On the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 41 scheduled speakers and a handful of walk-ins gave testimony at the Environmental Protection Agency’s New York City listening session on new regulations for carbon emissions from existing power plants. Some of the speakers spoke of theoretical technologies that would make it possible to continue burning fossil fuels, but the majority of the speakers called for action to transition away from fossil fuels, and many proposed solutions.
Many of the witnesses told personal stories of risk, cost or tragedy, relating to the burning of fossil fuels. They urged aggressive action to mitigate global climate change, and soon, before the worsening crisis passes crucial tipping points. Some of us proposed policy and technology solutions, or provided information showing the economic, commercial, and climate wisdom of speeding the transition to clean, renewable fuels.
Two things stood out, above all others, to me:
- First of all, there was very little serious discussion about any alternative to reducing carbon emissions.
- And second, the solutions now available are much more robust, scalable, and economically viable, than even a few years ago.
If all of the information provided to the EPA at yesterday’s event, in New York City alone, were compiled into an advisory report for regulators, for Congress and for the federal government more broadly, we would have a blueprint for a rapid, imaginative, clean energy economy. If we could send a strong market signal, new capital could begin to flow to alternatives. With the options we now have available, there is no reason not to be immersed in a true energy economy paradigm shift.
Though not in attendance, Jigar Shah—the founder of SunEdison and former CEO of the Carbon War Room—has written, in his book Creating Climate Wealth: Unlocking the Impact Economy, that “In just the last 5 years, about $1 trillion has been invested in the deployment of renewable resources—most of it from mainstream capital sources. Shah argues that a smart strategy for steering more mainstream capital to climate-related impact investing could bring another $10 trillion into clean energy resources in coming decades.
A mother from Philadelphia addressed the hearing, overcome with emotion. She explained that her two children had severe health adversities related to carbon pollution, and wept, as she spoke. She urged the EPA to be swift and comprehensive in implementing aggressive new emissions reduction targets, to allow her children to have a future.
A lot of people’s eyes teared up with her, and she earned a wave of applause from the entire room. She did not speak alone. She was joined by ClimateMama Harriet Shugarman, and other concerned mothers, fathers and next-generation parents. Harriet said in her statement:
We need to recognize and acknowledge the true cost of carbon pollution, which is a huge economic burden on our country. The cost of carbon and it’s impact on our children’s lives is a social, economic, and moral cost, that we are passing on to them; a debt we could begin to pay down now. By not addressing the cost of carbon, we are very possibly creating a future for our children which will not be a viable or easily livable one.
One young woman from Astoria, Queens, revealed, with a mix of anger and sadness, that she has been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, after years of living in a bridge-and-highway-wrapped urban area known as “Asthma Valley“.
Each of these witnesses was supported, even surrounded, by an array of hard policy proposals, founded on proven science and sound economics. The math is on the side of clean alternatives, and the reasons for continued delay no longer stand up to scrutiny.
The message was clear: if EPA and the federal government in general want the United States to stop burning fossil fuels, the resulting transition could spur job creation, investment and a more decentralized, more economically viable energy economy. The industries standing in the way of this progress do not have to be left out; they can restructure existing investment strategies to transition affordably.
And when that transition is made, human lives will be saved, quality of life for millions of people will improve, and our nation’s relationship to the Earth’s life-supporting climate system will be restored to rational, natural balance. In the scenario citizens, scientists, activists and economists seek, nobody has to be disadvantaged, and we can save hundreds of billions in energy costs.
Here is a brief run-down of some context, some targets and some solutions:
- The Supreme Court has ruled: CO2 is a harmful pollutant;
- In absence of Congressional action, the EPA must take executive action;
- Climate destabilization is worsening, and we need to take action to mitigate impacts;
- We can transition to clean energy by 2035, reduce atmospheric CO2 levels to 350 ppm by 2070;
- Regulations should work to quantify the pervasive externalized cost of carbon fuels in each case;
- Regulations should measure the arc of planned disengagement from fossil fuels in each case;
- Natural gas is not enough—new studies show fugitive methane could overturn all emissions-reducing gains over coal;
- Clean energy can more than cover our total domestic energy demand.
So, the law says the EPA must act. There is no substantive mitigation policy, nationally. We can shift to clean energy affordably by 2035; doing that will allow us to stabilize CO2 levels at 350 ppm, by 2070. The EPA has the authority to guide a responsible economy-wide transition away from fossil fuels, and will face mounting public pressure to do so, if Congress does not take action.
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Originally published Oct. 24, 2013, at PoetEconomist.com