Saturday, June 19, 2010

Paris Interview: Obama, BP and Energy

Entretien avec Carl Davidson, économiste “vert“


Carl Davidson à Paris, le 16 juin 2010

“La marée noire peut aider à faire passer la loi sur les énergies renouvelables“

Quelles sont pour vous les mesures les plus urgentes à prendre après cette catastrophe ?
Le principal problème est d’arrêter la fuite d’hydrocarbure. C’est un problème technique qu’Obama ne sait pas régler plus que moi, il est donc en train de rassembler les meilleurs scientifiques et techniciens pour y réfléchir.
Dans un second temps, il faut s’assurer que BP paiera pour le nettoyage et je pense qu’il y arrivera sans trop de problème (BP a accepté de payer le 17 juin NDLR). ....

[Full English translation follows]

What do you see as the most urgent measures to be taken by President Obama after this ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? Will the oil spill lead to better laws on renewable energy?

The main immediate problem is to stop the leakage of oil. It is a severe technical problem that Obama does not know any more than I do about how to stop it. So at this point it’s first a matter is putting together the best scientists and engineers engaged in this kind of production to think through a solution. Obama knows that will include BP employees, and others as well.

In a second step, Obama must ensure that BP will pay for the cleanup. I think he will get it verbally without too much problem (BP agreed to pay Ed June 17). Following through is another matter.


The third step is more difficult: it is to make a strategic change in energy policy: to move away from traditional carbon-based and uranium-based industries to move towards "green" clean energy. There is a lot of support for this, but everyone is not satisfied; the Americans love their cars! But they also are interested modern high-speed trains, and improved mass transit generally.

Fourthly we must help the people living along the Gulf Coast affected by oil spill. First, we have to engage the cleanup fully. Some people in local beach and port towns have already acted individually to clean beaches and keep the oil away. States must mobilize their national guards and send them to help on the ground. Then Obama must help deal with fishermen, who will no longer be able to make a living for very long time. They need to compensate them with money from BP, then train them to other trades and finally find them jobs!

This tragedy, is it a symbol of the lack of environmental policy in the U.S.?

It is rather the result of a policy! Nobody likes to talk about it, but the U.S. has a de facto military-oil-industrial policy since the end of WW2, which favors the oil lobby.

We must stop all this. What happened with BP is not just one case of bad luck. When you think about going a mile beneath the surface of the sea, then you start drilling in deep waters ... Sooner or later there will be accidents! I do not care who is at fault then, BP or someone else: it is much too risky, we play Russian roulette every time we do deep offshore drilling!

President Barack Obama is speaking today from the White House. This spill, could it weaken Obama?

Yes, of course. People complain that he is not stronger, that he does not act quickly enough. That is not quite fair. The other day he told how his youngest daughter came to ask him while he was shaving in the bathroom, "Dad, did you plug the hole yet?" What is he supposed to respond? And how? Some say he should get rid of BP, but will that stop the leak? Government politicians and office employees can not do that. Technically, the technical people of BP are the most qualified, and they will need others who do similar work.

What Obama has succeeded in doing so far?

He managed to impose on BP that they have to pay for everything - cleaning and compensation. He especially got them to agree deposits the money intended for victims ($ 20 billion Editor's note) with a third party. That will prevent them from directly controlling the compensation and is a very good thing. But In a second more strategic step, he must take the opportunity to make clear a new direction for renewable energy.

This he said during his speech on June 16 ... But could that not cost him a second term?

It is a very good thing for Obama to have said this, but that’s just the beginning of the battle. Even so, Obama is the victim of bad timing! Two weeks before the disaster, he made an unfortunate concession to the oil lobby by allowing them to expand drilling offshore, despite a certain risks. Fifteen days later, the platform Deepwater Horizon exploded! He had maintained his earlier position of opposing offshore drilling, he would be much stronger today.
With regard to the spill costing him re-election, I do not think so. He will be judged mainly on the economy and especially jobs, which are now the major concerns of Americans. Ecology is not seem as more important. We have never reached such a high rate of unemployment in decades!

The chairman of BP, Carl-Henric Svanberg, spoke June 16, 2010 in Washington, DC.
For now, the bill for clean energy is blocked in the Senate ...

Yes, a good energy bill is easy to say but very hard to do! Political power is dominated by lobbyists for the oil, coal, nuclear ... and the interests of military and financiers of Wall Street! All of them want to destroy or at least weaken these bills. They have already managed to render meaningless the carbon tax. For the moment, the lobbies are very strong.

This disaster could weaken it?

Yes it should help to move in that direction. The far right Republicans, those who used the slogan ‘Drill Baby Drill!,’ have been very quiet lately, because they see that people are angry about this. But we, a progressive majority, can not achieve top what we have not succeeded yet in wining and consolidating at thebottom. First we must organize ourselves to become a real popular power.

Are Americans now prepared to become more "eco-friendly"?

Yes and no. Most are in favor of renewable energy because they understand that they need a clean environment. But at the same time, many work in traditional carbon-based industries and do not want to lose their jobs. For example, where I live, from my house I see the Ohio River. There is a nuclear power plant - the first built in the United States, and three coal-fired plants. Many workers in Pennsylvania and Virginia are miners. And these plants provide electricity for much of the eastern United States. We can not simply close them all down immediately!

How, then?

We must go step by step, creating new jobs as we eliminate old ones. I have never met a miner who would not rather be doing something else in his life! If he were offered employment to manufacture wind turbines, for example, he would surely be very happy. Also in my area, in partnership with workers from the steel industry, the Spanish firm, GAMESA, has reopened three old mills and converting them to manufacture wind turbines. This is the way most of the country will begin to think "green." I am optimistic that the ecological movement will grow, and in this way, it already has wider support that is shown in the small votes for the Green Party!

Can one imagine, then, that this disaster will cause something positive?

It's turning in our direction, but it’s complicated. Some people say "stop oil drilling and build more nuclear plants!" This is not what we want, because sooner or later we will have to deal with nuclear waste. Others talk about "clean coal" as another way to burn coal; but it does not work very well. Still others want us to use biofuels for hybrid cars, but even this has problems. Anyway, all these alternatives will compete and fight it out! Personally, I think solar, wave, wind and geothermal energy are the future. China is already getting there in developing new technologies! Our country and other will have to do so as well.

Interview by Laura Constantinesco
June 16, 2010

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