Bob Sheak, July 3, 2022
Fossil fuel emissions are the chief drivers of global warming. As emissions continue to increase, the planet gets hotter and there are a multiplicity of increasingly detrimental environmental, economic, political, social, community, and individual effects.
The Republican Party, the Supreme Court, large swaths of corporations, and other right-wing forces oppose reasonable policy initiatives and want to undo past ones.
I pay some attention in this post on the obstacles that prevent us from adopting reasonable policies, very importantly the phasing out of fossil fuels.
Global warming (also referred to as climate change, climate crisis, climate emergency) is real, devastating, and accelerating. It’s supported by ongoing lab and field research, as well as multivariate modeling, from thousands of scientists. The problem is indicated most generally by the rise in the planet’s rising temperature and the consequent increase in severe weather events and related environmental calamities and devastation. The primary, not the only, drivers of global warming are the carbon emissions from coal, oil, and gas. The U.S. is second only to China in current emissions, though it has contributed more than any other country historically to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (see: https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/28/world/china-us-climate-cop26-intl-hnk/index.html).
Polls in the U.S. find that a majority of Democrats, but not most Republicans, believe that global warming is a realty (e.g., https://pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/04/22/for-earth-day-key-facts-about-american-views-of-climate-change-and-renewable-energy).
The Democratic Party and its supporters accept the scientific findings, though disagree on how much to do about this existential problem. Until recently, the Republican Party was the only major political party on earth to deny the realty of global warming. This increasingly right-wing party now accepts the connection between fossil fuel carbon emissions and global warming, but wants to continue and extend the society’s dependence on these sources of energy, arguing that the economy depends on fossil fuels, and that there are cost-effective technological ways to ameliorate the problem of carbon emissions. Thus, they contend, we can in the meantime increase our use of oil, natural gas, and coal with few if any limits.
Indeed, U.S. House Republicans just released a “climate” plan that reveals how little value they place on the problem of global warming. Mike Lukwig reports that the plan, released on June 2, 2022, is a “giveaway to the fossil fuel industry” (https://truthout.org/articles/the-house-gop-has-a-climate-plan-its-a-giveaway-to-the-fossil-fuel-industry). He writes:
“The plan, first outlined in a brief press release Thursday morning, appears to contain few new policy ideas. What it does contain are clear giveaways to the fossil fuel lobby, according to environmental groups. Republicans would provide tax credits or incentives to controversial (and struggling) ‘carbon capture’ projects as well as to nuclear power, while weakening environmental rules to speed up permitting for oil drilling, pipelines, natural gas export terminals, and other large infrastructure.”
Bottom of FormThe continuing dependence of the U.S. fossil fuels, especially oil and natural gas, is reflected in the recent rise in prices at the gas pump, how this is negatively affecting the pocketbooks of Americans, and the political implications for future elections. There are several causes of the rise in gas prices. Economist Jack Rasmus provides an in-depth analysis of the cause of inflation generally, including rising gasoline prices, the harmful impacts on the economy, and the counterproductive responses of the Federal Reserve. (https://counterpunch.org/2022/06/24/the-anatomy-of-inflation).
Ironically and tragically, the high gas prices and their economic effects reveal how dependent the society continues to be on gas and oil, despite the science, despite public awareness, despite some state and local initiatives (e.g., David Miller, Solved: How the World’s Great Cities are Fixing the Climate Crisis), and despite falling prices for solar and wind energy.
The solutions to the problem require major changes in the economy and probably in the standards of living for Americans, in transportation, in housing, perhaps in diet, and more. Many Americans support relevant changes to reduce global warming in the abstract, but also want to continue their present life styles and consumption, or at least avoid downward mobility. In the final analysis, the current concerns about rising gasoline prices and the political fallout exemplify, understandably, how immediate personal financial considerations seem to overshadow environmental concerns.
The scientific findings
The climate crisis is worsening
Here are two articles that provide an overview of the current situation.
In an article for Common Dreams, Brett Wilkins reports on June 3, 2022, that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finds “[t]here is more carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere than at any time in the past four million years, as the world’s continued dependence on fossil fuels keeps humanity hurtling toward a ‘global catastrophe’” (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/06/03/racing-top-speed-towards-global-catastrophe-noaa-says-co2-levels-highest-human). Here’s more from Wilkins article.
