Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama warns that Americans must make financial sacrifices if the country is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Obama held a Sunday morning forum in Des Moines billed by his campaign as a discussion of the "role of faith in fighting global climate change." Obama talked briefly about his Christian faith and the Biblical call for stewardship of the Earth.
"Are you going to be the person to elevate this whole issue and put it out there before the entire country and lead us to true energy independence?" a man in the crowd asked Obama.
"I am the man," Obama responded.
Obama warned the crowd their utility bills will increase as companies pass along the costs of converting to cleaner technologies. "I can’t just tell people what they want to hear," Obama said. "…I hope everybody understands if we’re serious about dealing with global warming, there is going to be a spike in the unit cost of electricity."
Obama said most Americans would be able to take steps to reduce energy usage in their own homes, by installing more energy efficient light bulbs and appliances.
"Technology, I believe, will adapt in such a way that those electricity bills go back down…but at least on the front end there’s going to be some costs," Obama said. "You know, we can’t pretend like there’s a free lunch here. I think it’s really important for us to understand that because I plan to be president and when I’m president I don’t want you guys all complaining to me about, boy, this is…difficult."
A woman in the audience challenged Obama over the use of coal as fuel for plants that generate electricity. "You mentioned clean coal technology in your plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," she said. "…I want to ask you about how you can justify developing clean coal technology when the extraction of it through mountain top removal and surface mining has such grave environmental impacts and causes such social suffering."
Obama said he would not allow mining companies to "lop off" the tops of mountains to get at coal deposits, but Obama told the woman it would be a losing fight to try to ban the use of coal.
"The reason is, like it or not, a whole bunch of us are getting electricity from coal and a whole bunch of people are employed extracting coal and there are whole states that are economically deeply dependent on coal," Obama said. "And by the way, coal is the most abundant resource in the United States. It is also the cheapest and most abundant resource in China."
Obama said coal can be a "legitimate" resource if there are new fines or penalties associated with dirty coal emissions, which he said will then encourage development of cleaner-burning coal technology. "What I’m basically saying is that for those who are already operating coal-fired power plants, they’re going to have to retrofit their plants…or they’re going to be paying really high premiums," Obama said. "…That sends a message to investors we’d better not build new, traditional coal-fired power plants (and) the only way that we can use this coal efficiently is if we come up with coal sequestration technology that captures the carbon and doesn’t emit greenhouse gases."
Obama closed by saying there is a "window of opportunity" to "get the job done" when it comes to making the country energy independent and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Obama began by praising former Vice President Al Gore’s call for action on greenhouse gas emissions.