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Obama Takes Aim at Climate Change, Cyber Security

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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whitehouse.govAfter a campaign that avoided climate change like the plague, President Barack Obama gave a State of the Union speech that put climate change on center stage. Early in the speech he encouraged law makers to revisit cap-and-trade as a way of tackling emissions of greenhouse gases.

“I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago,” Obama said. The Climate Stewardship bill would have set a cap of carbon emissions at 2000 levels, but failed in Congress before Obama took office.

Climate change was something of a disaster for Obama in his first term. In 2009, while three senators were trying to negotiate Republican  support for cap and trade legislation, Obama undermined their efforts by announcing his support for offshore drilling, effectively giving away a key bargaining chip (the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza wrote a now-classic story on the snafu).

Obama peppered his State of the Union speech with references to several big science and technology issues. He called attention to the threat of cyber warfare and the need to protect the nation’s infrastructure from cyber attacks. Obama singled out the power grid, financial networks and air traffic control as being vulnerable to sabotage. Earlier in the day he signed an executive order to increase information sharing and set security standards, but on the podium he called on Congress to pass legislation “to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.”

Obama went out of his way several times to make jobs and national competitiveness into issues of science policy. He announced his intention to start  high-tech manufacturing projects modeled on past government support of 3D printing to ensure that “the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America.” He also cast clean energy technologies in terms of a race with  China for future high-tech industries: “As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.” And he coached his proposal for an Energy Security Trust to encourage the development of renewable fuels for cars in terms of protecting citizens from rising gas prices.

Even Obama’s call to repair the nation’s aging infrastructure sounded like a grab-bag of sci-tech measures–it took in the power grid, Internet access, high-tech schools and bridges that have fallen into disrepair. At a time when jobs are scarce and economic growth is still sluggish, Obama emphasized long-term fixes in which science plays a big role.

Fred Guterl About the Author: Fred Guterl is the executive editor of Scientific American and author of Fate of the Species (Bloomsbury). Follow on Twitter @fredguterl.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. sault 10:52 am 02/13/2013

    We are already feeling the effects of our CO2 emissions and the climate disruption they cause. It only makes sense to use some sort of market-based mechanism to correct for the largest market failure economists have identified. Think of it this way: if I saved money on garbage pickup by scattering my trash all over the neighborhood, would it be fair to expect everybody else to deal with it while I pocket the money, or should I have to pay a little for each kg of garbage I dump so maybe I might think twice before releasing so much? Since we currently practice the “have everybody else deal with it” option, the TRUE costs of polluting activities aren’t incorporated into the price of fossil fuels.

    If a Cap & Trade arrangement is what’s possible given current politics, we’ll have to go with it. We don’t have time to wait around for the perfect solution.

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  2. 2. sethdayal 2:10 pm 02/13/2013

    “As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.”

    Yup China is investing big in R&D in Gen IV nuclear and construction of Gen III+ nuke plants while the US does nothing about the former and very little about the latter. Obama promises $1M to study the HTGR while China starts building one for 2017 service.

    China’s, a country run by wiley engineers, wind and solar work is focused completely on selling the worthless all in 20 to 50 times the cost of nuclear, technology to suckers in the west – whose leadership consists solely of attorneys.

    “,, encourage the development of renewable fuels for cars in terms of protecting citizens from rising gas prices”

    While the US’s best efforts consist of a conversion to GHG spewing worse than gas natural gas, that same Chinese HTGR has 70% of its output dedicated to clean and green nuclear synfuel.

    In 20 years the West’s third world bankrupt ghg spewing economies will be running on 40 cents a kwh wind and 90 cents a kwh solar but getting all its energy from 17 cents a kwh gas, while the Chinese zero GHG economy will be laughing at our dumb asses while running their prosperous country on penny a kwh Gen IV nuclear.

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  3. 3. sault 5:53 pm 02/13/2013

    Again, here’s seth, distracting everybody with red herrings so that it’s impossible to have a real discussion about energy issues. For example, between now and 2017, China will have installed over 100x the capacity of their experimental HTGR in just solar PV. Other, PROVEN low emissions approaches will be installed at several times the rate of solar PV.

    We don’t have time to be distracted by you, seth. We don’t have time to be confused by the climate denier websites you link to as “proof” of your ridiculous claims. And we ABSOLUTELY can’t afford to put all our eggs in the nuclear power basket. It didn’t work out all that great the last time and people like seth are advocating for even RISKIER and commercially unproven technology than the LWRs whose massive build costs and lengthy construction times caused the nuclear industry to IMPLODE back in the 70′s and 80′s.

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  4. 4. sethdayal 6:20 pm 02/13/2013

    Once again our resident troll Sault with his laughable claim of a MS and BS in Engineering, spewing the same debunked horsepucky over and over again – the Everready Bunny of the trolling kingdom.

    I can see him posting one of his low information diatribes on occasion but why is it that he thinks people want to see your idiotic response to every comment on damn near every article. It is not possible to have a reasoned discussion on anything with the comment thread overwhelmed with every second missive one of his moronic spews.

    Like the true half wit he is, despite many efforts to educate from many readers, he hasn’t yet learned that the sun doesn’t shine all the time or even basic arithmetic. China’s 2012 solar capacity is 700 megawatts average about twice that the HTGR and a tiny fraction of its nuke capacity.

    There wouldn’t be much change to solar in China’s future as China has abandoned renewable integration into their grid.

    At the same time China is building 100 GW of nukes for 2020 service – a number expected to climb drastically as the predicted less than 3 cent a kwh cost and operational efficiencies become obvious.

    Actually the one thing that imploded the $1980′s nuke industry with costs still lower than coal even with the Greenpeace homeys at the NRC in charge, was when these same homes cancelled the permit of a completed nuke when a village selectman in a town miles away was bribed by Big Coal to withdraw his approval. Who would finance a nuke when post construction approval could be withdrawn on a whim.

    Why does this troll bother posting when over and over again his worthless commentary filled with links from dubious sources that he hasn’t read much less understood, pollute the comment thread?

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  5. 5. Morshed89 2:35 am 02/14/2013

    Nice initiative taken by Mr. President.

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  6. 6. George Smith 10:33 pm 02/14/2013

    He wants to protect citizens from rising gas prices and have carbon emmisions at 2000 levels. This guy is our savior.

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