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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Keeping to 1.5°C

The U.S. Administration’s Strategy for Dealing with Climate Change

President Joe Biden opening the virtual summit of world leaders. (U.S. State Department. www.bit.ly/Biden-virtual-summit)

George Harvey

In mid-May, the International Energy Agency released a report, “Net Zero by 2050,” that warned that we must stop building coal-burning power plants worldwide and stop oil and gas exploration (www.bit.ly/Net-Zero-by-2050). Shortly after, on May 21, the G7 countries, U.S., Japan, Canada, U.K., Germany, France, and Italy, agreed to deliver climate targets that are in keeping with stopping global warming at 1.5°C. They are pushing for the other G20 countries to do the same (http://bit.ly/G7-agree).

We might review the events leading up to this.

On Earth Day, April 22, President Joe Biden introduced a virtual summit of world leaders on the climate crisis. Notably, all of the forty leaders considered most important attended. President Biden did not limit his comments to salutations, however. He increased the United States’ greenhouse gas reductions from 25% by 2025 to at least 50% by 2030 (www.bit.ly/ghg-reduction-by-2030).

Actually, it is not hard to understand how the goal could be so dramatically increased. The political situation in the U.S. has changed a lot in the last few years. Today, not just a majority of Americans, but a majority of Republicans believe that climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed.

People don’t need scientific instruments to see the change in the climate. They can see the increasing damage from droughts in the West, heat in the Midwest and South, storms on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and floods wherever the whim of Mother Nature decides.

But weather is not the only issue at play. We still have high unemployment because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and many people are having financial troubles. Addressing the climate crisis by installing new renewable power facilities will put many of these people back to work, and at good pay.

Relief is going to some who really need it. Under the previous administration, about a quarter of all coal miners in the country had lost their jobs, as the coal industry collapsed. The new administration promises unemployed coal miners work in renewable energy, with the support of the United Mine Workers of America (www.bit.ly/mine-union-support).

A clean environment. (Gustavo Quepón, Unsplash. www.bit.ly/Clean-environment)

While detractors say that the president is asking for too much money, we should be clear about the economics. Coal-burning power plants are a good example. Most of these coal-burning plants in the U.S. are getting old, and many are losing money. Recently, Greenpeace underscored this, saying that operators of U.S. coal plants had lost another $5.4 billion with competition from less expensive solar and wind power (www.bit.ly/coal-bleeding-money).

Moving powerfully to renewable energy will not just employ workers. It will also save a bundle of money for American consumers, and for the very same reason that coal is in trouble.

For those who say that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, new technology that has come along makes that statement irrelevant. The cost of battery storage has been dropping astonishingly. Not only that, but new energy storage systems do not necessarily need any lithium, cobalt, or other unusual chemicals. Highview Power, for example, stores energy as liquid air, and it just got a $1 billion order for its systems in Spain (www.bit.ly/liquid-air).

As all this addresses climate change, creates jobs, and reduces the cost of energy, it also improves the environment. We might think that this last issue has not received the attention it deserves. The health costs of burning fossil fuels are not included in the price or subsidies, but they are huge. Worldwide, millions of people die every year because of air pollution. In the United States, the number is much lower, but it is still many thousands. And the healthcare costs for people who get sick from pollution is staggering. An article published by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2008 and updated in 2016 puts the healthcare costs of particulate matter from coal-burning power plants in the U.S. at over $100 billion per year (more.bit.ly/Coal-soot-cost).

While the Biden administration indicates that it might support the use of nuclear power, which has an unsolved issue of waste and other issues, its outlook for dealing with climate change and energy seems otherwise well designed. Altogether, we might say that the Administration’s plan has something positive for nearly everyone. The only people who might feel losses are those who insist on being invested in systems that make people sick, cost too much, and are environmentally destructive.

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