Sunday, November 02, 2008

Obama's got the energy

Well, the McCain corporation like oil. That's their energy strategy. Mmmmm, taste it, drill it, burn it - it's all good compadre.

Our man Obama, now he think oil's OK, but maybe there's a bigger picture too. That's why he's calling for a "green jobs revolution". He's promising a one hundred and fifty billion dollar "Apollo Project" that would create five million "green collar jobs". As the Independent states "There is growing acceptance from economists in the US that a Green "New Deal" should be a fundamental part of the solution to the financial crisis and to America's long-term security concerns."

Obama wants to see the US drastically reduce the amount of oil it uses so that in ten years it has cut oil consumption by the amount that it currently imports from the Middle East and Venezuela combined. That's quite a bit, particularly as it involves turning a year on year increase in consumption into a year on year decrease.

Now, if you read the detail of the plan (factsheet, pdf), you'll notice two things, and depending on where you are coming from I guess determines which way round you'll notice them.

One thing you'll notice is the Blueprint for Change falls short of where we need to be. Well short. He does not commit to tackling capitalism, red in tooth and claw. He sees nuclear as part of the solution. He has no strategy for fundamentally addressing an oil economy, just managing it.

Hopefully you'll notice something else too, the scale of his ambitions. By the end of his first term he wants 10% of America's energy to be from renewable sources. That's quite a leap. By 2020 he wants to see energy consumption reduced by 15%, and by 2050 he wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. It's all there in black and white, even though he's running for President of the United States.

When he talks about creating livable and sustainable communities, and a massive program of home insulation for low income families you know, I don't think that's nothing. There is a significant positive shift taking place.

He explicitly states that he wants to "make the US a leader on climate change" and I don't think he means that in the same way George Bush thought the US should contribute the most greenhouse gasses. The document's eight pages long so go ahead read it for yourself if you have a moment.

If you do I'd like you to notice that he wants to help fund his plans through windfall taxes on the oil companies and others and he wants to curb financial speculation in the sector. Both of which involve tackling powerful vested interests. That's quite an interesting move.

You might prefer to watch the blue print for change video (two and half minutes) which lays out the plan in a clear and simple way. These videos are a good idea that's worth copying incidentally. They are a series of twelve (I think) youtube videos laying out neatly and without fuss a specific policy area. Well, it really works for me.

Of course Obama's first organising job in the eighties was working for Ralph Nader promoting recycling in Harlem so he's not new to this green lark, but I think what's becoming clear is that Obama is more than just "not McCain", although that's really important too. His plans for a green jobs revolution is central to any strategy that's to combat climate change in an era of economic problems, let's hope he gets the chance to implement it.


Rayyan said...

Thanks for laying out precisely how, in energy terms, Obama IS a leap forward and will shake up the way things are done. I am getting very bored of some on the left and within the Greens claiming otherwise - maybe they've been drinking the Kool-Aid of fake-balance news coverage that still questions whether or not Obama actually means change.

Anyone who wants to see progress on the environment should be excited about the prospect of an Obama presidency. Whilst you are correct that Obama falls far short of what is needed, it is his approach to government that will allow any further progress - I for one am looking forward to seeing what he does and what he proposes for his second term, in 2012.

It is possible that some on the left just implicitly distrust anyone who is popular and mainstream, regardless of how unusual or revolutionary they might be.

FW said...

"It's all there in black and white, even though he's running for President of the United States."
Ooh, he has targets. He must be serious!

scott redding said...

Actually, one of the things about Obama's platform that worries me is energy. He's from a corn state. What if he really pushes biofuel?

Matt Sellwood said...

I worry that Rayyan is pointing to me (among others) in his comment, and also that I am becoming the grumpy Cassandra of blog posts on US politics.

However, I do feel bound to point out that the renewable energy percentage of domestically produced energy is already over 10%under Bush, so setting a target of 10% by 2013 isn't hugely challenging.

As usual, I feel I should give a disclaimer when writing such things. Yes, Obama will be much better than McCain in this area. Yes, he represents a significant step forward, and more importantly a removal of lots of roadblocks on the direction to where we need to be. However - lets be realistic about what he is currently proposing.

(goes to scourge himself for his cynicism!)


Rayyan said...

Ah, I wouldn't worry too much Matt - quite a number of other Greens are also not impressed with Obama.

The left should view Obama's presidency as an opportunity to exert some influence over power, rather than to remain without any influence at all - you painted a very bleak (and accurate) picture of UK politics on your blog, and so I get excited when I see any move towards progress.

I can see there being an issue that his proposals are modest to people like you and I, but to most people they are quite a step forward. Also, let's not pretend solving climate change is his sole responsibility: yes, the US is the biggest contributor to the problem but given what they've just been through, it would be unrealistic to expect Obama to promise much more than he already has.

What his real ability will (hopefully) be is to get other world leaders to sign up to serious action on climate change: if he has a lot of support around the world, and pressure from the public, it is likely he will revise his topics to something much more ambitious.

I recommend the excellent Change We Can Believe In? blog at Red Pepper for more Obama/left discussion.

Jim Jepps said...

Scott: I think you're right to worry that the term "renewable energy" seems quite specific to us but in the US might be taken to include biofuels or even nuclear. It's well worth keeping an eye on.

Matt: I think you might have misread the target - although I might not have been clear enough. It's 10% of the total energy production not just domestic.

Having said that the short term targets are more modest than we'd like. But then we need to remember he's reversing policy here in a country where addressing climate change can mark you out as a communist (or similar)

Daniel: McCain has targets - Iran for one. I think he's quite serious about those. You can be dismissive if you like but there's never been a Presidential candidate in history with this kind of energy platform - it isn't as meaningless as you imply.

Derek Wall said...

take a look at the great Green Party candidate Cynthia Mckinney a refreshing change...

Jim Jepps said...

I've already looked at her - with horror. One of the least impressive green left candidates I've ever seen.

There is a post on its way on this :)

Rayyan said...

Voting for McKinney or Nader is for those who do not care about the outcome and instead think democracy should only be about expressions of ideological purity.

Matt Sellwood said...

Bit of a sweeping statement there! I think that voting for a third party candidate in a swing state is strategically foolish. I don't really have any problem with the argument that it makes sense to vote for a third party candidate in a safe state, in order to influence the debate and so on. I would have voted for Nader in a safe state in 2000, Cobb in a safe state in 2004, and for Gore + Kerry in the swing states.

This time round? Actually...I'd probably vote for Obama in any state, but that is not because of any objection to third party voting in particular...just that the choices this time are so appalling. You have Nader's ego-candidacy, which has nothing to do with building a bettter and stronger progressive movement for the future, and Cynthia McKinney, who rivals Galloway in her ability to make gaffes and say really dodgy things.

If the Green Left in the US got its act together, they should really have a ticket consisting of the two VP candidates for Nader and McKinney, both of whom are excellent. I'd vote for Gonzalez for President in a flash! But I wouldn't vote for Nader or Mckinney without some very good argument that I've yet to encounter.

scott redding said...

McKinney is on the ballot in 31 states, plus DC. There are 230 Greens in elective office throughout the US. There are 305 000 registered members. So, the end of this article is interesting: 183 people have given more than $200 to McKinney's campaign, with just three being from her home state of Georgia. She has no base.