We learned two, somewhat related things this past week - atmospheric concentrations of CO2 exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in three million years, and the Republican Party is internally divided on how, or whether, to address that fact. Way more than the electoral fate of the GOP may hang in the balance. (H/t - Climate Denial Crock of the Week.)
First the bad news - the chart above shows CO2 concentrations over the past 300 years. The really steep bend in the curve is our recent history with the unprecedented 400 ppm point being reached just now. Keep in mind that 350 ppm was the level that scientists thought we could tolerate without experiencing radical environmental changes.
But as some of the news reporting makes clear - not only have none of us ever seen this much CO2 in the atmosphere - neither has any human being. Indeed, the last time CO2 levels were this high - based on ice core data - was roughly three million years ago, long before human beings appeared on the scene.
I say some of the reporting because you don’t have to poke at the underbelly of the Interwebs for long before you find denialist sites that will ask, “Hey, what’s the big deal? CO2 is good for plants so why are you folks all freaking out." As if sea level rise and massive changes in weather leading to crop failures around the world were just a walk in the park.
Which brings me to the second story from last week - that of a “civil war” within the Republican Party over how to address the issue of climate change. This is a fascinating piece at the National Journal by Coral Davenport and it describes how there is a growing divide in the GOP between politicians who refuse to admit climate change is happening and rank and file members who have become convinced based on recent events. For example, the article describes the efforts of MIT professor of atmospheric science, Kerry Emanuel, to reason with Republican Presidential hopefuls during the last election cycle. It didn’t go well:
In January 2012, just before South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, the Charleston-based Christian Coalition of America, one of the most influential advocacy groups in conservative politics, flew Emanuel down to meet with the GOP presidential candidates. Perhaps an unlikely prophet of doom where global warming is concerned, the coalition has begun to push Republicans to take action on climate change, out of worry that coming catastrophes could hit the next generation hard, especially the world’s poor.
The meetings didn’t take. “[Newt] Gingrich and [Mitt] Romney understood, … and I think they even believed the evidence and understood the risk,” Emanuel says. “But they were so terrified by the extremists in their party that in the primaries they felt compelled to deny it. Which is not good leadership, good integrity. I got a low impression of them as leaders.” Throughout the Republican presidential primaries, every candidate but one—former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was knocked out of the race at the start—questioned, denied, or outright mocked the science of climate change.
Soon after his experience in South Carolina, Emanuel changed his lifelong Republican Party registration to independent. “The idea that you could look a huge amount of evidence straight in the face and, for purely ideological reasons, deny it, is anathema to me,” he says.
Emanuel predicts that many more voters like him, people who think of themselves as conservative or independent but are turned off by what they see as a willful denial of science and facts, will also abandon the GOP, unless the party comes to an honest reckoning about global warming.
That doesn’t sound like good news for the GOP as a party, but in the short term it is even worse news for the planet. If the USA cannot lead on climate change very little will happen. If Republican politicians fear for their political survival if they acknowledge climate change is real and we need to make changes to prevent its worst consequences - then they will do nothing to help, and all too often actively work to obstruct progress. (See, e.g., Senator Inhofe.) That is a missed opportunity that we can ill afford.
As I said, the piece is fascinating reading and I commend it to you.
Amidst the continuing sturm und drang between the solar industry and the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), we came across this interesting piece over at REWorld documenting some revealing observations by Duke Energy’s CEO, Jim Rogers. Duke - the nation’s largest utility owner, sees the writing on the wall and is not sanguine about what it portends:
“It is obviously a potential threat to us over the long term and an opportunity in the short term… If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using us for backup,” Rogers said.
Rogers’ observation comes at a time when the conventional energy industry is facing “anemic” growth in power demand - due to increased efforts at energy efficiency and the growing impact of consumer-owned generation. Since IOUs make a guaranteed return on investment in building, mostly, added power generation capacity, if there is no need for additional capacity, there is no basis for future returns. Not a promising prognosis for an industry that has grown accustomed to those sweet, sweet guaranteed returns.
And that, in a nutshell, is the IOUs’ dilemma - as renewables become ever more cost-effective, and particularly once intelligent storage solutions become a part of standard solar offerings, the justification for the guaranteed existence of IOUs becomes weaker and weaker. Contrast this with the municipal utility model which is owned by the city in which it is based and which exists for the benefit of its residents. If their preference is for distributed generation, then the muni’s goal should be to facilitate the adoption of such systems. Since its customers are also its owners, the interests are aligned.
