Reversing the climate crisis cannot be done by one country, one economic sector, one industry, one culture, or one demographic. There is not going to be a magic technology that will fix it. We cannot wait to see if experts, governments, or corporations figure out how to end the crisis, because they can’t by themselves. The crisis, if it could speak, would tell us all that we have forgotten that we truly are a “we,” and nothing less than our joint effort is sufficient to reverse decades and centuries of exploiting people and the earth. Climate change and poverty have the same roots. —Paul Hawken
Our Climate Crisis
Countries racing to replace Russian oil, gas and coal with their own dirty energy are making matters worse, warns United Nations secretary general António Guterres. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels instead of pivoting to clean energy is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.” While we are making progress in bending the curve in emissions, they are still set to increase by 14% in the next decade. The most recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims that it’s still possible to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change if societies take immediate, drastic action. This includes slashing annual greenhouse gas emissions by almost half in the next eight years and finding a way to zero out carbon pollution by the middle of the century.
Embedded in all future calculations on climate change is the assumption that global economic activity will increase steadily throughout this century. The Covid pandemic has, however, demonstrated that a future health pandemic could dramatically curtail economic activity. Furthermore, the frightening possible escalation of the war in Ukraine (which could even go nuclear) makes global economic collapse no longer seem inconceivable. In the most extreme scenario, nuclear war could even cause extensive global cooling and create a nuclear winter.
Unusually high temperatures have recently been recorded in both Antarctica and the Arctic. The Arctic, as a whole, was 3.3°C warmer than average, while the Antarctic, as a whole, was 4.8°C warmer than average. These temperature spikes have shocked researchers, who warn that such extremes will become more common as a result of the climate crisis. In a related occurrence, a 450-square-mile ice shelf recently collapsed in the eastern part of Antarctica. This is the first observed collapse of an ice shelf in that region of the continent since satellites began observing Antarctica nearly half a century ago.
Using an “OK doomer” riff on “OK boomer,” some young climate activists are focusing on climate solutions in response to the all too common doomsday focus on how bad things are. While they do not want to minimize the climate crisis, they believe that “focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Using social media, they seek to change the narrative by highlighting positive climate news as well as offer ways that people can personally become engaged in fighting the climate crisis.
Politics and Policy
Dominion Energy has received regulatory approval in Virginia for a series of solar projects expected to generate enough electricity to power 250,000 homes. This is the second batch of annual projects submitted under the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, which calls for 16,100 megawatts in solar or wind energy projects to be in place or under way by 2035. Accordingly, projects of a similar scale will be submitted by Dominion every year over the next 15 years.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently laid out some energy policies he supports, including a tax credit for clean energy manufacturing, replacing fossil fuel generation with advanced nuclear power, developing hydrogen energy, and the development of carbon capture technology. It is reported that he is willing to negotiate on a slimmed down clean energy bill in the coming months. Because of his pivotal role in an evenly divided senate, the climate lobby and other senators are being very circumspect in criticizing him in hopes that he will support at least part of their clean energy agenda.
Now weatherization, a decades-old program, has become central to the Biden administration’s plans to cut Americans’ power bills and lower fossil fuel emissions. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced roughly $3.2 billion of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will be used to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes in low-income communities. Emphasizing the potential cost savings, she noted that the program has lowered some families’ power bills by as much as 30 percent.
Data from 75 countries, which represent 93% of the global power demand, shows that clean energy—including wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear, and biofuels—accounted for a total of 38% of the world’s electricity generated in 2021. The share wind and solar has more than doubled to 10.3% from 4.6% when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015. A big part of this growth stems from advancements in technology which has cut the price of solar electricity by 89%, and the price of onshore wind by 70%.
