A lot of people are getting very depressed about the fact that global warming in now out of control and that there is nothing that we can do about it.
I think that it is true that global warming is close to out-of-control and that it will be difficult to stop. The real problem seems to be that we are close to tipping points in the arctic and the antarctic. Most worries are particularly about rapid antarctic warming and especially the fact that a massive slab of ice in Western Antarctica that is bigger than Mount Everest may slide off into the ocean. Many say that such a catastrophe could raise oceans levels perhaps 8 to 10 feet. No one knows exactly when this might happen but the best guesses are at least not until 2050. So that does give us a little time.
The climate situation is undoubtably dangerous, actually more than dangerous. More like terrifying.
And a lot of people fear that we won’t be able to do anything about this situation, particularly with Trump and the Republicans in power. Many worry that there is nothing we can do until we get rid of Trump.
However, maybe there is something we can do. I’m reading a book right now by Adam Gopnik called A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism. One of the basic ideas of this book is that liberal reform is possible even in the face of implacable hostility. I wrote about this idea in my last post also.
Gopnik says that liberal reform is never impossible, even in the face of actors like Trump and the current Republican party. Looking back at two former liberals, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Tayler, Gopnik asks: “How does liberal reform happen? Mill and Taylor and their circle insisted that reform was possible even within inequitable institutions and that a virtuous circle could begin even in the face of gross unfairness: change an institution in small measures and it will eventually improve in larger ones.”
In other words just because Trump and the Republicans look unbeatable right now, we should never give up. Gopnik says that as long as basic democratic freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of assembly still exist, reform is still possible.
I think that by looking at what is going on in climate reform right now, that it is more than possible to believe that CO2 emissions will drop radically by the middle of this century or before. There are all kinds of hopeful signs of this flooding the news right now.
For one thing, between 2005 to 2017, the United States reduced its energy-related carbon emissions by 14 percent. It is true that emissions have gone up since 2017, thanks to Mr Trump, but the larger picture is still very hopeful.
And it is not just CO2 that has dropped radically. Fine particulate pollution that comes from burning coal has also dropped radically in the US since 1985. Here is an NYT article on that fact along with some pretty impressive graphs. (Sorry, those graphs wouldn’t copy to this blog.)
And then there is the fact that many states have embarked on various programs to cut their CO2 emissions by mid century or earlier.
Just today there was an article in the New York Times stating that New York State will pass a climate plan that will eliminate all greenhouse emissions in New York State by 2050.
“New York lawmakers have agreed to pass a sweeping climate plan that calls for the state to all but eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, envisioning an era when gas-guzzling cars, oil-burning heaters and furnaces would be phased out, and all of the state’s electricity would come from carbon-free sources. Under an agreement reached this week between legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act would require the state to slash its planet-warming pollution 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and offset the remaining 15 percent, possibly through measures to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
And much the same is true in California, Washington, Oregon and other states.
Below is a graph of Oregon’s projected greenhouse gas emissions if current policy is kept in place compared to its plans to cut emissions radically by 2050. I’m not sure if this is a done deal, but in early June of 2019 legislators were predicting victory.
“The Clean Energy Jobs Bill (HB 2020A) was voted through by the Oregon Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction last week, the key legislative barrier to passage. Now it goes to the state Ways and Means Committee, then to the full House and Senate, then to the desk of Gov. Kate Brown. Though anything can happen, advocates are optimistic that the bill is headed for passage.”
California is always been the leader in renewable energy. In September of 2018 California passed a bill pledging to be 100% carbon neutral by 2045. This is a done deal and they are dead serious. Below is what CBS News has to say about this.
“Governor Brown signed an executive order Monday, (Sept 2018) announcing the goal to eliminate carbon emissions in the state within 27 years. He also signed a bill, SB100, making the state’s electricity completely emissions-free by 2045.
The bill represents an ambitious move by the world’s fifth-largest economy.
“It’s impossible to overstate how significant it is for a state as large and influential as California to commit to 100 percent clean energy,” the Sierra Club said in a statement.
“California is showing the world that a transition to 100 percent clean energy is within reach and it will continue to drive the transition away from fossil fuels — and it is doing this while the federal government abandons clean energy.”
In 1917 Hawaii became the first US state to commit to 100 percent Clean energy.
And there are more states heading rapidly down the same road. Unfortunately it seems that are 27 or so states headed in the opposite direction. But as liberal thinkers say, nothing is perfect and there are always going to be problems, but if we keep at it, liberal solutions will eventually become out on top. I guess that little word “eventually” is a bit worrisome as we don’t have forever to eliminate carbon emissions.
David Roberts at Vox news has long been one of my favorite energy and environmental writers. And he seems to agree with the general trend that I have been describing. Last November he wrote an article about the fact that wind and solar power (in very limited circumstances, and only in some places) are already less expensive than carbon based energy. There are a lot of ifs, ands and buts in this statement, but clean energy is actually now very competitive with fossil fuel. By 2035 it looks as if it will be cheaper to replace even existing natural gas plants with “controllable, storable renewable energy.” And coal powered plants have been the most expensive way to generate electricity for several years now. It looks like coal will very soon be a thing of the past.
When the day comes that wind and solar and hydro can generate and store electric power at less than carbon fuels, that will the last day that fossil fuels will be used.
Today (June 19, 2019) there was an article in the Times saying that the EPA , which is now in the hands of Trump and his anti-ecology stooges, came out with their long awaited plan to replace the Obama-era climate rules. Basically the new Trump rule says that Obama’s efforts to cut pollution would be replaced by a new Republican rule that would let states decide for themselves how far, it at all , to scale back emissions. And of course Trump and his friends are thinking that many states will choose coal and other environmentally dirty solutions for generating electricity.
Yes, this is a loss for conservationists. But the Trump rule is a weak rule, not destined to last long. The main problem for Trump is that burning coal is by now the most expensive way to generate energy and doing so is a good way to go out of business. Even Trump himself has admitted this.
The trend right now is that coal companies are going bankrupt and electrical generating plants that burn coal and oil are unable to compete with natural gas plants and even solar and wind generation plants. It is only a matter of time before coal is a dead industry. The handwriting is on the wall.
What Trump and his cronies are trying to do is to string out the demise of coal and oil generation plants for as long as possibly because he and his fellow republicans are being paid to do so, generally in the form of campaign donations.
There is a good article in Inside Climate News this morning which says that Trump’s energy plan which is intended to replace Obama’s energy plan won’t stop the decline of coal. The article says that whatever the fate of Trumps plan is, “the latest official projections for coal consumption by power plants and for carbon dioxide emissions from their smokestacks point in one direction: down this year from last year, and down next year from this year.”