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I’ve long admired Rebecca Solnit’s writing, and today I want to share some excerpts from her essay in The Guardian, “Climate change, Covid–our hearts ache. But a new era is possible. We can do it,” to inspire you. If you want more, you can read the full article here.
As a human and a climate advocate, I feel like I’m holding my breath. Climate chaos is here. Our chance of preserving a climate compatible with thriving human societies depends on electing climate champions in November and compelling them to enact transformative climate policies immediately. We may already be too late. The question Solnit addresses is, with compounding crises causing so much suffering, how do we keep hope alive and act on it?
She acknowledges that in this moment, it is tempting to give up: “The last four years have been a long, rough road for people who care about the fate of the earth and the rights of ordinary people, and I understand the temptation to feel that what is wrong now will be wrong forever, to feel that it is too much to face and more than we can change.”
But, Solnit says, “anguish and hope–hope as ferocious will to continue, and not trust the odds but to change them–can coexist.”
At this crucial moment for humanity, Solnit makes the case for hope along with anguish, and for acting on that hope; “In the US we are facing a crucial election. As humanity, we are facing even a larger one: to respond to the climate crisis by choosing the best-case scenario rather than letting the worst unfold.”
As I’ve written about here and here, we are rapidly developing viable and affordable policy and technology pathways to move us toward the best-case scenario. These pathways are becoming more attainable all the time. For example, Solnit notes that the left is converging around a set of climate policies originally associated with the Green New Deal, and these policies are gaining wide acceptance:
“In the USA, the Green New Deal is among the ideas that were only recently regarded as almost outrageously radical – ie a disruption of the status quo – that are now widely accepted by politicians and the public as necessary. ‘The climate plan is a jobs plan,’ Biden’s spokesperson told the Guardian. Julian Noisecat wrote that Biden has accepted the Green New Deal in all but name.”
Other viable and effective climate policies are gaining momentum as well. We now know that taking climate action will have a host of other benefits. Solnit quotes Senator and climate champion Brian Schatz (HI) about the benefits of bold climate action:
“Responding could bring about a more just society, Hawaii senator Brian Schatz recently tweeted: ‘Too much of the climate movement of the past was about what climate change is doing to us, and not about what climate action will do for us. Taking action does not require austerity and scarcity. Done well, it will result in more wealth, more fairness, and better jobs. We already have many of the technologies needed to avert catastrophe. We just need the American optimism and the political will to deploy them on an unprecedented scale. What we are describing is a future with an improved quality of life, more fairness, and better products. If we do this right, the people and communities that have been treated unfairly, exposed to chronic pollution, and left out of progress in the past stand to gain the most.’”
The heart of Solnit’s message is this: at this most critical moment, whatever pain you are in, choose hope too. Do all you can to elect climate champions, then do all you can to get them to act on climate. Hope is not optimism. Hope is a commitment to the future, and must be manifest in action. Hope matters most when it’s hardest and when the stakes are the highest. This is our moment.
With catastrophic fires again raging in California and hurricane Laura devastating the Gulf Coast, the urgency of the climate crisis is painfully clear. You may wonder if it’s too late to do anything meaningful to avert climate chaos. A new analysis finds we can still eliminate 70-80% of US carbon emissions by 2035 with existing technologies and tools, getting this country on a 1.5° C pathway while creating millions of jobs and lowering energy costs. And this isn’t some fly-by-night study: it was done by MacArthur Genius grant recipient Saul Griffith and colleagues, after analyzing all the available data on how energy is used in the US.
This new report, available from “Rewiring America,” shows how the US can quickly and fully decarbonize our economy with proven technologies and existing resources. David Roberts, writing about the report in Vox, describes it’s findings as “oddly optimistic.” Here are the major bombshells, as summarized by Roberts:
“In a nutshell, (the analysis shows) that it’s possible to eliminate 70 percent to 80 percent of US carbon emissions by 2035 through rapid deployment of existing electrification technologies, with little-to-no carbon capture and sequestration. Doing so would slash US energy demand by about half, save consumers money, and keep the country on a 1.5° pathway without requiring particular behavior changes. Everyone could still have their same cars and houses–they would just need to be electric.”
