Open Letters to Barack Obama and John McCain


19 october 2008

[As we originally promised in our Appeal, we have sent it to the principal candidates for the Presidency of the United States. Open letters accompanying the Appeal indicate our position regarding the ongoing UN climate talks and criticize the reliance of Senators Obama and McCain, in their plans to combat climate change, on "clean coal" techniques and on nuclear energy . Following the elections, a new letter will be sent to the President-elect.

The letter to Barack Obama reads as follows:]

Amsterdam, October 16, 2008

Dear Senator Obama:

The enclosed appeal of Concerned Citizens against Climate Change* underscores, on the eve of national elections and in the midst of financial turmoil, the need for immediate and effective action against global warming.

Indeed, transcending both politics and economic prosperity, climate change is endangering our future habitat on this planet. We therefore urge you, if elected President, to attend the UN-sponsored climate talks in Poznan this December with decisive proposals for decreasing Greenhouse gas emissions, both through sharpened energy efficiency standards and through the most rapid possible replacement of fossil fuels by safe, renewable energy.

Time is running out, Senator. Scientific research of the past two years has shown with ever-greater clarity the gravity and imminence of the warming menace:**
· The estimation of a safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has declined to about 350ppm – 35 ppm lower than the present level .
· Arctic warming and concomitant disappearance of summer ice is occurring much more rapidly than anticipated
· sea level rise this century is predicted to be as high as two meters, about four times the increase anticipated by the IPCC.
· The melting of Siberian permafrost has begun to release billions of tons of methane, a greenhouse gas considerably more powerful than CO2.
· We may have as little as 100 months to start a serious reduction in emissions before runaway warming sets in;
· Global CO2 emissions have been increasing in recent years at a rate worse than the most pessimistic scenario envisaged by the IPCC.

Senator Obama, you have made it clear that you are aware of this menace, but we question the long-term safety and effectiveness of some of your plans to avert it.

International energy companies have for years promoted Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) as a silver bullet to “clean up” coal-fired power plants, and this technique also figures in your “New Energy for America” plan.

Unfortunately, CCS will benefit only coal industry profits, not the survival chances of the human species. Why?
· The trillions of tons of carbon dioxide to be sequestered exceed any known capacity of the earth to store it even temporarily in a safe manner, not to speak of “permanently”: seismic disturbances could release disastrous amounts of CO2.
· CCS is still only partially tested and will, according to a McKinsey report, not be ready for broad implementation before the year 2030.
· 2030 is not 100 but 264 months away. By 2030, with business as usual in the coal industry, we will need a belief in the hereafter, not CCS, to give us hope.

Senator Obama: please take CCS, and with it coal-fueled energy, out of your plan.

Your plans also include an expansion of nuclear energy. For the same reason, however, that we cannot trust the earth to store carbon dioxide forever, we cannot expect it to store massive amounts of nuclear waste for hundred of thousands of years without dangerous leakage. Nor can we exclude the possibility of human or mechanical failure producing another Chernobyl.

Please Senator, no new nuclear plants either.

There are environmentally safe and economically effective alternatives to both CCS and the nuclear option. Energy efficiency can greatly reduce primary energy demand in industrialized countries. Moreover, massive wind parks, combined with the solar energy technique known as Concentrated Solar Power and with hydroelectric and geothermal power, all linked together by continental HVDC supergrids, can within a generation supply humankind with safe, dependable and inexpensive energy for the indefinite future.

In addition to this infrastructural backbone for a non-carbon economy, legislative and fiscal measures can speed emissions reductions in households, industry, and transportation.

Senator, the financial crisis has shown the capacity of global leaders to act swiftly and together to save the world economy. The same can be done for the even more dangerous crisis of climate change. In fact, the two crises can be resolved together by the job-creating Green New Deal that economists and environmentalists are beginning to discuss.

Whatever your plan may be, however, we want to remind you that the industrialized West is responsible for 90% of the greenhouse gases threatening our future and should be prepared to take financial responsibility for 90% of the cost of the global clean-up.

Global justice requires massive assistance by the West to developing nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America, which urgently need renewable energy to help their people out of poverty while avoiding runaway warming.


the initiators of Concerned Citizens against Climate Change (
Arthur Mitzman, (emeritus professor of History, University of Amsterdam),
Joep Leerssen (professor of European Studies, University of Amsterdam,
Lucas Reijnders (professor of Environmental Studies, University of Amsterdam)

*Registered since March 2008 as “Stichting 4C Climate Change” in the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce, website: At this website you will find our appeal’s 870 signatories, many of them eminent scholars and committed environmentalists, from 33 nations.
** Sources for data in this letter on the increased danger of warming, the futility of CCS, and the supergrid for renewables can be found either in our appeal or in the news rubrics on our website.

[The letter to John McCain differs from that to Barack Obama only in that it adds criticism of McCain's proposal, in his climate plan, to give CO2 emissions permits to corporations freely and without auction, a procedure which has been tried in the EU and has not worked.]
[For last May's interview with Jason Grumet, Obama's climate change advisor, "Jason and the Carbonauts. Obama energy adviser Jason Grumet talks climate, coal, and transportation policy", go the the Grist website. For a defense of Obama's position on "dirty coal", a very recent (October 19) Grist contribution by David Roberts. For a comparison of Obama's and McCain's positions on climate change, read Fred Pearce's "Feeling the Heat", in New Scientist of October 11]

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