A new study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) shows that, for the first time, in 2013, more electrical new generation capacity came from renewables than from new fossil-fuel generation plants. And clean-energy investment rose in 2014, following a three-year slump caused by low natural-gas prices.
The Sierra Club has had tremendous success in shutting down existing coal-fired power plants and blocking new ones. The 2014 People’s Climate March showed that large segments of the U.S. population are fired up about dealing with climate disruption. But popular pressure and government action alone cannot solve the problem.
Investment in renewable power plants is the key to converting the electric-power sector in the U.S. to clean energy. Government can and should make such investment attractive, for example by eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies and regulating and increasing taxes on the fossil-fuel industry. It can require utilities to purchase more renewable energy via renewable portfolio standards. But there’s only so much the government can do to help increase investments in renewables.
Unfortunately, the BNEF study shows that investment in new renewable generating capacity, though it’s growing again, is not growing fast enough to allow renewables to replace fossil-fuel power generation quickly enough to avoid increasing average global temperature by more than 2 degrees Celsius.
This situation is new for us environmentalists. We’re accustomed to getting our way by pressuring the government. Don’t build dams in the Grand Canyon. Ban DDT. Preserve Yosemite as a national park. In this case, government can’t give us what we want because they aren’t the decision-makers. Investors are the decision-makers who can give us what we want.
What we need to do is use every means possible to increase the attractiveness of investing in clean energy, and to decrease the attractiveness of investing in building fossil-fuel (natural gas) power plants. We can steer our own investment dollars. We can buy green power when our utilities make it available. And we can pressure government to do what it can to make investment in renewables more attractive. Let’s just hope it’s enough.
Where will it end? First Monsanto developed sterile GMO seeds for crops such as corn and soybeans. The genetic modifications made them resistant to Roundup, a glyphosate weed killer, so weeds on fields planted with those seeds could be kept in check by spraying the fields with Roundup. The seeds were patented, and farmers were required by the seed licensing terms to buy new seeds every year from Monsanto.
Now, according to a Reuters article published today, weeds have developed resistance to Roundup, much as bacteria develop resistance to overused antibiotics. 84 million acres of U.S. farmland are infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds. So now comes Dow with its “Enlist Duo” herbicide and Enlist-Duo-resistant GMO seeds. This new combination will solve the problem of Roundup resistance, but only for a while. Weeds developed resistance to Roundup by natural selection — the few weeds with a mutation protecting them from Roundup survived applications of Roundup, flourished and spread. The same thing will happen with Enlist Duo, and then the big chemical companies will develop another GMO crop/insecticide pair.
This cycle will not end until farmers see that this approach is only a short-term fix. Organic farming and natural means of pest control will solve the problem in the long run.
On Cesar Chavez day, environmental activists should recognize the importance of Hispanics to our climate cause. A recent poll by Stanford University and Resources for the Future conducted for the New York Times shows that Hispanics are much more likely than non-Hispanic whites [why did they limit the survey to whites?] to feel that climate change affects them personally.
That is key – a substantial majority of Americans agree that the climate is heating up and a majority agrees that the warming is caused by humans. (See this poll, for example.) But the majority of Americans does not think global warming will matter to them personally to any great degree. According to the Stanford poll, a significantly larger number of Hispanics believe that global warming will matter to them personally.
Cesar Chavez exemplifies the Hispanic tradition of social activism. His birthday today should remind us in the environmental community to work together with Hispanics on issues we share.
Last Saturday, March 21, 2015, the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Legal Committee and the Loyola Law School Environmental Law Society held a day-long workshop on Oil Production, Distribution, and Fracking Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Materials from the workshop – PowerPoints and videos – are available at http://aenv.org/sclels2015. A video of my presentation on Local Anti-Fracking Ordinances is also available on YouTube.
This is Dean Wallraff’s environmental blog. I consolidated previous blogs at laenv.org (Los Angeles Environmental Blog) and dwsc.us (my Sierra Club Board of Directors blog) here.
I’m on the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club, but I’m also a California public-interest environmental attorney. I’m a full-time environmental activist, and part of my activism is litigation in support of environmental causes. The opinions I express here are my own, and not necessarily those of the Sierra Club.
“Hello World!” has a long history in the computer world, starting with the seminal Kernighan and Ritchie book on the C programming language, which I learned in the 1970’s. The simplest C program was just one that printed out “hello world!” I kept it as a title for this blog post because the blog is saying hello to the world today.