How is this possible? First, burning fossil fuels for energy is incredibly wasteful. Electric motors are much more efficient at converting energy into useful work. So much more efficient, in fact, that electrifying everything would cut US energy demand in half, according to Rewiring America’s report. Second, our clean energy technologies have advanced to the point where we can use them to get most of the way to full decarbonization. The five key existing and well-proven technologies we need, according to Griffith’s work, are wind and solar power plants, rooftop solar, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and batteries.
Of course, in order to get on this 1.5° C pathway, we have to commit, and mobilize on a scale we haven’t done since World War II. Such a mobilization would ramp up clean energy and electrification as fast as possible. Within 3 to 5 years, we need to increase our electricity grid three to four fold, our EV production four fold, our wind turbines 12 fold, and our solar modules 12 fold. Then, after this initial period of mobilization, every time a diesel or gas car gets replaced, it has to be with an EV. Every time an oil or gas furnace goes out, it is replaced with a heat pump, and so on. Talk about a green recovery jobs program!
Two other gems I want to mention from this report: First, the benefits of following this plan are extraordinary even without the potential to protect a climate compatible with human societies thriving. Clean air, good jobs, cheaper energy, quieter roads and cities, and on and on. Second, this analysis doesn’t rely on, or even consider, the carbon emissions that are possible with traditional efficiency measures such as insulating buildings, double-glazing windows, driving less, or downsizing homes. Adding any of these would only increase our chances of decarbonizing in time to do our part to get on a 1.5° C pathway and protect a livable climate.
If you want to dig deeper into this, you can download the full report here. What this compelling study shows is that it’s still within our capabilities to tackle the climate crisis while creating a green recovery from the economic devastation of the pandemic. If you needed any more motivation to help elect climate champions this November, maybe this will be it.
With the 2020 election approaching fast, it’s GO TIME for electing climate champions this November! This month, we offer two ways to help elect a government committed to climate action and a green recovery!
Sign up with the Environmental Voter Project, dedicated to helping ensure that everyone committed to climate action votes this November!Environmental Voter Project
A second way to help elect climate champions is make donations through Give Green. To take this action, click the button below, select any of their chosen candidates, and make a donation in any amount.Give Green
In just six weeks, we’ve seen three major climate proposals indicating that the factions of the Democratic Party are aligning on climate policy after a decade of disarray and disagreement. This policy platform on climate shows how much interest groups and politicians agree on and lays critical groundwork for enacting a transformative green recovery and a just transition to a clean energy future. It illuminates a path to finally passing big, bold climate policy solutions at the national level.
If you aren’t someone who spends time in the weeds of climate change news, you may have no idea what I’m talking about. With the pandemic raging, the economy destabilizing, and a rational racial justice/policing crisis, unification of the left on climate policy hardly made headlines. Yet if you are hoping that after the next election we will enact a green recovery and a just transition to a clean energy future, take a moment to celebrate, because such action just got a lot more likely.
Here’s a quick summary: On June 30th, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis issued its report . This included a detailed Climate Crisis Action Plan put together by House Democrats. On July 8, the Biden-Sanders unity task force on climate (chaired by John Kerry and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) issued its policy recommendations. Finally, on July 14, Joe Biden released his Build Back Better proposal on climate, a $2 trillion proposal for clean energy investments, economic stimulus, and a transition to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Here’s how journalist David Roberts summarized this in Vox: “For the first time in memory, there’s a broad alignment forming around a climate policy platform that is both ambitious enough to address the problem and politically potent enough to unite all the left’s various interest groups.”
These plans have a lot in common: they all set standards for net-zero emissions by 2050 (or sooner), they all focus on climate justice, and they all include large-scale public investment.
- Setting standards: Two-thirds of US emissions come from sectors where clean alternatives are already available–cars, electricity, and buildings. Details vary, but the plans agree on a common core of strong performance standards and incentives for these big three emitters to make rapid progress on emissions in the next ten years. Doing so can get us a long way toward meeting the 2030 emissions reduction goals the IPCC says are critical to prevent the worst, most catastrophic climate change impacts.
- Climate justice: Unions, fossil fuel workers, and frontline communities helped develop these plans. They include polices such as coal worker transition programs, equity mapping to identify vulnerable communities and send public investment there first, and incentives that favor union workers for clean energy jobs.
- Large public investment: Support for green industries, manufacturing, research, and job creation is in these proposals, as are a number of ideas for combining recovery from the COVID-10 economic crisis with transformative climate solutions.
