Let’s Electrify Climate Justice
And get it from clean, renewable sources
Over the past 10 years since our first American Climate Leadership Summit, it feels like we’ve gone from future tense to past tense without stopping in the present. Just decade ago, solar and wind were financially uncompetitive, 10x their current cost. For all practical purposes, ten years ago there was no such thing as electric cars or grid batteries. Significant climate impacts were decades away. And a 20% reduction in emissions was considered a big commitment
It’s a whole new world now. Wind and solar are not only our cleanest energy sources, they are also, by far, our least expensive. Almost all new utility scale energy in the world today is wind or solar. Coal and gas need subsidies. 72 countries have passed laws to reach 100% renewable electricity before 2050. 12 already have. All major auto producers will discontinue fossil fuel cars by 2030 or 2035. They have little choice. Fossil fuel cars are increasingly non-competitive and 14 countries and 54 cities in 28 nations have announced bans.
Biden’s international climate summit last week, showed us again the world is coalescing around 100% clean energy by 2050. So, for most organizations and cities, 50% by 2030, or 100% by 2050 isn’t a stretch goal, it’s coming in in very last place. You’re not leading, you’re doing the least you possibly can.
We all see the accelerating wildfires, unusual weather, severe storms, freezes, floods, derechos, and sea level rise. As we start to pay more attention to species extinction, loss of biodiversity, human migration, and the health and economic cost of climate damage and adaptation, we will get more motivated. Global warming is no longer a separate or a side issue. It’s already the #1 threat to our health and well-being and a top issue in international security and economic development.
For most organizations and cities, 50% by 2030, or 100% by 2050 isn’t a stretch goal, it’s coming in in very last place. You’re not leading, you’re doing the least you possibly can.
We’re facing a climate emergency with permanent tipping points here or on the near horizon that will make our present climate crisis seem benign. Rather than focus on distractions, let’s aim for the fundamental problems.
What’s our largest use of dirty fossil fuel energy in America and the world? Transportation, industry, electricity? No, the biggest use of dirty fuels in world is in producing dirty fuels. Drilling, mining, refining, and transporting all those fossil fuels consumes about one quarter of all the energy we use on the planet.
The second biggest use of dirty fossil fuels? Waste. I’m not talking about leaving your lights on. Industry tries to make waste a demand issue — to blame consumers. But it’s really a supply issue. Fossil fuels are a very inefficient way to make electricity or power ground transportation. 80% of the energy used to power fossil fuel cars goes to wasted heat, not motion. Coal and methane electricity plants waste over half the energy they make on heat, not electricity.
So, the first thing, and by far the most important thing we need to do, as fast as we can, is electrify everything, and get that electricity from renewable energy sources. That will not only clean our air and water, and save the planet, it will reduce our overall energy use by about 40% and save us trillions of dollars.
What’s stopping us? It’s not technology or money that are in the way of our transition to a clean economy — it’s injustice, and complacency. The denial of climate science, the obfuscation of facts and truth for financial gain holds us back. Our polarized politics is a symptom, not a cause of this greed and malfeasance.
The first thing, and by far the most important thing we need to do, as fast as we can, is electrify everything, and get that electricity from renewable energy sources.
There are three principles that can help us overcome these obstacles and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy.
First, Ambition. The goals of 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050 are in no way assured. Even if we reach those targets, it’s not enough to keep the planet from overheating. We all need to up our ambition, in our personal lives, companies, communities, and with policymakers. If someone says they’re going 50% by 2030 challenge them to do it in half the time. Or even 100% by 2022. It’s possible. As they say, just do it.
Second, Restoration. Nature takes care of us. Thriving nature helps us be mentally and physically healthy. It helps children adjust and get better grades. It gives us clean air and water for free. Nature was in balance. No waste, no pollution. Then we came along and started burning fossil fuels. We need to reestablish balance with nature in our communities, farms, and our forests. If we can restore thriving nature, we will restore ourselves and go a long way to solving our climate change problem.
The third thing we need to focus on is justice. Americans struggle with justice. Many of us don’t really get racial justice or environmental justice. We don’t understand how deeply institutionalized racial, health, education, and economic disparities are in America.
Do you live near a refinery or a coal power plant? Probably not. Do you live next to a highway with thousands of cars driving by each day, polluting your home? Probably not. Do you see beautiful, healthy nature outside your home windows? Likely.
Tens of millions of children and people living with unhealthy pollution. They suffer from neurological damage and get lower test scores. They suffer from asthma and other lung and heart conditions because of the polluted air. And the rest of us are benefiting from their sacrifices. It’s not their fault. It’s not right.
Each of us needs to stop just watching injustice and start acting and advocating for racial and environmental equities. We need to overcorrect as fast as we can. Biden’s plan to eliminate all lead pipes in America is a good example of what we need to do. All children need to get the same level of spending and opportunity from our public-school systems. Parks in lower-income communities should be as big and as nice as they are in wealthier communities. We should encourage jobs and investment in low-income communities with economic development zones.
We see the problems. We have competent and responsible federal leadership. Now’s the time to act. Reality is upon us and we all have some big responsibilities here. If we can lead environmental and economic justice and clean up our world by electrifying everything and getting that energy from renewable sources, we will multi-solve a myriad of health, jobs, nature, and climate emergencies. Let’s focus on that.
April 27 – 29, 2021, ecoAmerica hosted the 10th annual American Climate Leadership Summit see session videos HERE.