair appraisal of the president’s measured, reasonable and equitable solutions to our problems He faces an organized, entrenched, multi-pronged and omni-faceted hateful opposition on a routine basis. These cadres of dedicated, intractable haters build their opinions on a foundation of denial, overt revision of facts and the hope that Americans are too dumb to see through the lies. We Americans will send a resolute message to this brand of discourse built on division, derision and juvenile-like disdain. In November that message should be clearly be NO! If not, then it bodes poorly for this nation’s future and more so it’s moral soul.

"But as a Black person, I must wonder to what degree stark and outmoded racism play into this deficiency of honest realization and fair appraisal of the president’s measured, reasonable and equitable solutions to our problems He [sic] faces an organized, entrenched, multi-pronged and omni-faceted hateful opposition on a routine basis."

Yeah... all except the part where the person who wrote this was actually an environmentalist, and supposedly part of Obama's core constituency.

But kudos for being able to work in the race card in an imaginative way.

"If not, then it bodes poorly for this nation’s future and more so it’s moral soul."

So let me get this straight: we should vote for failing economic policies merely because the candidate pushing them is African-American?

I seem to remember a famous Republican once said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

So how about we ignore a person's race and vote for them based on their policies?

Because voting for--or against--someone based on the color of their skin is racist either way.

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