Can America Change to Help Defeat Climate Change?

by Duane Nichols on February 1, 2021

Mt. Storm coal-fired power plant shown with wind turbines on the ridge in Grant County, WV

Climate and Environment — Fighting climate change in America means changes to America

From an Article by Seth Borenstein, Washington Post, January 31, 2021

[AP] Climate isn’t the only thing changing. What comes next in the nation’s struggle to combat global warming will probably transform how Americans drive, where they get their power and other bits of day-to-day life, both quietly and obviously, experts say. So far the greening of America has been subtle, driven by market forces, technology and voluntary actions.

The Biden administration is about to change that. In a flurry of executive actions in his first eight days in office, the president is trying to steer the U.S. economy from one fueled by fossils to one that no longer puts additional heat-trapping gases into the air by 2050.

The United States is rejoining the international Paris climate accord and is also joining many other nations in setting an ambitious goal that once seemed unattainable: net-zero carbon emissions by midcentury. That means lots of changes designed to fight increasingly costly climate disasters such as wildfires, floods, droughts, storms and heat waves.

Think of the journey to a carbon-less economy as a road trip from Washington, D.C., to California that started about 15 years ago. “We’ve made it through Ohio and up to the Indiana border. But the road has been pretty smooth so far. It gets rougher ahead,” said climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, climate and energy director at the Breakthrough Institute. “The Biden administration is both stepping on the gas and working to upgrade our vehicle,” Hausfather said.

The end results of some of Biden’s new efforts may still not be noticeable, such as your power eventually coming from ever-cheaper wind and solar energy instead of coal and natural gas that now provides 59% of American power. But when it comes to going from here to there, that you’ll notice.

General Motors announced Thursday that as of 2035 it hopes to go all-electric for its light-duty vehicles, no longer selling gas cars. Experts expect most new cars sold in 2030 to be electric. The Biden administration promised 550,000 charging stations to help with the transition to electric cars.

“You will no longer be going to a gas station, but you will need to charge your vehicle whether at home or on the road,” said Kate Larsen, director of international climate policy research at the Rhodium Group. “It may be a whole new way of thinking about transportation for the average person.”

But it will still be your car, which is why most of the big climate action over the next 10 years won’t be too noticeable, said Princeton University ecologist Stephen Pacala. “The single biggest difference is that because wind and solar is distributed you will see a lot more of it on the landscape,” said Pacala, who leads a decarbonizing America study by the National Academy of Sciences that comes out next week.

Other recent detailed scientific studies show that because of dropping wind, solar and battery prices, Biden’s net-zero carbon goal can be accomplished far cheaper than feared in the past and with health benefits “many, many times’’ outweighing the costs, said Pacala, who was part of one study at Princeton. Those studies agree on what needs to be done for decarbonization, and what Biden has come out with ”is doing the things that everyone now is concluding that we should do,” Pacala said.

These are the type of shifts that don’t cost much — about $1 day per person — and won’t require people to abandon their current cars and furnaces, but replace them with cleaner electric vehicles and heat pumps when it comes time for a new one, said Margaret Torn, a senior scientist at the Department’s of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, who co-authored a peer-reviewed study Wednesday.

Part of the problem, said study co-author Ryan Jones, co-founder of Evolved Energy Research, is that for years people have wrongly portrayed the battle against climate change as a “personal morality problem” where individuals have to sacrifice by driving and flying less, turning down the heat and eating less meat.

“Actually, climate change is an industry economy issue where most of the big solutions are happening under the hood or upstream of people’s homes,” Jones said. “It’s a big change in how we produce energy and consume energy. It’s not a change in people’s day-to-day lives or it doesn’t need to be.”

One Biden interim goal — “a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035” — may not be doable that quickly, but can be done by 2050, said study co-author Jim Williams of the University of San Francisco.

Biden’s executive orders featured plans for an all-electric federal fleet of vehicles, conserving 30% of the country’s land and waters, doubling the nation’s offshore wind energy and funding to help communities become more resilient to climate disasters. Republicans and fossil fuel interests objected, calling the actions job-killers.