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are steadily increasing in the atmosphere
“CO2 pollution is generated by burning fossil fuels for transportation and electrical generation, by cement manufacturing, deforestation, agriculture, and many other practices. Along with other greenhouse gases, CO2 traps heat radiating from the planet’s surface that would otherwise escape into space, causing the planet’s atmosphere to warm steadily, which unleashes a cascade of weather impacts, including episodes of extreme heat, drought and wildfire activity, as well as heavier precipitation, flooding and tropical storm activity.
“Impacts to the world’s oceans from greenhouse gas pollution include increasing sea surface temperatures, rising sea levels, and an increased absorption of carbon, which makes sea water more acidic, leads to ocean deoxygenation, and makes it more difficult for some marine organisms to survive.”
Statements from researchers
“Pieter Tans, senior scientist at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, said that ‘carbon dioxide is at levels our species has never experienced before—this is not new. We have known about this for half a century, and have failed to do anything meaningful about it.’ ‘What’s it going to take for us to wake up?’”
And NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad pointed out, “The science is irrefutable: humans are altering our climate in ways that our economy and our infrastructure must adapt to. We can see the impacts of climate change around us every day.”
Henry Fountain also reports on key parts of the evidence from the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii that “carbon dioxide levels are highest in human history” (https://nytimes.com/2022/06/03/climate/carbon-dioxide-record.html). Fountain specializes in the science of climate change and its impacts. He has been writing about science for The Times for more than 20 years and has traveled to the Arctic and Antarctica. Here’s some of what he reports.
“Humans pumped 36 billion tons of the planet-warming gas into the atmosphere in 2021, more than in any previous year. It comes from burning oil, gas and coal.”
“The amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere broke a record in May, continuing its relentless climb, scientists said Friday. It is now 50 percent higher than the preindustrial average, before humans began the widespread burning of oil, gas and coal in the late 19th century.”
“The concentration of the gas reached nearly 421 parts per million in May, the peak for the year, as power plants, vehicles, farms and other sources around the world continued to pump huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Emissions totaled 36.3 billion tons in 2021, the highest level in history.
“As the amount of carbon dioxide increases, the planet keeps warming, with effects like increased flooding, more extreme heat, drought and worsening wildfires that are already being experienced by millions of people worldwide. Average global temperatures are now about 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than in preindustrial times.”
There is close to a total agreement among climate scientists and all national and international science organizations that fossil fuels and the climate-altering gases they emit are the primary drivers of global warming. Jonathan Watts reports on research that documents this statement (https://theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/19/case-closed-999-of-scientists-agree-climate-emergency-caused-by-humans). He writes:
“The scientific consensus that humans are altering the climate has passed 99.9%, according to research that strengthens the case for global action at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.
“The degree of scientific certainty about the impact of greenhouse gases is now similar to the level of agreement on evolution and plate tectonics, the authors say, based on a survey of nearly 90,000 climate-related studies. This means there is practically no doubt among experts that burning fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, coal, peat and trees, is heating the planet and causing more extreme weather.
“A previous survey in 2013 showed 97% of studies published between 1991 and 2012 supported the idea that human activities are altering Earth’s climate.
This has been updated and expanded by the study by Cornell University that shows the tiny minority of skeptical voices has diminished to almost nothing as evidence mounts of the link between fossil-fuel burning and climate disruption.
“The latest survey of peer-reviewed literature published from 2012 to November 2020 was conducted in two stages. First, the researchers examined a random sample of 3,000 studies, in which they found only found four papers that were skeptical that the climate crisis was caused by humans. Second, they searched the full database of 88,125 studies for keywords linked to climate skepticism such as ‘natural cycles and ‘cosmic rays’, which yielded 28 papers, all published in minor journals.”
In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position (https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus).
