Citing Renewable Energy Achievements Can Spur Collective Climate Action

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There were a lot of dark subtexts to the recent IPCC report. Greta Thunberg admonished global leaders, saying that they “seem more focused on giving false hope to those causing the problem rather than telling the blunt truth that would give us a chance to act.” UN Secretary General António Guterres decried the “criminal abdication of leadership.” Yes, climate change is the greatest existential problem of all time, and collective climate action is imperative — now.

The scientists who collaborated on the most recent IPCC Mitigation report firmly stated that any declaration of inevitable doom would be a barrier to action. The world has made progress to mitigate the climate crisis. What would happen if, instead of forecasting worst case climate scenarios, we treat the climate crisis as a call to action, one that is achievable with collective climate action grounded in a litany of renewable energy success stories?

This We Know is True

In February, 2022, the IPCC report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability outlined that, to avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity, and infrastructure, “ambitious, accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, at the same time as making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.” The Mitigation followup report stated that nations, businesses, communities, and individuals all have a role to play in shaping a safer and more sustainable future.

Falling costs have been the biggest factor in the explosion of renewable energy. At the same time, countries are increasingly motivated to find suitable renewable options to decarbonize their energy supply.

Solar Power: Since 2010, the cost of solar photovoltaic electricity has fallen 85%, according to the World Resources Institute. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) adds that, in the last decade alone, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 33%. Federal policies like the solar Investment tax credit, rapidly declining costs, and increasing demand across the private and public sector for clean electricity have created more than 121 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity installed nationwide, enough to power 23.3 million homes.

Wind Turbines: The US Department of Energy says that more wind energy was installed in 2020 than any other energy source, accounting for 42% of new US capacity. Wind energy provided more than 10% of total in-state electricity generation in 16 states. Wind turbine prices have steeply declined from levels seen a decade ago, from $1,800/kW in 2008 to $770–$850 per kilowatt (kW) now.

Battery Storage: US battery power capacity grew by 35% in 2020 and has tripled in the last 5 years. Electric power markets are undergoing significant structural change, explains the US Energy Information Administration. Large-scale battery storage, they say, should contribute 10,000 megawatts to the grid between 2021 and 2023—10 times the capacity in 2019.

Electric Vehicles: Global passenger EV sales increased by 94% year-on-year for the third quarter 2021 to nearly 1.7 million units, which means that over one million EVs had been sold for 4 consecutive quarters. The demand of the global EV market size is estimated to cross $980 billion by 2028, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.5% between 2022 and 2028.

Hydropower: Hydropower stations convert the kinetic energy of flowing or falling water into electrical energy and which is provided to power transmission systems. The global hydropower generation market is expected to grow from $261.97 billion 2021 to $297.49 billion in 2022 at a CAGR of 13.6%.

Pushing Governments toward Climate Solution Policies

Oil and natural gas prices reached multi-year highs in 2021, amid surging demand and supply-chain bottlenecks due to the pandemic. The increased price of energy has become a major political issue in advanced and emerging economies alike. Governments can use policy measures such as taxes on carbon emissions, financial incentives for installing renewables, and renewable portfolio standards to accelerate the transition to clean energy sources, the IPCC says.

Making the Carbon Tax Stick: The Carbon Center defines a carbon tax as the core policy for reducing and eventually eliminating the use of fossil fuels whose combustion is destabilizing and destroying our climate. Utilizing existing tax collection mechanisms, a carbon tax is paid “upstream,” or at the point where fuels are extracted from the Earth and put into the stream of commerce. Placing a tax on carbon gives consumers and producers a monetary incentive to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

US Defense Production Act: Last week, President Joe Biden invoked the law to boost US output of critical minerals used in EV batteries and reduce dependence on foreign supply chains. Now the Energy Security and Independence Act is being posed as a pathway for Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act and expand domestic supply chains for heat pumps, solar panels, wind turbines, and other technologies crucial to the nation’s transition to clean energy.

Build Back Better: The progress of the Biden administration’s signature Build Back Better social spending bill is crucial, even in a watered-down version due to intransigence by Senator Joe Manchin (D-Coal). Its intended $500 billion in incentives for households and businesses to adopt green energy and EVs still represents the centerpiece of Biden’s climate agenda.

Federal Buildings, Energy Efficiency Standards: The US Department of Energy (DOE) will have new energy efficiency requirements for federal buildings in 2023. The new codes and standards are estimated to potentially save more than $15 billion in net costs over the next 30 years and allow the federal government to lead by example in energy efficiency. According to the DOE, implementation will save $4.2 million dollars in operating costs within the first year. Investments in energy efficiency also help curb overall demand for power.

Fit for 55: The EU’s “Fit for 55” plan will move from the proposal stage to legislation this year. Most notably, it includes the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), a climate measure that should prevent the risk of carbon leakage and support the EU’s increased ambition on climate mitigation, while ensuring WTO compatibility. CBAM will introduce a border tax on imports for goods produced through high-emissions activities.

Divestment: The US, Canada, and 18 other countries committed at the COP26 climate summit to stop public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of 2022 and steer their spending into clean energy instead. Those proclamations may have been altered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the essential truth is that the countries that signed the pledge together invested nearly $18 billion on average each year in international fossil fuel projects from 2016-2020, according to analysis by non-profit Oil Change International.

Nationalize the US Fossil Fuel Industry: Writing for The American Prospect, Robert Pollin, an economics professor and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, highlighted a step that supporters argue could be incredibly effective at combating the global crisis: nationalizing the US fossil fuel industry. The government, Pollin explained, could determine fossil fuel energy production levels and prices to reflect both the needs of consumers and the requirements of the clean-energy transition.

Start by Asking the Kids

The first large-scale investigation of climate anxiety in children and young people globally and its relationship to government response last September revealed startling results. The survey reached 10,000 young people (aged 16-25 years) in ten countries and queried them about their thoughts and feelings about climate change and government response.

Respondents were worried about climate change (59% very or extremely worried, 84% at least moderately worried). Over 50% felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. Over 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning, and many reported a high number of negative thoughts about climate change.

When a problem seems too complex and beyond individual action, it may be difficult for individuals to rise to the level of motivation. Yet, the experience of hope as an emotion-focused coping function may be a starting place to increase motivation and collective climate action.

Some young people believe they can make a difference in the climate crisis. With energy and drive, they’re persuading friends and family to take the climate issue seriously. They’re picketing to influence politicians and policies. They’re staging sit-ins at legislative offices, making sure their voices are heard. They’re using their facility with social media to rail against Big Oil.

We can do our part to help more youth decry government climate inaction by sharing the facts that we know about renewable energy’s advances. Climate education — informal, formal — through networks, cultural spaces, academic sources — works.

Demand a Climate Revolution: Final Thoughts

More than 1,000 scientists across the globe chained themselves to the doors of oil-friendly banks, blocked bridges, and occupied the steps of government buildings this week to send an urgent message to the international community — the ecological crisis is accelerating, and only a “climate revolution” will be enough to avert catastrophe. Common Dreams reported that these scientists are rejecting a business-as-usual approach to the climate crisis.

Let’s each do our part by joining in the collective climate action, shall we? We need to be taking full responsibility for zero emissions in our lives, sharing information with others about the power and promise of renewable energy, and voting for governmental leaders who will reject fossil fuels in all their devious forms.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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