There are so many different ideas about how we can stop ourselves from falling off the climate cliff that it can make your head spin. It is a good sign that we are starting to move away from discussions about whether climate change is real, and talking about solutions. Unfortunately, not all the solutions are going to result in a planet we can be proud to hand off to future generations.
A real clean energy plan would have a mix of policies focused on setting a trajectory for 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Pueblo City, Colorado just committed to this goal, joining 22 other communities that have made a similar commitment to renewable energy.
A great deal of attention was given to the Paris agreement and the goal of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, but the reality is that standard is not strong enough to prevent us from reaching the proverbial tipping point. Crossing this point will mean abrupt and irreversible impacts on our climate. Even with the current 1°C rise in global temperatures, we are seeing catastrophic climate impacts such as increasing severity of extreme weather, droughts, floods, and forest fires.
This is why we are calling for a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. By meeting this goal, we will have a decent chance of avoiding a temperature increase of 1.5°C. Here are some of the policies that we’ll be fighting for locally that will help bring about this goal.
Renewable Portfolio Standards
A renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is the most surefire way to get off fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy as quickly as possible. RPSs are simply telling utilities what percent of energy they must generate from renewable energy and when. To date, 29 states have adopted RPSs, and legislation is pending in states without RPSs. Many of these states with RPSs have bills proposed to strengthen their standards, including a bill in California that sets a trajectory of 100 percent renewable by 2045 and one in Massachusetts for 2050.
Like all laws, there are a cadre of special interests working to get their interests addressed in RPS laws. For instance, a number of interests profiting from fracking have created the “Renewable Natural Gas” coalition, which among other things, promotes gas as a form of renewable energy. In typical Orwellian fashion, they claim that generating electricity from gas helps states meet their RPS policy goals. Other forms of dirty energy are also lingering in state RPS definitions for renewables, such as biomass (think animal waste), waste recovery facilities (think trash incinerators), and even nuclear power and "clean" coal. By including these types of energy in RPSs, we are incentivizing dirty energy and reducing the amounts of truly clean energy that utilities will have to produce.
Reducing wasted energy through energy efficiency is core to reaching a goal of 100 percent renewable energy. Energy efficiency can be achieved through policies that improve building design standards, weatherize existing housing, improve electricity transmission efficiency and make consumer products work while using less energy. By implementing energy efficiency programs we will not only make it easier to reach 100% renewable energy, but we will create jobs and save ratepayers money through lower energy bills.
We must promote policies that make renewable energy more affordable. One of the most effective ways to do this is through net metering. Net metering allows people who install renewable energy for their homes and businesses to get paid for excess energy they put into the grid. This can help to reduce the payback time for people investing in renewable energy, thereby encouraging more renewable energy development. Numerous state studies have even shown that net metering policies benefit ratepayers who don't install renewable energy themselves through avoided energy and capacity costs; decreased or deferred generation, distribution, and transmission investments; avoided line losses; and reduced price and supply risks.
Stopping Market-Based Schemes
In addition to making sure there are good policies in place for renewable energy, we need to continue to push against false solutions being peddled by policy makers on behalf of some of the biggest polluters in the world. Chief among these policies are pollution trading and pollution taxing. Not only will these systems not get the results we need to stop climate change from destroying the planet, they are regulatory rollbacks that threaten the very foundation of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, two of the key environmental protections that essentially say, you do not have an inherent right to pollute. Quite simply, these market-based carbon pricing strategies are pay-to-pollute schemes.
It is easy to see why companies like Exxon would support policies like a carbon tax, as it will allow them to continue with business as usual, while passing any additional costs onto their customers. They know the alternative is they will have to stop destroying the planet through the extraction, refining, and sale of fossil fuels.
Big business is not the only one pushing these false solutions. Many organizations that have traditionally stood up for the environment are lining up to support policies like carbon taxes as well. Unfortunately, these will not bring about the real climate policy we desperately need.
There are many signs that a real clean energy plan is possible, and we don't need to desperately support the politically convenient, but inadequate solutions. Solar prices are reaching record lows, and prices continue to drop. Improvements in weather prediction and innovation in batteries is making storage of intermittent energy from renewable energy a problem of the past. There is a job boom in the renewable industry, as 1 in every 50 jobs created in the U.S. last year was in the solar industry. This matches the growth we have seen in solar energy, which grew by 119 percent in 2015. Perhaps one of the best signs we have that a renewable energy future is possible is the fact that wind turbines just supplied over 50 percent of the energy load in the central United States.
Food & Water Watch faced significant criticism from the environmental community when we were the first national organization to support a ban on fracking. We were called unrealistic and unstrategic for taking this strong position, and to be frank, it felt a little lonely at first. We looked at the facts and not just the politics, seeing fracking for what it is, a dangerous and unnecessary technology that destroys drinking water and threatens public health and the climate. Since we took that position the politics have changed, as New York and Vermont have banned fracking, as have hundreds of municipalities and counties, and over 1,000 organizations across the United States have joined this fight. Most notably, Senator Bernie Sanders became the first mainstream presidential candidate to endorse a ban on fracking.
One of the important lessons of this fight is that supporting what is politically convenient will hinder our ability to create a vision for the world we want to live in, and in the case of climate change, the world we need to live. When President Kennedy stood up in front of America and said that we will land on the moon in 10 years, many people said it was impossible, but he had the political will to make it happen. We don't have Kennedy in the White House right now, but what we do have is a growing movement of resistance, which can shape that vision and challenge our elected officials at every level of government to make the clean energy revolution a reality.