Questions for the President

On Election Night, Barack Obama said: We’ve got some work to do, then.  To make sure we’re on the same page, let’s clear up some of the question marks that have accumulated over the past few days and years. 1. Mr. President, how will you help mobilize the required transformation of our transportation infrastructure to help resolve our health, healthcare, jobs, climate, social justice, infrastructure, climate adaptation, fossilfueldependency, and more, crises? 2. In order to have a good chance (80%) of staying below the so-called “2 degree target”, cumulative global CO2 emissions 2000-2049 must be less than 890 GtCO2. Roughly how much of this “CO2 budget” can be used by the US and why? What factors determine the answer? What scientific questions affect these factors? UPDATE (Nov 10, 2012): How would a revision of the best estimate of the conventional equilibrium climate sensitivity from 3°C to 4°C (per doubling of CO2) affect your answersUPDATE (Nov 12, 2012): The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2012 asserts that a 50% chance of staying below the 2 degree target requires leaving at least two-thirds of current proven reserves in the ground by 2050 (barring wide-scale successful deployment of carbon capture and sequestration). UPDATE (Nov 13, 2012): What are the global and US carbon budgets for an 80% chance of staying below a 1.5 °C increase in global average temperature, from the pre-industrial level (i.e., for meeting a 1.5 degree target, rather than the “2 degree target”)? 3. How much of that US cumulative carbon budget have we already spent since 2000 (expressed as fraction or percentage of our total share)? 4. In 2011, the IEA estimated that by 2017, the global energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario by 2035 [the scenario the IEA estimates gives a 50% chance of not exceeding the “2 degree target”].  What is the analogous calculation for the US, more specifically, for (i) our share of the carbon budget and (ii) our infrastructure lock-in, but for (iii) an 80% chance of not exceeding the 2 degree target? 5. We’ve all seen news about US carbon dioxide emissions going down a bit in some of the past few years. Why have you (apparently) discontinued the GHG (as opposed to carbon dioxide) report: http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ ? Do we have reliable estimates of methane releases and leaks in conjunction with current natural gas extraction and transport; if so, what are these estimates? 6. Secretary Chu has said that “[nuclear energy] is clean in the sense that I think the waste issue is a solvable issue” (at ca 32 minutes). What is your definition, on a lifecycle basis, of “clean energy” and why? How does that correspond to the multiple uses of the term by the administration and the campaign? 7. Is the following a coherent characterization of clean energy? “…to create more […] clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.” SOTU, 2010 8. Let’s talk about this year’s campaign materials, the big plan? Is the clean energy chart at the bottom of page 7 representative of the campaign’s attention to “clean energy” issues? What were your thoughts when you saw the chart?  What do the percentages represent? If the chart is about electricity (not total energy) and relies on the CES counting natural gas as “half” clean (based on estimated combustion-related GHG emissions), it still makes no sense; the numbers are still not correct. Is the chart simply completely erroneous? Or is it “about” something entirely different, like percentage of jobs? Please explain. 9. In February 2010 Steven Chu argued on his Facebook page that “…the Energy Information Administration projects an almost 20 percent increase in overall energy demand and over 30 percent increase in electricity demand over the next 25 years under current laws. If we want to make a serious dent in carbon dioxide emissions — not to mention having cleaner air and cleaner water — then nuclear power has to be on the table.” Is it appropriate to use projections based on “current laws” (essentially, so-called “no policy” scenarios) to argue for what kind of energy supply mix we need? The page also shows an energy supply mix that is projected to meet the [ad hoc projected] energy demand. Is it appropriate to use a chart like that, showing a possible energy mix to suggest that that mix is a necessity? 10. ON MTV, you recently claimed that increased fuel economy and building efficiency “take huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere.” If Sarah Palin had said something like that, serious commentators would likely have had a field day schooling her on the difference between reducing emissions (hopefully the increased efficiency will reduce our net emissions) and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When we drive around in those better fuel economy vehicles, we will of course still be adding huge amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, not removing. Do you think misspeaking the way you did misleads the public regarding the scale of the problem? Do you think the general level of public discourse, including on the campaign trail, respects the seriousness of these issues?          11. How will you help make mitigation, in the sense of freedom from fossil fuels and reduced climate destabilization, a top level priority in FEMA response? 12. How do you plan to protect against shock doctrine moves in the wake of disaster, that seek to lock in more fossil fuel infrastructure, more inequality, and less livability?