Last week the Obama administration released the National Climate Assessment report. As the report shows, climate impacts are happening now — whether it’s constant extreme weather alerts, droughts and wildfires in the West, hurricane superstorms, or the melting Arctic leading to an extremely snowy winter in the South. But climate denialism continues to grip leaders in the Congress, some of whom seem to do everything in their power to defend climate polluters and fend off the transition away from fossil fuels.
Fortunately, the American Energy [R]evolution is happening whether the Koch brothers like it or not.
In a Senate briefing on May 12th, Greenpeace released the Energy [R]evolution: Sustainable USA Energy Outlook. The E[R] aims to wean the economy off dirty fuels as thoroughly and quickly as possible, and in a way that is technologically, politically, and ecologically realistic. This report is part of a global analysis showing how the international economy can transition to nearly 100% renewable energy by 2050, while assuming no new ‘breakthrough technologies.’ In some ways this transition is happening even more quickly than we proposed in previous scenarios, as Chapter 4 shows.
The driving goal of the E[R] is stopping global climate disruption, which is caused primarily by burning coal, oil, and methane gas. But the reasons to modernize our energy system are innumerable. By phasing out fossil fuels and phasing in renewable energy we can achieve the following goals:
Over 90% of energy demand comes from burning fossil fuels. This is a comprehensive economic drain. The old, antiquated energy system hordes resources for its endless inputs, outputs, and undesirable externalities, from extraction, transportation, to fuel processing, to combustion, pollution abatement, and, finally, to waste processing and storage.
It is obvious in our post-recession world that we have neglected upkeep of infrastructure required for the economy to function. Bridges need maintenance, urban sewer systems are corroded, entire cities like Detroit have been abandoned by industry.
The E[R] demonstrates that transitioning to a renewable energy economy can free resources for economic development. It means more and better jobs, greater energy independence, and it is more democratic as citizens attain more control of energy production. Compared with the Energy Information Agency energy outlook, the transition to renewables creates more jobs at every stage of the energy transition, with 34% more jobs by 2030.
Even today the United States mines a billion tons of coal each year, most of which is burned at home. Coal has monopolized almost half of US rail capacity, not counting eventual transportation of toxic coal ash which is the second largest waste stream in the country. The electricity sector is the largest user of freshwater, with a fossil based system using steam turbines, and coal is the worst culprit.
Water impacts are also a dominant concern of oil and gas extraction. Fracking has come to symbolize wanton abuse by an industry historically unfettered by federal health standards. Parts of the country like West Texas are stricken by historic drought, and they are sucked even dryer to get at the fuel probably itself an instigator of a phenomenal lack of rain. Meanwhile, re-injecting its fracking wastes has made neighboring Oklahoma the second most earthquake-prone state.
It is incredibly frustrating to see the rise of extreme fossil fuel extraction, particularly attempts by oil companies to drill in the Arctic. Global warming and melting ice may make the Arctic more accessible, but the local climate and remoteness still make it vastly more expensive. The fact that industry is having to rely on more extreme and costly extraction methods is a sign its end is coming. The US coal industry is investing in exports for its survival. People from Oregon and Washington aren’t so interested in turning their green states into a coal hub. Coal, oil, and methane gas from anywhere sully the planet everywhere.
American leaders need to view both demand and supply of fossil fuels as a problem. We must abolish all support for dirty energy, whether used domestically or abroad. Legislation like the “End Polluter Welfare Act,” introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) is a good start. Obama banning public financing of coal-fired power plants abroad is another good step. We need much more action by our leaders.
The Energy [R]evolution shows that with political leadership, renewable energy sources could provide around 97 percent of electricity produced in the USA by 2050. They could also provide 94 percent of our total heating and cooling demand, accounting for around 92 percent of our final energy demand. The E[R] blueprint would lead to about 1.5 million energy-related jobs, or 35 percent more than the government outlook, in 2030. The fuel cost savings in the scenario described reaches $6.1 trillion, or $153 billion per year. Overall costs would be about 50% lower than the current government outlook.
A day will come soon when the Republican party abandons its climate denier platform, and the President realizes her climate legacy rides on complete embrace of a clean energy economy. These two developments will undoubtedly be mutually reinforcing. In the meantime, policymakers and citizens across the country can keep moving forward with the US Energy (R)evolution.