For example, eighteen American Scientific societies, including, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Medical Association, the
American Physical Society, the Geological Society of America have agreed that there is a climate crisis. Additionally, the U.S. National Academy of Science, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a reference to nearly 200 worldwide scientific organizations hold the position that climate change has been caused by human action.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is one of the world’s most authoritative sources of evidence on global warming. In a series of reports on its website, NASA scientists and officials summarize the evidence, the causes, the future effects, and the scientific consensus that global warming is real, has a growing number of dire effects, and there is little time to contain or reverse it (https://climate.nasa.gov).
“Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.
“The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause Earth to warm in response.
“Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming. Carbon dioxide from human activity is increasing more than 250 times faster than it did from natural sources after the last Ice Age.”
The global temperature has risen about 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, driven “largely be increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and other human activities.” NASA continues: “Most of the warming occurred in the past 40 years, with the most seven most recent years being the warmest.”
“According to NASA data, 2016 and 2020 are tied for the warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The 10 warmest years in the 141-year record have occurred since 2005, with the seven most recent years being the warmest.”
The ocean has been warming, “with the top 100 meters (about 328 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit… since 1969.” The ocean has also been acidifying, absorbing between “between 20% and 30% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in recent decades (7.2 to 10.8 billion metric tons per year).”
Ice sheets are shrinking. Between 1993 and 2019, “Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019, while Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year.” Glaciers are retreating “almost everywhere around the world – including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa.” The snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere “has decreased over the past five decades and the snow is melting earlier.”
Global sea level is rising and have risen “about 8 inches…in the last century, and the rate of increase has accelerated in the last two decades. Arctic Sea Ice is declining rapidly both in its extent and thickness over the last several decades.
There have been a record number of high temperature events in the United States and the number has been increasing, including the “increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.”
Ice and snow cover melting in the Arctic
Kenny Stancil considers a report issued by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) on May 20, 2021, documenting that, over the past five decades, “the Arctic has warmed three times faster than the world as a whole, leading to rapid and widespread melting of ice and other far-reaching consequences that are important not only to local communities and ecosystems but to the fate of life on planet Earth” (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/20/real-hotspot-study-shows-arctic-warming-3-times-faster-rest-of-earth).
“According to the report,” Stancil writes, “the Arctic’s annual mean surface temperature surged by 3.1ºC between 1971 and 2019, compared with a 1ºC rise in the global average during the same time period. Arctic warming has been accompanied by a decrease in snow cover and sea and land ice; an increase in permafrost thaw and rainfall; and an uptick in extreme events.”
These changes are “adversely affecting the livelihoods and food security of Arctic communities, especially Indigenous ones…. [and] poses risks to unique terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems in the region, some of which are vulnerable to irreversible harm.” At the same time, the report found, “No one on Earth is immune to Arctic warming.” Consider the following examples.
“The rapid mass loss of the Greenland ice sheet and other Arctic land ice contributes more to global sea-level rise than does the melting of ice in Antarctica.” “Some projections estimate that by 2050, 150 million people worldwide will be displaced from their homes just by rising sea levels.” All of these conditions will be exacerbated by additional increases in the annual mean surface air temperatures in the Arctic, which are expected to “rise to 3.3–10°C above the 1985–2014 average by 2100, depending on the course of future emissions” – and could be higher. “Under most emission scenarios,” the report says, “the vast majority” of climate models ‘project the first instance of a largely sea-ice-free Arctic in September occurring before 2050,’ and possibly as early as 2040.”
Obstacles to reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels
ONE- The American economy largely runs on fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are pivotal economically to the U.S. and high- and middle-income countries globally. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fossil fuels represented 79 percent of primary U.S. energy consumption in 2021, with petroleum accounting for 36 percent, natural gas for 32 percent, and coal for 11 percent (https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts).
They provide the energy sources for heating and cooling homes, for major sectors of the economy, and for most transportation. According to data from Statista, there were, for example, 283.8 million “vehicles” (cars and light trucks) in operation in the U.S. during the 4th quarter of 2021 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/859950/vehicles-in-operation-by-quarter-united-states).
Millions of people in the U.S. depend on having affordable access to the gasoline to power their vehicles, to get to work, to school, to health care services, and other places that are important in their daily lives.
