Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Sustainable Energy

Obama Offers Hope for Climate Bill

Speaking at MIT, Obama countered recent statements from his administration that climate legislation is bogged down.

In a speech today at MIT, President Barack Obama called for optimism in addressing climate-change issues, saying that rapid progress is being made on a climate bill in Congress. His remarks, delivered to a crowd of students, professors, venture capitalists, and local politicians, came after one key Obama administration official recently said that legislation is unlikely to pass before a major international climate treaty meeting in Copenhagen this December.

Obama came short of assigning a date for the passage of the bill, but he called attention to the fact that a portion of the bill has already passed out of committee on its way to the Senate floor. He said that efforts to support clean energy through February’s stimulus bill and other legislation “must culminate in legislation to make renewable energy the profitable form of energy” in this country. The climate bill could do this in two ways: by offering direct incentives and subsidies to clean energy, and by putting a cap on carbon dioxide emissions, which would make fossil fuels more expensive.

Earlier this month, Carol Browner, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency and a top Obama energy and climate advisor, said that the climate legislation will likely not be passed before the Copenhagen meeting. That could make it difficult for any major climate-change agreement to come out of that meeting, as other countries look for evidence that the United States is taking the issue seriously.

At MIT, Obama met with researchers developing various clean-energy technologies, including lightweight batteries that can be “grown” using viruses; windows that generate electricity from the sun; more efficient lighting; and offshore wind turbines that generate electricity even when there is no wind. Although he didn’t specify how this last technology works, it could be related to MIT research into developing wind turbines that store energy by pumping water, or that generate electricity from ocean waves. Obama also described a new wind-turbine blade testing facility in Massachusetts capable of evaluating blades that are about the length of a football field.

The speech redirected attention toward energy issues that dominated the agenda earlier this year but were upstaged by efforts to develop and pass a health-care reform bill.

The Senate recently took up negotiations for its version of a climate and energy bill; the House passed its version in June. Meanwhile, Congress recently passed a funding bill for the Department of Energy that included large increases for renewable energy and for improving the electricity grid. The bill also funded three of eight proposed Energy Innovation Hubs designed to spur basic research toward applications that would solve various energy problems. The hubs were funded at $22 million for nuclear-energy modeling and simulation, fuel production from sunlight, and energy-efficient building system design.

Obama said that climate-change skeptics are being moved to the margins, but that a “more dangerous” problem is the myth “that there’s little or nothing we can do–it’s pessimism.” Recently, policy analysts including David Victor, director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University, have pointed out that climate-change policy is inherently difficult for governments for a number of reasons. For example, it requires international cooperation between countries with different interests and requires governments to make sacrifices now when the potential benefits are distant. Victor also notes that many political systems, including the one in the United States, are purposely designed not to produce policy unless there is wide agreement.

Obama specifically referred to some of these points, saying that some people believe the political system is broken or that people are unwilling to make tough choices. But he called on the “American spirit” of innovation and exploration to overcome such problems.

Hear more about government from the experts at the Business of Blockchain on April 23, 2018 in Cambridge.

Learn more and register
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.