Obama Repudiates Climate Change Denialists, Argues for Transition to Cleaner Energy Sources & Higher Efficiencies

In a town hall meeting at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nevada, yesterday (19 February 2010), President Obama explained that even if there is snow on the ground in some places like Washington, DC, the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is warming the planet and changing weather patterns in very disruptive ways.  To avoid such problems and the other harmful consequences of our dependence on "dirty sources of energy" and "really inefficient cars and buildings," the president called for policies that move us towards cleaner energy and higher efficiencies. He warned  that other countries are moving rapidly in that direction and that "we don't want to be left behind."

Here is the full text of the President's comment on energy and climate change:

    "First of all, we just got five feet of snow in Washington and so everybody is like -- a lot of the people who are opponents of climate change, they say, see, look at that, there's all this snow on the ground, this doesn't mean anything.  I want to just be clear that the science of climate change doesn't mean that every place is getting warmer; it means the planet as a whole is getting warmer.  But what it may mean is, for example, Vancouver, which is supposed to be getting snow during the Olympics, suddenly is at 55 degrees, and Dallas suddenly is getting seven inches of snow.

     The idea is, is that as the planet as a whole gets warmer, you start seeing changing weather patterns, and that creates more violent storm systems, more unpredictable weather.  So any single place might end up being warmer; another place might end up being a little bit cooler; there might end up being more precipitation in the air, more monsoons, more hurricanes, more tornadoes, more drought in some places, floods in other places.

     So I just -- that's one aspect of the science that I think everybody should understand.  That's point number one.

     Point number two:  The best way for us to unleash the free market -- the best way for us to unleash the free market and capitalism and innovation and dynamism in the energy sector is for us to fully take into account all the costs that go into producing energy and using energy

     And what do I mean by that?  Look, if you tell a company that there are no mileage standards on cars, then people end up making Hummers.  Right?  And everybody drives Hummers until finally gas gets so crazy and at a certain point people start saying maybe I should get a more fuel-efficient car. 

     But if you've got a fuel-efficiency standard in place that says your car needs to get 20 miles a gallon or 30 miles a gallon, suddenly all these engineers are thinking, well, how do we do that?  And all these companies start coming up with new technologies that make your cars more fuel-efficient.  Ultimately, you end up seeing jobs and businesses thriving in response to the regulation that's been put there.

     Now, that's one way to regulate, is just to tell people you got to produce more energy-efficient cars.  Another way of doing it is just to send a price signal.  You say, it's going to be more expensive for you if you've got a less fuel-efficient car. 

     Well, that's the only idea that we're trying to talk about when it comes to these greenhouse gases that are causing global warming.  If we say that, you know what, the pollution that's being sent into the atmosphere has a cost to all of us -- in terms of in some cases the air we breathe that's causing asthma, in some cases because it's causing climate change -- we just want you to take into account those costs and price energy accordingly.  And that means that things like wind energy suddenly become more appealing because they don't produce those pollution -- those pollutants, and other sources of energy become less appealing because they do produce those pollutants.

     The idea has been that if we put a price on these carbons, then maybe that would be a way that companies would all respond and start inventing new things that would make our planet cleaner.  That's the whole idea.

     Now, last point I'm going to make on this.  What is true is that a lot of us depend on dirty sources of energy and a lot of us depend on really inefficient cars and buildings and et cetera.  And so there's got to be a transition.  We're not going to suddenly get all our energy from wind or all our energy from sun because we just don't have the technology to do it.

     But what we should be doing is planning over the next 20, 30 years to move in that direction.  That's what countries like China are doing.  That's what countries like France are doing.  That's what countries all across Europe are doing, and all across Asia are doing.  We don't want to be left behind.  We're the only ones who have kind of missed the boat.  So we're still using 20th century technologies and everybody else is producing 21st century technologies.

     Look what happened with the car.  We started getting our clock cleaned when consumers decided they wanted a cleaner car and suddenly everybody was buying their cars from Japan, or now South Korea.  And we want to make sure that that doesn't happen when it comes to wind turbines, it doesn't happen when it comes to solar energy, et cetera.

     So the ideas that are being talked about is how do we provide more incentive for clean energy companies like yours to operate profitably, and over time how do we start shifting away from less efficient ways of using energy?  That's a pretty straightforward thing to do.  There's nothing radical about it.

     It is true, though, that it's not going to happen overnight; it's going to take some time.  And we're still going to be getting our electricity from coal; we're still going to be getting electricity from nuclear energy; we're still going to be getting electricity and power from natural gas and other traditional sources.  We just want to make sure that we're also moving into the future even as we do so.  And I think that we can.  (Applause.)"

Online Resources:

Remarks by The President At Town Hall Meeting In Henderson, Nevada.  White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 19 February 2010.

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