Where does Biden stand on the science issues of our time

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/10/02/where-does-biden-stand-on-the-science-issues-of-our-time.html


100% renewable energy generation in 15 years is overly ambitious IMHO. Closing fossil fuel plants early hurts the ROI for the investors and they own enough congressmen to prevent that from happening. The best you can generally do is discourage/prevent new plants from being built, which may naturally happen if the cost per kWh for renewables drops low enough. Then you just have to wait for the old plants to age out and be decommissioned.

This also requires a sufficient source of reliable base load to avoid brownouts. Geothermal, Hydro to an extent, battery storage, and Nuclear are the best bets for this, but it’s not clear that the US has enough to offset the loss of carbon heavy plants currently, nor the will to build more. Hydro is bad for the environment in its own way. Nuclear is completely tied up in red tape. Geothermal is uncommon and expensive in the US. Battery storage is still in its infancy, but may be more feasible going forward.

TLDR: 15 years is too ambitious for the US to go fully carbon-free energy generation.


Better to set a goal of sustainability in 15 years and achieve it in 50 than to set a goal of sustainability in 30 years and achieve it around the time the sun expands into a red giant enveloping the inner planets.


Vs. Trump’s science advisors:


If a goal is obviously impossible people will just ignore it. There’s no chance of success so why bother trying? It’s not like you’ll be held to account for missing it.

Whilst all the time New York is steadily submerged under the sea. Failing because fools can’t understand the urgency is bad. Failing because you don’t think it’s worth trying is disgraceful.


Because setting short-term goals is the way you actually move people into action even if you fall short of fully realizing them. Setting long-term goals that neither Biden nor most people currently in power will ever live to see such as “let’s go carbon-neutral within 50 years!” is just an easy way to pass the buck to the next generation.


15 years is already at least 7 years past the end of a potential Biden presidency.

A better goal would be to incentivize the production of renewable energy source through direct investment and tax incentives such that the US generates 1,500 billion kWh by 2028 using carbon neutral techniques. A goal that is actionable, is possible, is unlikely to happen without government intervention, and is short term enough that a single administration can focus on it.

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Yes, but a majority voters alive today will be here 15 years from now. 15 years is a goal we can plan for and measure progress against. It’s half the length of time most people spend paying off a mortgage. 50 years is so abstract as to be almost meaningless.


It’s too long of a horizon for elected politicians though. They don’t think in terms that long. It’s a big reason the US is really bad at dealing with large systemic problems and why people are always looking for market based solutions. We don’t incentivize politicians to think in the long term, and in fact strongly disincentivize them to attempt solutions that are painful today but pay off in the long run. Not only do they lose the next election, but the guy who defeats them often reverses or waters down the policy enough to prevent the future benefits from materializing.

It doesn’t have to be this way, we used to be able to solve problems, but the political climate changed from solving problems to “winning” against your political opponents and there is no apparent will to grow up and solve important issues like an adult.


I’ll happily take ambition over inaction.


"1,500 billion kWh by 2028 using carbon neutral techniques!" isn’t going to motivate voters into action. Or anyone into action, really. Most people don’t even have a real concept of what a killowatt-hour is or what kind of practical impact that number would have on climate change.

"Carbon-neutral within 15 years!" is both a more inspiring goal and one people can get their heads around even if it’s a reach.

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Vague goals provoke no action. We’ve had 50 years (people were talking about stopping Global Warming back in the 70s) of well meaning but largely unspecified goals with little to show for it. It’s about as effective as thoughts and prayers. If your goals don’t have concrete objectives like “Put a man on the moon before 1970”, they will be forgotten. You have to provide something measurable if you want your goal to be meaningful.

I’ll just be glad if he’s not a science denialist like the current occupant. That’s how low my expectations have fallen.


I’ll take his ambitious and vague plans that will at least start a conversation around these issues that can lead to legislation based on science over the “clean coal is the solution” and massive deregulation path we’re on right now.

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The only good thing about it is that the same principle works in reverse. The administration’s vague disdain for science and saving the planet hasn’t translated into that much consequence. We’re still building and installing solar and wind power at quadraticly increasing rates. Electrification of automobiles is accelerating. Per-capita carbon output in America is holding steady or falling. The President’s ability to actually affect the situation on the ground is limited, not only by the structure of office but also by the sheer scope of the industry.

ya, that caught my attention…suggest to me there will be heavy carbon credits involved here, not really the best approach IMO

If i start a camp fire i am emitting carbon. 100% carbon free is impossible.

No one said “100% carbon free.” The wording was

Net-zero carbon emissions doesn’t mean “zero carbon.” It means using technologies and practices that sequester carbon as fast as it is released into the atmosphere. Ambitious, difficult and expensive, yes, but not theoretically impossible.


Considering that no such plan ever survives first contact with a committee, I would call it savvy: it could be realised, but sets the initial offer when the haggling starts far enough in the right direction that some concessions could be made.

I know, it’s all kabuki as pundits say, but sometimes you have to play the game. You need to be extreme in the beginning, but not so extreme that it seems unreasonable. And hey, I think it’s actually a good plan and would be happy if it were implemented over the wails of the oil billionaires and their lobbyists.