August 16, 2022

Confronting the US Federal Government’s Failure to Lead on Climate

Confronting the US Federal Government’s Failure to Lead on Climate

Four years of Donald Trump and a year and a half of Joe Manchin have crippled many, but not all, of our national climate plans. Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure bill includes more than $300 billion in environmental capital, and the green federal procurement policy calls for another $600 billion in annual spending. But federal incentives for solar power and electric vehicles were vetoed by the senator from the fossil fuel land of the West. This hurts our home solar and automotive industries as they compete with companies where governments subsidize these vital industries. If Manchin wasn’t so clearly in the pocket of the fossil fuel business, he’d be pushing for subsidies to go along with establishing plants in his home state. But West Virginia’s terrible leadership is leaving the state in economic trouble as they double down on a dying industry and refuse to pivot to the future. West Virginia’s poverty rate is 17.7 percent, the fourth worst in the United States. Only Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico are worse. Manchin can use his temporary influence to advance poverty reduction in his home state. Instead, he uses it in a futile attempt to save the fossil fuel business.

While federal inertia is frustrating, it is not fatal. Pundits and pundits continue to give the US national government more importance than it deserves. We are only one country, and within our country, the national government is not omnipotent. Yesterday, in New York TimesJonathan Wiseman and Jazmin Ulloa reflected this conventional view of some form of climate change as a political concern when they observed that:

Voters already grappling with inflation, fed up with Covid and adjusting to tectonic shifts like the end of constitutionally-protected abortions may shrug off the Democrats’ latest defeat. to be And that may be why climate change remains an issue with little political power, both for those pushing for dramatic action and for those standing in the way.

They note that most people do not view climate as a major political issue. These types of polls are highly volatile and measure basic concerns like food prices or rising crime, not people’s core values ​​and beliefs. The problem with this call for dramatic action is when slow and steady wins the race for the climate crisis, like the tortoise and the hare. Decarbonisation is complex and no single action, however dramatic, will achieve it. The media prefers the show. I prefer reality.

Despite national setbacks, states, localities, corporations, and major nonprofits in education, medicine, and culture all have greenhouse gas reduction goals and are serious about meeting them. A Brookings Report 2020 showed that many cities had set targets and while reductions had been achieved, progress was slow. A 2017 World Resources Institute studyUpdated in August 2021, it shows that many US states have been reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. According to WRI:

Overall, US greenhouse gas emissions fell by 9% from 2005 to 2018. However, the story varies by state. Thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C., reduced their emissions from 2005 to 2018, with Maine, New Hampshire and Alabama leading the way. Maine benefits from vast forest lands that act as a carbon sink to absorb more carbon dioxide than it releases. The state also saw a decline in emissions in the industry sector, driven by a decline in the share of traditional energy-intensive industries and growing service industries such as finance, insurance, real estate, healthcare and tourism. In contrast, the reductions in New Hampshire and Alabama were mainly driven by the clean electricity and heat sector. Twelve states increased their emissions, led by Mississippi, North Dakota and Idaho. North Dakota’s increase was primarily due to increased shale gas production Lack of standards requiring operators to adopt all cost-effective measures to control methane emissions. At about the same time, 41 states It reduced its CO2 emissions while growing its economy, proving that climate action and economic prosperity go hand in hand.

Both California and New York have significant greenhouse gas reduction goals and are showing signs of being serious about meeting them. In addition to infrastructure and procurement, the federal government also retains authority to reduce emissions from motor vehicles and power plants. They have to set emission standards for power plants and vehicles and use old command and control regulations. This could promote the use of electric vehicles and indirectly eliminate coal as an energy source by making the cost of controlling natural gas emissions a more cost-effective bridge fuel to renewables.

Modernizing America’s energy system will come faster with federal leadership, but modernization will happen anyway. The question is, will energy modernization be so slow as to hurt America’s economic competitiveness? If Europe and China modernize their energy systems with smart grid technology, high-capacity transmission lines, and low-cost solar and wind power, their economies will have lower energy costs than the US. America’s inability to subsidize renewable energy and electric vehicles is compounded by its inability to build high-capacity transmission lines. Catherine Clifford wrote a great piece on the topic of transition CNBCWebsite in late June. In an article titled “Fierce Local Battles Over Power Lines Are a Bottleneck for Clean Energy,” he reports:

“The existing system of transmission lines is not sufficient for the large-scale deployment of clean energy that the country needs to meet its decarbonization goals to combat global warming… However, building transmission lines is a complex task that can lead to battles Get stuck in a severe place. . A study published in June in the magazine Energy policy Found 53 wind, solar, and scale instruments Geothermal energy Projects that were delayed or blocked between 2008 and 2021 due to local opposition. These projects represent approximately 9,586 megawatts of potential energy generation capacity… Building transmission lines to distribute renewable energy is more important than using fossil fuels because with coal, natural gas, or nuclear baseload power, the energy source can be moved to where it is needed. It is going to be transferred. its necessary.”

While Biden’s infrastructure law includes $20 billion to modernize the power grid, full-scale expansion and repair would cost much more and be difficult to achieve without federal leadership. What is more likely are government-level grid modernization efforts in countries struggling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This may be suboptimal from a national or global perspective, but it allows (mainly blue) countries to reduce their energy costs.

The wild card in the decarbonization effort is the development of new technology. We hypothesize that subsidies are needed to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy and electric vehicles based on existing technologies. But advances in battery technology and solar cell technology could lower the cost of distributed energy generation and electric vehicles. Just as people have been disconnected from cable TV and wired internet, it may be possible to disconnect from the power grid itself. The inventor who creates an inexpensive home energy kit and the company that manufactures and distributes it will make a lot of money. While there is a real financial incentive to develop this technology, there is no certainty that this will happen.

Although technology and the free market may save us, relying on science fiction and fantasy to deal with floods, droughts, rising sea levels, famines, and extreme weather doesn’t make sense right now. We must mobilize the technologies we have now to build the technologies of the future while investing in research and development. This is made more difficult by the ineffectiveness of American politics in Washington DC and many states.

Despite countless political problems and the resignation of national leadership, the transition to renewable energy is underway and fossil fuels will eventually be phased out. The US Supreme Court, the Republican Party, Joe Manchin, and the fossil fuel industry have no urgency about the climate crisis. Globally, the picture is less overtly ideological, but the political expediency of autocrats like Vladimir Putin leads to decisions that prioritize the use of fossil fuels. Nevertheless, many economic and political power-holders around the world understand the nature of our environmental crisis and are willing to act on it. The actions of institutional leaders in governments and corporations globally have set this transition in motion, and I believe it is unstoppable. What is less clear is the damage caused by the delay. Joe Manchin, like Donald Trump before him, poses a challenge to all of us to figure out how to achieve greenhouse gas reductions in the absence of US national leadership. It has to be done anyway.


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