Jun 4, 2014

Obama changes the conversation on climate change

Barack Obama is framing the need to act on carbon pollution as being about human health -- preventing asthma, heart attacks etc. Might that work here?

Cathy Alexander — Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

When cutting carbon emissions is sold as a way to avoid flooding in Bangladesh, it may not interest Australians. But what if it were sold as a way of preventing your child from getting asthma?

United States President Barack Obama announced a new climate plan this week. He didn’t opt for the usual climate change backdrop — a wind farm, perhaps an area hit by a heatwave or flood. Instead, he was here:

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25 thoughts on “Obama changes the conversation on climate change

  1. wayne robinson

    Well, carbon is a natural element. It’s the major part of diamonds. If you’re against carbon from coal-fuelled power plants, then you also against diamonds, diamond engagement rings and marriage. What are you – some sort of gay activist?

    (Note – I don’t actually believe what I’ve written. Don’t complain to me…)

  2. Chris Hartwell

    So both the world’s economic superpower (and the USA) are coming to the party on emissions reductions. We were in the leading pack – not 1st by a long shot, but maybe fifth or sixth. Now, we haven’t just stopped to let the other countries run past us, oh no – we’re actively running back to the starting line.

    And that’s enough metaphor-mixing for a cocktail.

  3. Mark Duffett

    “…every climate/renewable energy scheme…”

    There’s one outstanding framing issue right there – the equation of climate action with renewable energy. To advance the former is hard enough without tying it to the shortcomings of the latter.

  4. Jackol

    There are big, obvious logical failings in the ‘health’ argument for reducing carbon emissions, and it is therefore a risky political path to take. The Obama administration has decided to take that risk – presumably they have judged that they have a better chance of winning the public debate going down this (flawed) road.

    If you argue that we need to reduce particulate emissions, fine, but it is possible to reduce particulate emissions while having no impact (or while having an adverse impact) on carbon emissions. Using particulates or some other pollutants to ‘piggyback’ an argument about reducing carbon is disingenuous and I think will fail in any public debate. Worse, employing these logically unsupportable arguments will be used as evidence by anti-AGW interests that there actually is no real case for reducing GHG emissions.

    We need to reduce GHG emissions because of their impact on climate. Spurious arguments about asthma are not going to help win that debate.

  5. AR

    I have long believed that the woefully ineffective but highly emotive warnings of doom & disaster as a result of greenhouse gases causing climate change were a skillful double (possibly even quadruple)bluff by the nuke lovers (hi Duffer!).
    Think of the mechanics – eventually the masses would demand, not a reduction in cheap energy but that the bogey man go’way and the Establishment would offer the only “solution” that appeals to them, nukes.
    Highly centralised, massively subsidised, vastly corrosive of civil liberties and the dumbest, most expensive and most dangerous way ever devised to boil water.
    Makes CDOs look an ethical blue chip investment.

  6. form1planet

    Focusing on health is a great strategy. Yes it is conflating two issues (coal pollution and reduction of GHG emissions), and yes it would be possible to tackle those issues separately, but it makes sense to combine the two in order to get people on board. Plus global warming has significant impacts on health besides the pollution from coal-fired power plants, so the campaign has scope to broaden out to take those other impacts into account. Daniel Voronoff made this point really well in 2011 with this article:

  7. Cathy Alexander

    That’s an interesting take Jackol. I think you’re right about the risk – this strategy may not work at all for Obama. It is conflating two separate issues; immediate lower-atmosphere health effects of emissions from power stations, and medium to long term effects on the climate (a chemical process which happens higher up in the atmosphere). That may confuse the punters.

    However, the fact that Obama may be using the ‘figleaf’ of particulate emissions to try to reduce CO2 emissions – which you say is disingenuous – does not necessarily mean the strategy would not work.

    After all, however accurate and well-intentioned some Australian politicians’ efforts have been to convince the public to act on climate change, they haven’t worked very well!

  8. graybul

    For those who accept Climate Change, as I do; should we invert the issue and applaud Abbott’s denialism? For his denialism will surely see the demise of his Government!
    Regretfully, there would be a price. Apart from maximising impacts of an accelerating Climate Change, Australia inevitably misses out on major technological opportunities, employment and re-training of workforce . . we also forgo decades of economic development. Abandonment of a National cutting-edge fibre to residence NBN, reflects Abbott’s “future proofing” priorities.

  9. Mark Duffett

    G’day to you too, AR. You got us. And we would have got away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddling…

    Meanwhile outside the tinfoil mystery machine, perhaps the biggest risk of the Obama gambit is the free kick it gives to gas, which has low particulate emissions but isn’t a lot better for the climate than coal.

    Just for AR, here’s an alternative infographic, noting the energy output capability of each is the same (so can be directly substituted):

  10. Andrew Dolt

    There is no need for either fossil fuels or nuclear energy to provide power. Renewable energy could supply all our needs, now. The myth that renewables can’t provide base load power and we need nuclear energy is almost as unhelpful as the myth that AGW is a hoax created by a conspiracy of lefties, greenies, climate scientists, insurance companies, the Pentagon, the Pope, the Earth etc etc. I suspect the humans most likely to survive the AGW ecocide will be those who get off the grid and generate their own solar/wind electricity, to power their electric cars and their other energy needs.

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