At the same time, there are some positive trends. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “[h]ybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicle sales in the United States have increased in recent months as sales of non-hybrid internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles fueled by gasoline or diesel decreased. In the fourth quarter of 2021, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles collectively accounted for 11% of light-duty vehicle sales in the United States, according to data from Wards Intelligence”
That means that there are about 31 million such hybrid and electric vehicles. On the road, however, they are still overwhelmed by cars fueled by gasoline and diesel, the number of which is about 254 million. There’s a long way to go, but not that much time to find ways for people to replace their gas-driven vehicles.
TWO– The power of fossil fuel corporations
In his book, The New Climate War, climate scientist Michael Mann states that “our planet has now warmed into the danger zone, and we are not taking the measures necessary to avert the largest global crisis we have ever faced.” In order to address this situation, “we must understand the mind of the enemy” (p. 1).
The enemy includes the fossil-fuel corporations (e.g., ExxonMobil, Shell, BP) and their supporters, the billionaire plutocrats “like the Koch brothers, the Mercers, and the Scaifes,” who have “funneled billions of dollars into a disinformation campaign beginning in the least 1980s and working to discredit the science behind human-caused climate change and its linkage with fossil-fuel burning” (pp. 2-3).
This enemy additionally includes those in government in the U.S. and abroad who deny or dismiss the seriousness of global warming and use their positions to protect and advance the interests of the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters.
Mann finds that the climate denial tends now to be “more in the form of downplaying the impacts rather than outright denial of the basic physical evidence” (p. 42). He gives the example of how Trump deflected attention from the part that global warming played in the extensive wildfires that have been afflicting California. The then president did so by disparaging state officials and “blaming them for ‘gross mismanagement’ of the forests, attributing the problem specifically to an absence of ‘raking’ of forests” (p. 42). There is indeed a need to better manage forests to reduce the risk of wildfires, but Trump’s off-the-cuff notion reflects his need to comment on events, regardless of his lack of knowledge.
New York Times journalist Winston Choi-Schagrin delves into the issues of why wildfires are intensifying and what can be done (https://nytimes.com/2021/07/16/climate/wildfires-smoke-safety-questions.html).
They are, by “every metric, the wildfires in the Western United States are worsening.” He continues: “They are growing larger, spreading faster and reaching higher, scaling mountain elevations that previously were too wet and cool to have supported fires this fierce.” Furthermore, “They are also getting more intense, killing a greater number of trees and eliminating entire patches of forest.” The proximate causes: “Wildfires require a spark and fuel. In the forests of the Western United States, half of wildfires are initiated by lightning. The other half are human-caused — frequently started by power lines, cigarettes, cars, camp fires or arson.”
The deeper causes of wildfires are that “there’s been an abundance of very dry fuel. Drought and high heat can kill trees and dry out dead grass, pine needles, and any other material on the bottom of the forest floor that act as kindling when a fire sweeps through a forest.” Climate change is involved, as it exacerbates “the dryness, high heat and longer fire season that have made these fires more extreme. ‘We wouldn’t be seeing this giant ramp up in fire activity as fast as it is happening without climate change,’ said Park Williams, a climate scientist at UCLA. ‘There’s just no way.’”
Choi-Schagrin continues. “These conditions have been exacerbated by fire-suppression policies. Before the modern settlement of the American West, forested land in the region burned naturally from lightning or else was intentionally burned by native communities as a form of forest maintenance. But for the past hundred years, most Western states have suppressed fires. That has led to increasingly dense forests and ample brush on the forest floors.”
Better forest management would help to reduce wildfires. That would require “[f]requent, low-intensity fires known as prescribed burns.” Choi-Schagrin elaborates as follows.
“Experts agree that prescribed burns — intentionally set fires that periodically clear underbrush or other fuels — are a key to reducing the severity of wildfires in the future. State and federal agencies have already committed to conducting more prescribed burns.
“But experts also stress that there needs to be more federal and state legislation that prioritizes this technique. There are currently bills in the U.S. Senate and the California Assembly to provide more funding and training for prescribed burns.
Another important step is taking care of the landscape to remove dead trees and other fuel. After a huge die-off in the Sierra Nevadas in the 2010s, an estimated 150 million trees fell, but only 1 percent of those trees have been removed, creating more fuel for future fires.
