In May US Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, in an interview with Katie Couric, was asked about her position on renewables and climate change. The interview lay dormant for a while but in the last week or so has started to gain traction. Her views almost certainly reflect those of the GOP and consequently similar statements will surface in Canadian Conservative electioneering before our elections in two months: as a result this post takes a critical look at her statements.


Climate Change

Couric. "What's your position on climate change?"
Fiorina. "All the scientists tell us that a single nation, acting alone, can make no difference at ..environmental regulation destroys lives and livelihoods and will make no difference at all."

That no nation, acting alone, can make a difference is precisely why the Global community is not acting alone. In October 2014 the European Union said it would cut its emissions 40 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.  One month later China and the US - the top two global emitters of GHGs - announced an historic agreement in accordance with which both parties committed to substantive GHG curbs. Taken together, the U.S, China and the EU account for more than half of global emissions,

Others are far from idle:  ahead of the COP-21 meeting in Paris in December, multiple countries are submitting Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). INDCs are national climate action plans/goals for the post-2020 time period that countries file with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ahead of COP-21.

Couric: "Is climate change a serious issue?"
Fiorina: "I think it is ridiculous for the Obama administration to call ISIS a strategic distraction and then go on to say that climate change is the single most pressing national security issue of our time.  I do not see climate change as a national security threat which equals in any way...ISIS beheading people."

First it is worth considering what the 2014 US Quadrennial Defence Review has to say (page 8);


"Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing,more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."


Second and to Obama's "ISIS is a strategic distraction"; there is a view that Syrian instability was caused by drought that itself was consistent with models of climate change in the region. ISIS in turn was then able to gain international recognition on the back of Syrian instability. It is these facts which lie behind Obama's comments. Fiorina's focus on beheadings recognizes the symptoms but not the causes, of the disease. She therefore risks missing the wood for the trees.

Clean Coal

Couric: "What should be done, what could be done (about climate change)?"
Fiorina: "Coal provides half the energy in this nation...We have to focus on how to make coal cleaner."

Coal actually provides 21 percent of US primary energy. If Fiorina was intending to refer to electricity generation - then coal provides 39 percent (not 50 percent as claimed) of the US total. It is of note that this amount is steadily declining as generators shift to cleaner forms of generation (gas, wind and solar).

Fiorina advocates massive uptake of 'clean' coal (i.e. carbon capture and sequestration) but in doing so she makes no mention of the substantial cost of that technology. In our comprehensive financial analysis of Saskatchewan's world-first CCS scheme at Boundary Dam, we demonstrated that cost to be more than double that of both wind energy and gas. That cost estimate was subsequently confirmed by numerous other parties including the US Government's Annual Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) analysis and, most recently, by this week's Citi analysis in Energy Darwinism II


Fiorina: The Obama administration's stance on coal "destroys jobs and destroys communities".

No mention is made of the very substantial numbers of jobs being created by innovative new industries. In fact US wind and solar now generates three times MORE jobs than coal despite generating 8 times LESS electricity

Wind turbines and birds

Fiorina: "Wind technology is exciting to some people but do we tell people the truth that it slaughters millions of birds?"

According to the National Audubon Society climate change is the greatest threat facing birds in the US and could imperil nearly half of US birds this century. Another study, reviewed by the Audubon Society, found that domestic cats, "considered a global invasive species", are the top predators of birds and kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals, in the lower 48 states each year. The study notes that more birds die from cat encounters than from collisions with buildings, communication towers, vehicles, or poisoning by pesticides. No mention is made of wind turbines.

A Canadian Geographic article cited a 2013 Environment Canada report which also found cats to be the top killers of birds (196 million annually) in Canada, followed by power transmission lines (25.6 million), houses (22.4 million), vehicles (13.8 million), hunting (4.7 million), agricultural pesticides (2.7 million) and low, mid & hi-rise buildings (2.5 million). No mention of wind turbines. 


Fiorina: "Solar is great but solar takes huge amounts  of water".

The USGS estimates that US thermo-electric power generation (i.e. coal, gas and nuclear power stations) accounted for 49 percent of total water use, 41 percent of total freshwater withdrawals for all categories, and 53 percent of fresh surface-water withdrawals.  Whereas operating solar panels (and wind turbines!) consume almost no water at all (water is used for cleaning but not for cooling). This is summarised in this graphic from 'Freshwater Use by US Power Plants' - a 2011 report produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Source: 'Freshwater Use by US Power Plants'. Table 1. Reported vs. Calculated Power Plant Water Use, by fuel. Union of Concerned Scientists - November 2011

What was most disappointing about this interview is that Katie Couric did not push back on any of Fiorina's points - let alone the major ones highlighted in this blog. But the interview was recorded early in the election cycle. Fiorina has now revealed her hand and will not have such an easy time as the November 2016 election date draws nearer.

Actually and if you made it thus far, you may be interested in this far more comprehensive article by @drvox which was posted the day after this one and on the same Fiorina/Couric interview.