By Ron Zucker
We all know about climate change. We know that the planet is getting hotter and that, though the U.S. has about 4.5 percent of the world’s population, it produces almost 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. And we know that we are well on the way to blowing past the two degrees Celsius of warming that the nations of the world agreed to.
Despite this, a new a study commissioned by the UN fails to present a plan that could really address the problem. In fact, the report buys into the failed experiments of fracking and nuclear power. It even fails to consider keeping the carbon in the ground in the first place. Yet even this failed attempt shines a light on the failure of the Obama Administrations most recent proposal, the comically insufficient market-driven “Carbon Rule.”
The report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), challenged teams in each of the world’s 15 major economic nations to come up with a way to reduce emissions for that nation to 1.6 tons per person of carbon and carbon equivalents. The idea was to give them freedom to think through the issues and come up with a development plan.
The final product failed to hit its targets.
If we implemented every plan submitted, we’d only get down to about 2.3 tons per person. While this is a far cry from the 22.22 tons currently emitted per person in the U.S., or even the 11 tons emitted per capita in the EU, it is still about 44 percent higher than the goal. Worse, in part because we’ve offloaded so much of our industrial production to China, the team from China was unable to get down below 3.4 tons per person by midcentury, more than double the per capita goal in the world’s most populous country.
The report offers little to those hoping for real changes that might forestall climate change. The U.S. team continues to rely on the oil and gas industry to provide electricity and transportation. Indeed, even under its most optimistic projections, it thinks that fossil fuels will still be providing almost half of our “primary energy” in 2050. It is a mark of the desperation of planners to believe that the energy companies that have exploited our common resources with dangerous deep sea oil exploration and tragic fracking plans, while opposing research and development of renewable energy alternatives, will become the stewards of the earth who will clean up our planet.
The plan also depends on the unproven technology of “carbon capture and storage,” (CCS) the idea that we can capture the carbon from burning fossil fuels and artificially shove it back into the ground or ocean without it leaking or damaging the planet. While CCS has long been the dream of the fossil fuel community, as it will let them continue business as usual, it has so far been a promise rather than a reality.
The U.S. team foresees a major increase in nuclear power generation, providing at least 30 percent, and potentially up to 60 percent, of our electricity load. Remember that the plan foresees a significant increase in electricity for transportation, so this is a major uptick in nuclear energy.
All in all, the plan has significant flaws. Nonetheless, it is instructive in one important way. It underscores just how insufficient the Obama administration’s proposed power rule is.
Where this plan rejects switching dirty coal for fracked natural gas as the go-to fuel for electric generation, the EPA’s plan expressly expands the use of natural gas. This reliance on fracking consigns U.S. environmental standards to the natural gas industry and locks our future energy development into fossil fuels. Though it seems obvious to most of us, the EPA still does not understand that the way out of an environmental crisis caused by fossil fuels cannot be continued reliance on fossil fuels.
Worse, the target for the EPA’s plan is woefully inadequate. Even if completely enacted and actually successful, a proposition about which we have significant doubts, the Administration’s proposal retains levels above 1990 levels in 2030, instead of aiming for the target of 15-40 percent below 1990 carbon emissions by 2020.
Incremental change is the watchword all too often in Washington. This new U.N. report shows that incremental change isn’t nearly enough. That alarm is good, but the plan still relies too much on nuclear power and dangerous fracking. The only safe place for the carbon is in the ground. The way to achieve that is real investment in renewable energy, in alternatives to fracking and fossil fuels, and real regulation to force industry to stop polluting our air and water.
We can’t jump from the coal industry’s frying pan into the fracking fire. The new U.N. report attempts, but fails, to examine the whole forest. That puts it a step up on the Obama Administration’s plan, which doesn’t even try to save a few trees. We can do both, but it can’t be with false solutions such as fracked gas and nuclear power. Real action needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.