Five reasons to be optimistic about climate change

Recent accomplishments have paved a way forward for more environmental progress.

 

We will solve the challenge of climate change in our lifetimes. It’s a daring assertion, especially given President-elect Donald Trump’s stated and contradictory positions on climate change and environmental protections. But the transformation toward a zero-carbon economy is already happening on the state and local level. And as 2016 comes to a close, here are five reasons to be optimistic about our ability to reduce carbon emissions:

1. A recent study led by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado concludes that the United States can achieve to 80 percent clean renewable energy by 2030, without any new storage or breakthrough technologies.

2. Clean and renewable energy is increasingly outpacing fossil fuels, when it comes to cost. The International Energy Agency found that in 2015, clean energy provided more energy with less investment compared to fossil fuels. The cost of wind energy has been falling and is predicted to drop by up to 30 percent by 2030, and perhaps 41percent by 2050. It’s no wonder that a utility like Xcel Energy in Colorado is both investing heavily in wind energy and predicting $400 million in savings for consumers over the next 20 years.

Congressional staff on a tour at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Dennis Schroeder / NREL

Solar energy, especially in states with friendly policies, is also becoming less expensive and more efficient. The cost of solar has dropped over 60 percent just in the last nine years. In 2015 alone, the cost of solar installation dropped 5 to 12 percent. Solar is already available at the same or lower cost as other electricity sources in many American cities.  This will be true for most Americans in the next five years.

3. Clean energy is a job-creator. In 2015, employment in the U.S. solar business grew 12 times faster than overall job creation. There are now more solar jobs in the United States than jobs in natural gas and oil extraction. Nationally, investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy produce more jobs than investments in fossil fuels, according to PERI’s Global Green Growth report. The report also concluded that if the U.S. were to cut carbon emissions by 40 percent through investments in clean energy, 2.7 million jobs could be created annually.

4. People want to do something about climate change. Here in the West, there is strong support from nearly 80 percent of the public to shift to clean power. This support crosses racial and ethnic boundaries. There is overwhelming support from growing and powerful demographics like millennials. 

Nationally, 77 percent of those surveyed support more funding for renewable energy research, and 74 percent want carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant, according to a Yale study on public opinion surrounding climate change policies.

5. Leading-edge companies have for years been investing in small-scale solar, clean energy and energy efficiency. Now, the most powerful, most capitalized corporations in history, including Google and Facebook, are making huge investments in clean energy, and demanding clean energy for their facilities and the communities into which they are expanding. Recently, Facebook chose New Mexico as the site of its new $250 million data center, in part due to an agreement reached with state regulators and the utility company, PNM, to power the center with 100 percent renewable energy. In Nevada, Tesla is building the largest battery factory in the world and has plans to manufacture enough batteries to power 500,000 new electric vehicles each year. 

Though I am optimistic about our ability in the West to drastically reduce carbon emissions, the transformation to a zero-carbon economy depends upon good policy decisions that will continue to drive investment in clean energy, incentivize more emissions reductions and clear the way for the transition to clean power and battery storage. 

We need to use the law, science, technological advancement and investment, and sound economic strategy to drive these policy changes at the state level. There is much to do, but with a clear path forward, there is cause for hope in the fight against climate change.

 

Jon Goldin-Dubois is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is the president of Western Resource Advocates, a conservation organization that works across six Western states.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

Steve Snyder
Steve Snyder Subscriber
Dec 23, 2016 12:19 PM
1. "Can" and "will" are two different things.
2. Part of the renewable electric energy will get consumed by more and fancier devices.
Doug Meyer
Doug Meyer Subscriber
Dec 24, 2016 12:51 PM
The rapid loss of the Earth’s man-made yet accidental solar reflective blanket (sulfate aerosols from fossil fuel combustion) in the utterly impossible event that the whole human world (not just rich people) peacefully and voluntarily cuts fossil fuel emissions to zero, would cause overall radiative forcing to roughly double, in turn causing Earth’s energy imbalance to increase. (The aerosols drop out in weeks vs. centuries for CO2 drawdown.) The oceans would have to absorb heat even faster, if they still could. Civilization would be forced to geo-engineer, if it still could, most likely in the form of deliberate high-altitude sulfate aerosol injections into the atmosphere. All of this is on top of the many decades of warming Earth’s atmosphere is committed to endure due to the ocean heat already absorbed. So, since I’m more concerned about what’s going to happen to the planet itself, I’m not buying that part about optimism.