Pre-pandemic, when I used to give in-person talks about climate solutions, I sometimes ended with this quote attributed to Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” This summer, the left’s new unity on climate policy makes transformative climate progress seep a little less impossible.
If you are interested in more details about these plans, see links below.
Carlie Clarcq, “Biden’s clean energy plan proposes economic recovery through green investments,” Climate Change, July 23, 2020.
David Roberts, “At last, a climate policy platform that can unite the left,” Vox, July 9, 2020.
This summer, please urge Congress to build a more resilient, just future for all by passing bills for a clean energy economic recovery! This action is quick and easy to take, courtesy of the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC). Click the link below, enter your address and WORC provides a sample letter and delivers it directly for you (you can modify it for even greater impact, or simply submit it as is). To stay off their mailing list, be sure to click the “no, do not send me updates from WORC” bubble.TAKE ACTION!
I bet you could use some good news today. I’ve been following three climate progress stories this month that illustrate movement toward a safer climate and a better world. Below are quick summaries of each of them with links you can use to learn more. I hope these stories encourage and inspire you!
One: The fossil fuel sector is increasingly losing its social license to operate. This month, the Vatican urged the 1.2 billion Catholics on earth to divest from fossil fuel investments. This is the latest in a string of increasingly big wins for the fossil fuel divestment movement. Since January, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and others have pledged to stop investing in the dirtiest fossil fuels. Many faith groups, universities and pension funds have declared that it is unethical (and unwise) to invest in the destruction of the earth’s climate. If the financial sector stops financing fossil fuel extraction refining and transport, the chances of preventing a runaway climate catastrophe increase.
Two: More businesses with deep pockets and vast resources are announcing plans and beginning to act to decarbonize their energy systems and contribute to climate solutions. This month Lyft committed to transitioning to 100% EVs (electric vehicles) by 2030. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., as well as a huge contributor to local air pollution. Lyft’s commitment will help reduce these impacts, and it will also increase trust in EVs, which is a critical step for widespread adoption. Ford Motors announced plans for carbon neutrality by 2050, which will require a huge commitment to EVs and other climate-friendly changes. Other companies that have recently upped their commitments to climate action include Unilever, (one of the biggest consumer goods companies in the world), Amazon, Microsoft, and Ikea.
Three: Renewable energy is taking over the U.S. electricity grid, even without help from the federal government. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this trend, and a grid that’s powered by clean energy is rapidly becoming both technically feasible and economically competitive. A new study shows that falling costs combined with breakthroughs in storage have made it feasible to get to 90% renewable electricity in the U.S. in just 15 years while lowering costs. This level of technological progress and economic viability for renewables was unimaginable ten or even five years ago, but today, we have the ability to quickly transition our electrical grid to renewables affordably.
Silvio Marcacci – Forbes, June 9, 2020
Renewable energy has been considered too expensive and too unreliable to power our grid, but new research has overturned that trope for good. Plummeting wind, solar, and storage prices have fallen so fast that the United States can reach 90% clean electricity by 2035 – without raising customer costs, and actually decreasing wholesale power costs 10%…
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As an organization that works for a healthy planet and a safer world, we must address the reality that health and safety are enjoyed unequally across racial lines in our country. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the protests that have followed, we recognize that addressing these inequalities must be an integral part of our mission and daily work. We stand in solidarity with protesters calling for racial justice, and we urge our members and supporters to do the same.
We offer some links to educate yourself on the links between racism and the climate crisis, and urge you to learn more about what you can do:
Read up on the links between racism and the environment, Somini Sengupta, New York Times, June 5, 2020.
We don’t have to halt climate action to fight racism, Mary Annaise Heglar, HuffPost, June 12, 2020.
Climate change tied to pregnancy risk affecting black mothers most, Christopher Flavelle, New York Times, June 18, 2020.
Black, Hispanic, and Latino people car about climate change the most, Drew Costley, OneZero, May 6, 2020.
Umair Irfan – Vox, 6/8/20
With clear roads, clear skies, oil prices plummeting, businesses needing bailouts, and political capital to spend, countries like South Korea, Italy, and France have decided that the pandemic response is an opportunity to rethink energy, infrastructure, industry, and government in ways to cut pollution and reduce emissions contributing to climate change…
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