The elections sucked, but don't despair
The elections sucked, but don't despair
Sure, there are a bunch of new folks in Congress who don't even believe that climate change is happening or that it's due to our carbon emissions. Things were so bad this year that we're lucky the Lisa Murkowski was reelected, since Joe Miller was even worse. I'm not going to suggest that things aren't bad, but there are some reasons to be hopeful.
Gridlock in Congress
There's virtually no chance that a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases (GHG) or an economy wide carbon tax will make it through Congress. Homestar, a program to provide tax incentives to perform residential energy upgrades, has a slight chance, but basically we should expect nothing out of Congress other than annoying and time-wasting hearings in the House. But gridlock also means nothing bad may even see the light of day. With the Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House, things like removing the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions shouldn't pass, either.
Action in the Executive Branch to Address GHG Emissions Directly and Indirectly
As I've written about in the past, the executive branch is moving at full speed on several fronts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:
- Auto fuel efficiency standards have already been increased and a significant future increase has already been purposed.
- EPA is in the process of creating greenhouse gas emission rules for large point source emitters. This adds greenhouse gases to the list of pollutants regulated under the clean air act, a framework that has been successful in reducing other hazardous emissions.
The Clean Air Act has also tightened the rules on emissions of several pollutants that directly impact issues like acid rain, smog and asthma. As these rules tighten, it's putting operators of coal plants in a bind: spend hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading their plants or shut them down. With the low cost of natural gas, often the decision is to shut down the dirtiest and least efficient of these coal plants.
Now that the problems with coal ash are understood, thus putting additional pressure on the operators of these plants, it's likely that even more operators will say, "just shut it down."
Renewable Portfolio Standards
According to the definitive site, Wikipedia, 35 states and the District of Columbia have a renewable portfolio standard. These require utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources by a given date. The exact shape of the law varies from state to state, but they create a large market across the country for renewable energy sources. The electric grid is a zero sum game: with these new wind farms and solar panels going up something needs to be shut down. That will probably be the oldest and dirtiest coal plants.
One important bright spot in the election was California. The voters there soundly defeated Prop 23, which would have revoked their groundbreaking climate law. They also elected Jerry Brown as governor, who is a supporter of strong action to reduce GHG emissions. California has long been a seed where things get started and then spread across the country. As California moves forward on a model to reduce emissions, other states will have an infrastructure to join rather than build something from scratch.
So, we elected a bunch of bozos to Congress who don't believe that climate change is a problem. Luckily most, but definitely not all, of our leaders in industry understand that we need to act on this and the companies that innovate in ways that reduce our emissions will prevail in the long run. Even Exxon has a page on their web site about what they're doing to reduce GHG emissions. Whether you look at GE's growing wind farm division (which they bought from Enron) or Bill Gates investment in 4th generation nuclear or the myriad of companies working on batteries for electric cars or algae for biofuels or low-cost solar power or more ideas than I can list, companies large and small are working on developing the technologies that we'll need to meet our energy needs in a post-carbon future. Strong government policy would encourage more research and much more deployment of existing technologies, but the smart companies aren't waiting for that. Remember that the Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones. Hopefully we'll be able to find something better in time.
It would be great if we sent a bunch of folks to Washington who at least talked to the best and brightest and they would solve all of our problems. That didn't happen and I'm not sure if it ever does. So you need to get involved. Talk to your city council, your county executive, your state representative. Make sure they know that you expect them to be working on this problem. If they don't understand it, help educate them. Educate your neighbors while you're at it. Join a local organization that's working on climate change. Support good projects, oppose bad ones. Work to improve transit and biking in your community. Drive less. Insulate your home. Remember that Obama's slogan was not "Yes, I can," but “Yes, we can."