Tales from the Trail

Has U.S. “missed the boat” on long-range renewable energy planning?

OBAMA/There was President Barack Obama, working a friendly crowd in Henderson, Nevada, not far from Las Vegas. And then a sympathetic comment from a French businessman who wants to see U.S. regulation of climate-warming greenhouse emissions seemed to get the president all wound up.

After noting that the weather has been particularly wild lately — five feet of snow in Washington DC, rain at the Vancouver Olympics — Obama said the best way to “unleash” dynamism in the energy market is to set fuel efficiency standards, notably for cars.

“If you’ve got a fuel-efficiency standard in place that says your car needs to get 20 miles a gallon or 30 miles a gallon, suddenly all these engineers are thinking, well, how do we do that?  And all these companies start coming up with new technologies that make your cars more fuel-efficient.  Ultimately, you end up seeing jobs and businesses thriving in response to the regulation that’s been put there,” Obama told the town hall meeting.

Putting a price on carbon emissions could have the same effect by spurring innovation and ultimately creating jobs, he said.

The transition to cleaner renewable energy isn’t going to happen overnight, the president said.

The Gate of Continuing Harmony – if only it were that easy

OBAMA-CHINA/President Barack Obama took a break from business during his four-countries-in-eight-days Asian trip on Tuesday to turn tourist with a quick visit to Beijing’s Forbidden City. He seemed to relish the sightseeing trip, which took about 45 minutes, squeezed in after negotiating sessions with Chinese President Hu Jintao and before a meeting with U.S. embassy staff and a state dinner.

The sprawling Forbidden City, in the heart of Beijing, was built in the 15th century and home to China’s emperors for 500 years. The 980-building complex was called “Forbidden” because no one could enter without the emperor’s permission. Now a museum and a UNESCO world heritage site, it is normally thronged with visitors, but it lived up to its name when Obama visited, as no one was allowed in except his party, journalists and lots of security.

Guided by the Forbidden City museum director, Zheng Xinmiao, Obama walked through doorways and courtyards with names like “The Gate of Continuing Harmony,” a soothing thought after talks on trade policy, global warming and denuclearization. However, he ended the visit in a spot with a name perhaps less benign, given that China is the largest holder of U.S. debt: “The Courtyard of Loyal Obedience.”