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from Reihan Salam:

Carbon isn’t just America’s problem

Canada has 35 million people. Africa has just over 1 billion. But rather remarkably, Canada consumes about as much energy as all of Africa, according to Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Power Hungry, a provocative look at the global energy industry. As African economies grow, however, it is a safe bet that African energy consumption will grow with it, just as energy consumption has increased in China and India and around the world as hundreds of millions have escaped poverty. And that is the key challenge facing those who hope to do something about carbon emissions, including President Obama.

Despite the fact that less than a third of U.S. voters believe that climate policy ought to be a high priority, according to a Pew survey conducted in January, the president gave a sweeping climate policy address earlier this week. During the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney tried to gain traction by claiming that the Obama administration was waging a “war on coal,” a charge the president and his allies adamantly rejected. Yet there is no denying that President Obama has backed regulations that are making it more expensive to extract and burn coal, as Juliet Eilperin recently documented in the Washington Post. The really new development this week is that while the president had been working to make new coal plants unviable, he is now seeking to impose regulations on existing coal plants that will either lead to steep penalty payments or force premature shutdowns.

Though these steps are widely resented in coal country, they are accelerating a trend that has been driven in large part by the collapse in domestic natural gas prices, which in turn has been driven by a technological revolution in the development of shale gas resources. In 2012, the same year Romney and Obama were debating the war on coal, U.S. coal use fell by 12 percent. Not coincidentally, the International Energy Agency has reported that between 2006 and 2011, U.S. carbon emissions had fallen by 7.7 percent, the steepest reduction for any country or region in the world. To some extent, this decrease in emissions reflected a sluggish economy. But it also reflected the shale boom. The president’s war on coal is not without costs, and Republicans, particularly those representing coal states, will fight it vigorously. But for now, at least, it is a war that U.S. energy consumers can afford, and it will contribute to America’s ongoing decarbonization. The deeper challenge for the president and his allies is that while domestic coal use is declining, global coal use is increasing at a stunning pace.

Right now, global energy use is in the neighborhood of 1.5 exajoules per day, the energy equivalent of 250 million barrels of oil per day. Bryce makes this number easier to comprehend by comparing it to Saudi Arabia’s daily oil production of 8.2 million barrels per day. Rather than talk about 1.5 exajoules per day, he says that the world is now consuming 30 Saudi Arabias daily. And of these 30 Saudi Arabias, 26 are derived by hydrocarbons, including 10 from oil, nine from coal, and seven from natural gas. Hydropower accounts for two Saudi Arabias, nuclear accounts for 1.5, and non-hydro renewable energy accounts for no more than half of a Saudi Arabia.

from The Great Debate:

Why D.C. is wrong to discredit Iran’s new president

America finds itself exactly where Iran was four years ago. Back then, America had just elected a new, articulate president who offered hope and promised a new approach to the world and Iran. His election was a direct rejection of the foreign policy of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, whose favorite tools of statecraft appeared to be military force and confrontational rhetoric.

The question Iran grappled with in 2009 was whether this new president -- Barack Obama -- really represented change or if it was merely an act of electoral deception.

from The Great Debate:

The cost of America’s first black president

President Barack Obama addresses supporters at his election night victory rally in Chicago, Nov. 7, 2012. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Barack Obama, America’s first black president, can be credited with many milestones -- a comprehensive federal healthcare bill, taking down the world’s most wanted terrorist, signing the Fair Pay Act for gender pay equality, to name a few.

from The Great Debate:

NSA as ‘Big Brother’? Not even close

Reader holding a copy of George Orwell's 1984, June 9, 2013.  REUTERS/Toby Melville

When the Guardian and the Washington Post revealed details about the National Security Agency collecting phone data from telecommunications companies and U.S. government programs pulling in emails and photographs from internet businesses, suddenly “George Orwell” was leading the news.

from The Great Debate:

Obama signals global shift on climate change

President Barack Obama rolls up his shirt sleeve before speaking about his vision to reduce carbon pollution at Georgetown University in Washington, June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing  

President Barack Obama unveiled his national plan Tuesday to “reduce carbon pollution and lead global efforts to fight” climate change. He intends to rely heavily on executive actions rather than seeking congressional legislation.

from The Great Debate:

Why Obama must prevail for a ‘grand bargain’

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (R) in Washington, Mar. 19, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

It's been a while since we've had good news about our economy, so the recent upbeat reports are welcome. The deficit picture for 2013 has brightened a bit, along with an upturn in the housing market. Yet those developments don't tell the full story. Our economic horizon remains cloudy due to serious structural challenges.

from MacroScope:

Back to banking union

The G8 produced little heat or light on the state of the world economy but if there was one clarion call it was for the euro zone to get on with forming a banking union – the last major initiative needed to draw a line under the euro zone debt crisis.

With the European Central Bank effectively underwriting the bloc’s governments with its bond-buying pledge, a cross-border mechanism to recapitalise or wind up failing banks would do the same for the financial sector.

from The Great Debate:

Why Russia won’t deal on NATO missile defense

President Barack Obama meets with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Mexico, June 18, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to discuss missile defense, their thorniest bilateral problem, at the G8 summit in Ireland on June 17 and 18. Previous talks between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have floundered over the alliance’s refusal to give Moscow legal guarantees that the system would not undermine Russian nuclear forces.

from David Rohde:

Obama’s ‘best bad choice’ in Syria

Damaged buildings and debris in Deir al-Zor, June 13, 2013.Picture taken June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

UPDATE: The final passage of this piece criticizes the "Shia fundamentalists who are holding Iran's staged elections." Early results from Tehran suggest that reformist candidate Hassan Rohani has achieved a stunning victory. Iran's green movement, which was crushed in 2009, is apparently alive and well.  The country's conservative clerics are apparently unwilling to steal another election and risk another round of protests. The results reinforce the point at the end of the piece: we focus too much on the region's fundamentalists and too little on its moderates.

from The Great Debate:

The looming U.S.-China rivalry over Latin America

President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) in California, June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Though the U.S. and Chinese presidents heralded a “new model” of cooperation at their weekend summit, a growing competition looks more likely. The whirlwind of activity before President Barack Obama met with President Xi Jinping in the California desert revealed that Beijing and Washington’s sights are set on a similar prize -- and face differing challenges to attain it.

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