But not so with IOUs who exist to make a profit for their shareholders and those interests are not necessarily aligned with those of the monopoly-provided customers they “serve". Not surprisingly, it is the IOUs leading the charge against net metering and questioning the “fairness” of local solar power.
Which raises the question: Can we as a society afford to have IOUs anymore? In an era of carbon-driven climate change, are IOUs a dinosaur determined to fight their extinction to the bitter end, even if they take th rest of us with them?
Today during his Second Inaugural Address, President Obama committed the Country to respond to the Threat of Climate Change and emphasized the need to make rapid progress on sustainable energy sources - watch:
Which makes us wonder - were you listening, members of the Los Angeles City Council?
Tomorrow you will be taking a vote on your long-time-coming Feed-in Tariff program. Will you take our President’s admonition to heart? Or will you vote for yet more delay and uncertainty in a program that has already been delayed for far too long?
The country is watching you. Please follow the President’s lead and clear the way for this program to go into effect, Now!
Yesterday we wrote about articles questioning the benefits of solar power to utility rate payers. But another story should provide some context - Coal is set to become the dominant global energy source by 2022, with serious repercussions for all life on Earth.
Writing over at the Greener Ideal blog about a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), th post - The Future of Coal. by Susmita Baral - is full of sobering facts about the increasing use of coal throughout the world, particularly in China and India. If changes are not made, coal will equal oil as a global energy source by 2017. By 2014, according to the blog post, China will account for half of the world’s coal consumption and India will consume more coal than the U.S. Indeed, the U.S. is the only part of the world forecast to actually reduce its consumption of coal over the next decade, driven largely by the availability of cheap - sometimes fracked - natural gas.
This coal consumption comes with a terrible price in terms of CO2 emissions and subsequent climate change. One possible solution - introducing a price on carbon emissions like the cap and trade program that California has now implemented with the first auction of carbon credits taking place last November.
UPDATE - We are starting to see “news” articles that seem to be following the ALEC playbook, including one from the AP bemoaning the carbon footprint of solar modules, particularly once you considered disposal of associated hazardous waste. But not so fast, says this piece which offers a contextual rebuttal.
The ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - the organization that brought you the much maligned “stand your ground laws” - has trained its guns on another vulnerable target: economic support for renewable energy. Now it is up to the supporters of a clean energy future to push back against ALEC’s concerted campaign of “subversion” against renewables.
We have written before about the PR problems facing the solar industry, a problem that continues to this day. However, we are starting to see that this problem isn’t simply the fault of misinformed or lazy reporters. To the contrary, it now appears that there is an orchestrated campaign underway with the expressed intent of denigrating the entire renewable energy industry - and the spearhead of that campaign is ALEC.
ALEC’s mission - funded by such dirty energy sources as Exxon Mobil and the Koch brothers - is to develop conservative legislation for adoption by state legislatures around the country. Although generally unknown to the public, ALEC has had considerable success pushing its conservative agenda, which now includes climate change denial. Not content with promoting “model” legislation that would roll back Renewable Portfolio Standards, ALEC is now looking to create a national organization devoted to making the wind industry in particular - and potentially all renewables in general - unacceptable to the public, and thus to policy makers.
The Guardian newspaper got a copy of an ALEC internal memo that laid out their ultimate goal:
Cause subversion in message of industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty).
Ultimate Goal: Change policy direction based on the message.
While it may be true that the present target of ALEC’s efforts is the wind industry, one need not be a visionary to realize that if they can succeed there the solar industry will be next. And while the Orwellian prospect of “turning green to black and clean to dirty” might seem like an unlikely goal, these types of “big-lie” campaigns have been successful in the past. Indeed, the failure to take meaningful national action on Climate Change is at least in part attributable to the tactics of the Heartland Institute, coincidentally one of the co-conspirators on this scheme with ALEC.
So how do we fight back? Here are a number of ways:
Without a doubt the folks supporting ALEC have more money for this fight than does the renewable energy industry. But we have the people on our side with more than 90% of the American electorate supportive of solar and other forms of clean, green energy. Let this be our wake-up call - we are making strides and our opponents have noticed and are now fighting back. As has been noted before, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
It’s winning time!
«climate change» «commercial solar» cpuc «enphase energy» «feed-in tariff» fit fluxhome gwp ladwp «net metering» pg&e pwp «run on sun» sce seia «solar power» «solar rebates» solarcity usc «westridge school for girls»