Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

To Win the Race Against Climate Change, Embrace “YES IN MY BACKYARD”

Peter Dugas

There’s no free lunch when it comes to energy. There are always costs and benefits. There are always impacts that some people think are terrific and other people think are not too good. There are always tradeoffs… but we are in an existential race against climate change,” said Senator Angus King (I-ME).

We live in a period of drastic, unprecedented changes. Obviously, climate change, accelerating beyond scientific predictions with alarming regularity, is the existential threat of our time and humankind’s biggest challenge. At the same time, an amazing technological revolution has made renewable energy (particularly solar but in some cases wind and hydro power) the cheapest form of energy humankind has ever created.

But the revolutionary change that is most needed is for those of us concerned about the frightening acceleration of climate change (looking at you Green Energy Times readers) is psychological and cultural.

For decades, and for very good reasons, environmentalists have perfected the art of saying ‘no’ to DDT, to drilling on public land, to nuclear power, to the Keystone pipeline, etc. For most of these efforts, environmentalists should be rightfully proud. But for us to tackle our biggest challenge, climate change, there has to be a recalibration of strategy and a sober, evidence-based look at the speed and scale of changes we will need to save ourselves from worst-case climate scenarios.

Psychologically, we are much more repelled by the physical changes we see in our landscapes (wind farms, hydro dams, power lines, solar farms) than we are to the invisible greenhouse gas pollution those changes are designed to counter. It is an unfair fight: on the one hand the jarring changes to our landscape as what was a grassy field becomes a solar farm or a stretch of woods becomes a corridor for power lines. On the other hand, ever-accumulating greenhouse gasses suffocate our biosphere in a blanket of pollution but remain odorless, invisible and imperceptible. So, while we may bemoan the visible impacts our renewable energy transition is creating, we remain largely oblivious to the greenhouse gas emissions embedded in nearly every transaction which, in the U.S. alone, currently puts out the equivalent of a Mount St. Helens explosion (540 million tons) of CO2 every 18 minutes.

Fortunately, with significant advocacy from Citizens’ Climate Lobby and other groups, the federal government has passed landmark legislation in the bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, passed with the slimmest possible margin in 2022, to accelerate our transition to a clean energy future.

But because of decades of delay and inaction leading up to these bills, we need a lot more to not only achieve our Paris Protocol goals, but even to achieve the promised emissions savings from recent legislation.

Ask any renewable energy expert and they will tell you: the bottleneck limiting our transition to renewable energy is the arduously slow and often litigious permitting system. When the Inflation Reduction Act passed, we were promised 40% emissions reductions by 2030. That is short of our Paris Protocol promise and Biden administration’s goal of 50% reduction by 2030, but a good start. However, analysis from Princeton University’s REPEAT Project shows that without policy changes to streamline and shorten permitting, those emissions reductions are expected to be reduced to merely 28%. Many of these permitting rules were created to prevent dirty fossil fuel energy projects from being located where they might harm the health and wellbeing of communities. Ironically, these same rules now prevent the deployment of clean energy desperately needed to replace fossil fuels.

For this reason, clean energy permitting reform – designed to bring in stakeholder opinion earlier, avoid litigation, and get to a ‘yes’ (or ‘no’) answer to permitting requests faster – is one of this year’s primary asks for the 1000+ Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers meeting our federal lawmakers this summer in our nation’s capital.

Thankfully, the prospects appear good, even in these divisive times, for clean energy permitting reform legislation. Senator Agnus King (I-ME), a longtime environmental leader with decades of experience in renewable energy, made an impassioned call for environmentalists and lawmakers alike to embrace and accelerate the clean energy transformation, even if it means hard choices, because losing the race against climate change would be so dire.

In Senator King’s Senate floor speech, he states, “There is no transition (from fossil fuels to renewables) without transmission… You can’t be in favor of electrification, renewable power, electric vehicles, if you’re not in favor of mining lithium you need for the battery or covering a lot of farmer’s fields with solar panels.”

When Senator King was Maine’s governor, he sought highest environmental standards but at the same time the most timely and predictable permitting process in the country – two notions that he felt were not necessary at odds. If we stick with old environmentalist habits to always say “no” we lock ourselves into continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels. If we fight local renewable energy projects, we set our course for continued accelerating climate damage. If we fight local mining for raw materials necessary for renewable energy, we either rely on those materials from countries with little or no labor or human rights protections.

No less environmental luminary than Bill McKibbon, writing in Mother Jones magazine last year, called on environmentalists to fight their urge to resist change and embrace the transition to a decarbonized economy.

Senator King evokes Abraham Lincoln’s December 2, 1862 speech before Congress which applies equally well to our fraught time as his. “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty; therefore, we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.”

Peter Dugas is the New England Regional Director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby

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