Some Reasons for Optimism

American elections two days ago put more Republicans in positions of power in the U.S. Senate and House, and unfortunately many Republicans are skeptics about climate change, at least publicly. Nonetheless, it is important to look for positive indications of change. Here are four significant rays of hope:

  1. Under President Barack Obama the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule in June that would cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-burning power plants up to 30 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. If this regulation is, in fact, adopted and enforced, it would be among the strongest steps taken by the U.S. government to address climate change. Keep in mind that existing power plants account for nearly 40 percent of America’s carbon emissions.
  2. Last month the European Union announced that it would cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 40 percent by the year 2030, compared with 1990 levels. The EU agreement was designed in part to put pressure on other nations and regions of the world before a major climate meeting in 2015.
  3. A credible approach to drastically reduce American dependence on fossil fuels has been developed by Amory Lovins and his colleagues at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Lovins claims that by restructuring the energy, transportation, and building sectors the nation can save $5 trillion by 2050 while growing the economy and replacing all fossil fuels (except for some natural gas) with renewable sources of energy. Prominent Republicans (e.g., George Shultz) and Democrats (e.g., Bill Clinton) believe Lovins’s work deserves attention and action.
  4. Professor David Victor points out that tiny carbon particulates (“aerosols”) created by burning coal and oil are sources of global warming (because they absorb light and turn it to heat) and serious health hazards. As a consequence, almost all nations (China, for one) have an interest in reducing these particulates in order to safeguard the health of their citizens. Whereas many actions to reduce carbon emissions may be perceived to have only long-term benefits, it is possible to take a number of steps – such as reducing aerosols, and keeping methane leaks to a minimum – that will have immediate payoffs to reduce global warming, as well as long-term benefits.
  5. According to the Sierra Club, the cost of the Kemper Coal Plant in Mississippi “skyrocketed to $5.6 billion, more than twice the original projection of $2.4 billion. This price tag demonstrates the increasing cost of coal at a time when the cost of clean energy is rapidly falling. Kemper is already the only coal plant to break ground during the Obama Administration, and may be the last coal plant built in the United States.”
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