“Using the incredible leverage of federal government purchases in green electricity, zero-emission cars and new infrastructure will rapidly increase demand for home-grown climate-friendly technologies,” said Rosina Bierbaum, a University of Michigan environmental policy professor.

The next big thing for the administration is to come up with a Paris climate accord goal — called Nationally Determined Contribution — for how much the United States hopes to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It has to be ambitious for the president to reach his ultimate goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but it also has to be doable.

His administration promises to reveal the goal, required by the climate agreement but nonbinding, before its Earth Day climate summit, April 22. That new number “is actually the centrally important activity of the next year,” said University of Maryland environment professor Nate Hultman, who worked on the Obama administration’s Paris goal.

Getting to net zero carbon emissions midcentury means about a 43% cut from 2005 levels — the baseline the U.S. government uses — by 2030, said the Rhodium Group’s Larsen. The U.S. can realistically reach a 40% cut by 2030, which is about one-third reduction from what 2020 U.S. carbon emissions would have been without a pandemic, said Williams, the San Francisco professor.

All this work on power and vehicles, that’s easy compared with decarbonizing agriculture with high methane emissions from livestock and high-heat industrial processes such as steel-making, Breakthrough’s Hausfather said. “There’s no silver bullet for agriculture,” Hausfather said. “There’s no solar panels for cows so to speak, apart from meat alternatives, but even there you have challenges around consumer acceptance.”


See also: America Must Reclaim the Global Lead on Climate Change, Chris Murphy, Foreign Policy, January 19, 2021

Five places to start undoing the Trump administration’s damage and rebuilding U.S. leadership.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Wildfire February 1, 2021 at 9:09 am

This is a steaming heap of — wishful thinking and pretense, Spraying it with glittery green paint and putting a bow on it doesn’t change what it is.

We need to face the implications of the fact that while the proposed changes listed will not actually be enough, ANY change that reduces fossil fuel use will be vigorously opposed by Republicans and Joe Manchin.

What kind of absurdity is it to say that if getting to NET zero is compared to a trip across the country, we’re already crossing into Indiana?!

Emissions have steadily risen, despite some improvements in efficiency. I suppose this is a game of Let’s pretend: let’s pretend that shifting production to China eliminates those emissions; let’s pretend that shifting from coal to gas and thus reducing CO2 emissions is good because methane emissions don’t count; let’s pretend there is no rebound (Jevon’s) Effect in improving efficiency; let’s pretend that switching from internal combustion engine behemoths to electric behemoths will eliminate transportation emissions rather than reducing them maybe 15%; let’s pretend that various accounting tricks (offsets) and various magical new technologies just over the horizon (geoengineering) can make the emissions go away without changing our lifestyle or the capitalist system that has locked us onto this suicidal trajectory.

When this piece makes the astonishing statement that we have to cut emissions 43% from 2005 baseline to get to net zero, how does that math make any sense? Why isn’t it a 100% reduction? I’ll tell you why, it’s what’s disguised by that little word, “net”. It’s the geoengineering they are already not naming, as everyone who learns what is behind it is horrified, and they won’t be allowed to proceed with astonishingly reckless experiments with our only planet if the global public is armed with the knowledge soon enough. And they’re counting on those experiments because the bottom line is–the termination of our species is not too high a price to pay to perpetuate the economic system that has made the people in power rich, and to feed the hubris and worship of technology that forms the religion of these men, and yes, they’re nearly all men.

I believe much of this is the normal thing that happens at the end of an empire: the ruling class has so successfully insulated itself from the consequences of their decisions that when the cost comes starkly due, most of them are too busy partying to even notice or take it seriously while the decision makers among them are willing to sacrifice everything to maintain their privilege. And most of the society never gets a voice.

What this means is that collapse is inevitable. Billions will die prematurely, almost certainly. Since it’s unlikely Biden will be allowed to even do the pathetically inadequate stuff here proposed — which would get us from our current location with our ankles in the Atlantic, not crossing into Indiana — to the Appalachians.

