The Clean Energy Train

Ecomodern Dispatches

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December 05, 2016 | Emma Brush

If a majority of Americans think the country is “on the wrong track,” as The Economist reports, and if the country is veering off its democratic rails, as an upcoming study covered by The New York Times suggests, what room for hope and optimism remains in this brave new world?

The clean energy train comes to mind. Jessika Trancik, professor of energy studies at MIT, for instance, points to current clean energy commitments at the state, national, and international levels as evidence of locked-in climate progress. The Economist believes that renewable energy will continue to grow ever more attractive, especially to countries like China and India, as costs continue to decline. Bill Nye (the Science Guy) thinks clean energy provides an opportunity for “common ground” among Americans. And it definitely seems to; as Stephen Lacey reports, clean energy has shown to draw unprecedented bipartisan support. “Although many Americans believe their country has fundamentally changed after the election, the story on clean energy remains the same,” as Lacey says. “People of all political persuasions want more of it.”

Clean energy, then, provides a glimmer of climate hope—and arguably the most important one, when it comes to long-term emissions reductions. While bipartisan action is certainly on the table, this will also entail broadening coalitions within our own parties and championing solutions beyond narrowly defined renewable development. Viewing clean energy as a vehicle for not only consensus but also inclusion may help to unite us yet.

More in ecomodernist news:

David Biello and Andrew Revkin discuss the need for optimism in the Anthropocene, offering a bevy of insights surrounding energy, climate change, and humanity. For one: “Despair does not inspire action in the same way that a little bit of hope might,” as Biello says. “There’s always hope. It can always be a little bit better. Maybe you can’t stop climate change at one degree Celsius but maybe you can at two, maybe at three. Each of those is better than the alternative.”

Eduardo Porter details the findings of Breakthrough’s recent climate policy report, which suggests that explicit emissions targets and treaties have “little or no discernible impact upon emissions.” Domestic policies targeted at energy and innovation, rather, have driven real progress in emissions reductions, Porter reports.

Joshua Goldstein and Steven Pinker dish out a series of “inconvenient truths for the environmental movement”—namely, that fossil fuels and development have historically delivered prosperity; that nuclear power, “the world’s most abundant and scalable carbon-free energy source,” must be a central component to combating climate change; and that ideology remains a significant barrier to climate progress in the meantime. A pragmatic focus on investment in clean energy technologies, on the other hand, would better serve contemporary environmentalism, say Goldstein and Pinker.

Ronald Bailey covers Breakthrough’s Energy for Human Development report, homing in on its view on development in light of climate change. “They correctly point out that forcing poor people to forego economic development in order to prevent climate change is a ‘morally dubious proposition,’” Bailey writes. Especially useful in this context is the connection he draws between the report and a scenario within the IPCC’s Shared Socioeconomic Pathways framework in which emissions and temperatures rise in order to foster robust human and social development, and thus climate resilience. “Is that future a hell on earth?” Bailey asks. On the contrary; this agenda “results in the eradication of extreme poverty, greater gender equality, and universal access to education, safe drinking water, and modern energy before mid-century.”

Jeffrey Sachs calls for greater, and more targeted, public and private investment in innovation, including in fourth-generation nuclear and advanced agricultural technologies. Citing the Manhattan Project, the U.S. space enterprise, the Internet, and fracking, among a slew of other examples, Sachs maintains that “the track record of public-private-academic-philanthropic partnerships to advance science and technologies in critical areas is a key pillar of America’s prosperity and technological excellence.”

A recent “Food Matters” report, from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, discusses the emissions that stem from global agriculture and the possibilities that exist for mitigating them. “Practices that intensify production on existing pasture and croplands,” it finds, “have the highest potential because they avoid deforestation.” Opportunities for such “sustainable intensification” are significant, according to the report, but will need to be complemented by region-specific policies, planning efforts, and development strategies.

Jayson Lusk reviews the “animal choice” experiments and technologies that might enable us to consider the welfare of animals in agriculture from, believe it or not, the perspective of animals themselves.

Nuclear supporters, finally, celebrated a few key victories last week. Not only did Switzerland vote to reject a measure that would have shut down the country’s five plants by 2029—see Robert Walton, Rod Adams, and Lonnie Shekhtman for more—but Illinois state legislature also passed a bill to support its nuclear fleet through a zero emission credit program, as Peter Maloney reports.


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