Tony Smith, CEO of Virginia solar energy company Secure Futures, says that the best way to unhook from oil and gas wars is by rapidly transitioning to solar energy. Their company introduced the first solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in Virginia, with a 104-kW rooftop solar array at Eastern Mennonite University in 2010. Today there are 700 times as many kWs of solar energy produced under solar PPAs in Virginia. Even so, natural gas still accounts for 61 percent of the electricity generation in our state. We should rapidly transition to solar, which is much cleaner, cheaper, and not tied to the volatility of global fossil fuel markets.
Efforts to electrify commercial vehicles have lagged behind EV passenger cars. That is now rapidly beginning to change. Carriers such as UPS, Amazon, and FedEx are investing billions to build out EV delivery fleets. At the same time, the US Postal Service ordered as many as 148,000 gas guzzling mail delivery trucks despite opposition from top environmental regulators and directives from the Biden administration to green the federal fleet.
Decarbonizing heavy industry such as steel manufacturing and transportation will depend on alternative fuels such as green hydrogen, which still remain prohibitively expensive. Australian researchers now claim they have made a giant technological leap in producing affordable green hydrogen. Denmark has also made a big investment in green hydrogen, including subsidies to make it commercially viable. Given the war in Ukraine, they see this as an important step in achieving independence from fossil fuels.
The United Kingdom, as an island nation, is making big investments in clean tidal energy, which is on track to be cheaper than both nuclear power and fossil fuels. While the country presently produces only 3% of its energy this way, the goal is to increase that to 10%. To help reach this goal, a North Wales firm recently secured £31m ($40.75m) in government funding to develop a tidal energy project in the Irish Sea.
Internationally recognized environmental lawyer and climate negotiator, Farhana Yamin was a key architect of the Paris climate agreement who helped to secure the goal of net-zero emissions by midcentury. When Donald Trump then pulled the US out of the Paris agreement and other countries continually delayed strong action on climate, she decided “we cannot rely on lawyers and diplomats alone.” She came to see that the climate movement is fragile because it mostly relies on insider tactics and not on movement building. She, therefore, became involved with social mobilization and nonviolent action to advance the cause. More recently she has begun social organizing with frontline communities of color in Britain and is helping to mobilize more broadly with a focus on climate justice.
Climate change is spurring a movement to build more resilient homes. FEMA told Becky Nixon that she would receive another mobile home after her triple-wide trailer on the Florida panhandle was destroyed by hurricane Michael in 2018. She, instead, had a brand new two-bedroom home built for her in a joint effort of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), Samaritan’s Purse, and donated materials. The home was built to considerably more than standard requirements for energy efficiency and hurricane ratings following guidelines advocated by the Resilient Design Institute.
Charlottesville, VA is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Overall, emissions are down 30% from 2011 even though energy use is up. Much of this progress is because of the availability of cleaner electricity. Heating and the cooling of homes consumes the largest amounts of energy in the city. Susan Kruse, the executive director of the Community Climate Collaborative, says this makes residential energy efficiency programs especially important. There has, however, been a virtually non-existent drop in emissions from vehicles. This makes weaning vehicles off of fossil fuels vital, as is getting people to use buses and public transport. Moving to a fleet of electric city buses will have an even greater impact.
The food system produces about one-third of our greenhouse emissions. This calls for making dramatic cuts to reach our goal of cutting emissions to zero by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Furthermore, we will need to feed a population expected to approach 10 billion by 2050, meaning we’ll need to make those drastic cuts while increasing food production by more than 50 percent. This calls for huge structural changes in how we grow, process, package, and distribute food. On a personal level, changing our eating behaviors is perhaps the most impactful change we can make. Some suggested practices are:
- Move to a mostly plant-based diet.
- Buy locally grown food.
- Eat everything you buy.
- Eat healthy amounts.
This shift will not only help combat climate change. Other environmental harms driven by the food industry include loss of biodiversity, vital forest ecosystems being destroyed for grazing and farming purposes, fertilizer runoff creating dead zones in the ocean, and the massive extinction and loss of insects due to pesticides.
CAAV Steering Committee