Mary Wildfire, Roane County, WV


Peter Dykstra February 1, 2021 at 12:45 pm

A tale of two Joes — Can Joe Biden count on coal-state Senator Joe Manchin on climate action?

From Peter Dykstra, Environmental Health News, January 31, 2021

I’ve been thinking about how the precarious state of American politics will guide climate policy. It looks like the key to it all is understanding West Virginia politics. And I’m not sure anyone, anywhere, understands West Virginia politics. Or maybe it’s just me, because West Virginia politics surely beats the heck out of me.

Because somehow, pro-coal moderate Democrat Joe Manchin just became President Joe Biden’s Senate point man on climate change.

Taking his shot — A reliably Democratic state for decades, Bill Clinton carried West Virginia by 13 points in 1992. But like so many largely rural states out west, the Mountaineer State’s socially-conservative base began to erode that advantage. And its blue politics turned red in a few decades, notably helping George W. Bush win the contested 2000 Presidential election.

Elected Governor in 2005, Manchin set his targets on a U.S. Senate seat in 2010. And by “set his targets,” I mean a campaign ad had Manchin literally take a .303 and shoot a hole in a “Cap and Trade” bill, all at once boosting coal, praising guns, and threatening the Environmental Protection Agency. Nice shot, Joe.

The lone Democrat — Proceed to the Senate, a partial term to replace Robert Byrd, a political titan who had served 51 years in the Senate.

Manchin comfortably won re-election in 2012 and 2018, even while West Virginians rejected the top of the Democratic ticket in 2016. Hilary Clinton not only got crushed in West Virginia, she helped crush herself. “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” she told a March 2016 town hall, shortly before her first crushing at the non-mittened hands of Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary.

Also on Election Day 2016, West Virginians defied their own trend by choosing another Democrat for Governor. At six feet seven, 368 pounds, and with the too-Hollywood name of Jim Justice, he was the state’s wealthiest resident — and a Democratic coal baron. Seven months after his inauguration, Justice announced a switch to the GOP. Once again, Manchin was the only Democrat standing in a once all-blue state leadership.

Wild card — Should Manchin follow Justice and decamp for the Republicans, the brittle Democratic hold on the Senate would be lost, and Joe Biden’s vision for sweeping change would be lost. Manchin has never voiced such a threat, but such a move could be as politically consequential as the ones that gave Biden a 50-50 Senate “majority.”

That’s how the Senate Democrat with the most atypical track record on climate and coal came to hold so many of the party’s cards. Unlike Jim Justice, Manchin accepts the overwhelming scientific view that climate change is real, human-induced, and a deadly threat.

But he supported President Trump’s 2017 withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and he’s been an avid backer of plans to turn the Ohio River Valley into a plastics-manufacturing hub, accessing the region’s fossil fuel wealth. Manchin also backs making West Virginia a focus of carbon capture. Efforts to date to draw carbon out of fossil fuel combustion have been a multi-billion-dollar failure.

Biden’s climate team, studded with international czar John Kerry; domestic boss and former EPA Chief Gina McCarthy, and Energy Secretary designate and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, all come from a different place— philosophically and geographically—than Joe Manchin. It will be one of the first of many dramas for Team Biden’s environment dreams.


CBS News Interview February 14, 2021 at 9:53 pm

Bill Gates: The 2021 60 Minutes interview – CBS News

Bill Gates: How the world can avoid a climate disaster

Anderson Cooper reports for 60 Minutes, February 14, 2021

“Without innovation, we will not solve climate change. We won’t even come close,” Gates says.

Bill Gates helped usher in the digital revolution at Microsoft, and has spent the decades since exploring – and investing in – innovative solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems – global poverty, disease, and the coronavirus pandemic, which he’s spent nearly $2 billion on.

Bill Gates says he is determined as ever to drive innovation!

Now he is focusing on climate change, agreeing with the overwhelming majority of scientists who warn of a looming climate disaster. The good news is Gates believes it’s possible to prevent a catastrophic rise in temperatures. The bad news? He says in the next 30 years we need scientific breakthroughs, technological innovations and global cooperation on a scale the world has never seen.


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