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03/07/2013

A green Obama? An incisive interpretation

In the last few days we read some encouraging news about Obama administration's commitment to environmental issues. First, Obama’s speech about the Climate Action Plan (CAP) to address climate change, then the support to African people and institutions to fight poaching. It looks like the U.S. government is willing to commit more to preserve the planet we live on.

But, is this reality? We went beyond the justified enthusiasm to understand what these environmentally friendly measures entail. In particular, we have focused on CAP.

 

The Climate Action Plan: pros and cons

After years of Republican denial about climate change (the U.S. never ratified the Kyoto Protocol) and after the first democratic four-year-term below expectations, hearing an American president talking about energy efficiency, doubling renewable energy by 2020, cutting fossil fuel subsidies and imposing of stringent limits on CO2 emissions to coal-fired powerplants, has aroused the enthusiasm of worldwide environmentalists.

However, by reading the CAP we spotted some controversial points that we would like to highlight in order to make a bigger and clearer picture:

 

  • Shale gas and fracking: the Obama administration intends to focus on this fossil fuel to boost the production of natural gas. This is an environmentally unsustainable choice in several respects: first, the fracking technology (click here to find more) contaminates groundwater and causes earthquakes in the extraction area. In addition, according to a study published by Climate Change, methane emissions caused by this technology are higher by 30% compared to a conventional gas system. And methane is a greenhouse gas among the most dangerous.
  • The U.S. is an important extractor of coal: because of the strict limits on emissions of its power plants, the U.S. is literally filling the world coal market, decreasing its  price as a consequence. Coal lower price is actually slowing down the switching to renewable energy sources both in Europe and in developing countries.
  • Exporting emissions? The fact that, thanks to their large reserves of shale gas, the U.S. will become a net exporter of gas will only move the problem of greenhouse gas emissions in another part of the globe. Unfortunately, global warming cannot be relocated.
  • The revival of nuclear power: as if that were not enough, the U.S. is willing to continue on the path of nuclear energy, as it is not seen as impacting in terms of climate change.


These points make us more cautious, also because Obama administration’s commitments do not meet the requirements of the international scientific community. Of course thinking that, with a sort of magic wand, the U.S. can become a paradise for sustainable economy is naive. In any case, these first steps make us hope that the United States will seriously lead the next round of negotiations aimed at drafting a binding treaty able to to give a strong follow up to Kyoto Protocol.