“But a long-term solution requires major changes, experts say. Importantly, the mind-set needs to shift from fighting fires toward mitigating the risk of extreme events that are causing them to worsen. ‘We’ve treated fire for so long it as if it’s something we can fight. We don’t fight hurricanes or earthquakes or floods,’ said Ms. Quinn-Davidson. ‘We need some radical shifts in the way that we do things in order to adapt, but, yes, I think we can.’”
Mann contends: “The forces of inaction – that is, the fossil fuel interests and those doing their bidding – have a single goal – inaction. The most hard-core contingent – the deniers – are…in the process of going extinct (though there is still a remnant population of them). They are being replaced by other breeds of deceivers, namely, downplayers, deflectors, dividers, delayers, and doomers – willing participants in a multiprongred strategy seeking to deflect blame, divide the public, delay action by promoting ‘alternative’ solutions that don’t actually solve the problem, or insist we simply accept our fate – it’s too late to do anything about it anyway, so we might as well keep the oil flowing.” This is the new climate war (p. 44).
THREE – Rising gas prices
Gas prices in the U.S. are now at record highs and are a major source of the high level of inflation. Polls find that high gas prices and inflation top the list of Americans’ economic concerns. Many blame President Biden and his administration for not doing more to increase the supply of oil/gas and, in that way, reduce gas prices. The inflation issue may have political implications that favor the increasing right-wing, conspiracy-based, climate-denying or dismissive Republican Party, their powerful supporters, Trump and his unquestioning electoral base. The price crunch may also reduce or distract public concern generally about global warming.
David Koenig identifies the factors coming together to spur rising gas prices (https://apnews.com/article/why-are-gas-prices-rising-541819ca1aa4d3dc0a0206271f9f8589).
#1 – “Global oil prices have been rising — unevenly, but sharply overall — since December. The price of international crude has roughly doubled in that time, with the U.S. benchmark rising nearly as much, closing Friday at more than $120 a barrel.”
#2 – “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting sanctions by the United States and its allies have contributed to the rise. Russia is a leading oil producer.”
#3 – “The United States is the world’s largest oil producer, but U.S. capacity to turn oil into gasoline is down 900,000 barrels of oil per day since the end of 2019, according to the Energy Department.”
#4 – “Tighter oil and gasoline supplies are hitting as energy consumption rises because of the economic recovery.”
#5 – “Finally, Americans typically drive more starting around Memorial Day, adding to the demand for gasoline.”
FOUR – The Biden administration pushes for more fossil fuel supply
Dan Avery addresses this issue in a June 7, 2022, article (https://cnet.com/personal-finance/fas-prices-are-at-record-highs-why-they-wont-drop-anytime-soon). He makes the following points on the administration’s efforts to combat rising gas prices by focusing on ways to increase the supply of fossil fuels, while paying little attention to renewables.
#1 – “In late March, Biden announced he was releasing a million barrels of oil a day from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next six months. According to the White House, the unprecedented withdrawal could lower gasoline prices between 10 to 35 cents a gallon.
“But insiders say it probably won’t help much in the long run.
“‘It will lower the oil price a little and encourage more demand,’ Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Texas oil company Pioneer Natural Resources, told The New York Times. ‘But it is still a Band-Aid on a significant shortfall of supply.’”
#2 – “In April, the Environmental Protection Agency allowed for year-round sales of cheaper E15 gasoline, which contains a 15% ethanol blend. The impact will be modest as only about 2,500 of the more than 100,000 gas stations nationwide sell the higher-ethanol blend.”
#3 – “The White House continues to pressure US oil companies to increase drilling and production. Criticizing energy firms for ‘sitting on’ more than 12 million acres of federal land and 9,000 approved production permits, the administration would like companies to face fines if they leave wells leased from public lands unused.”
“But Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said ‘the price of gasoline is not set by a dial in the Oval Office. When an oil company is deciding, hour by hour, how much to charge you for a gallon of gas, they’re not calling the administration to ask what they should do,’ he told ABC News This Week. ‘They’re doing it based on their goal of maximizing their profits.’”
#4 – “The government is looking at getting energy products from other sources: The Biden administration has been working at improving diplomatic relations with Venezuela, which has been banned from selling oil to the US since 2018, and is negotiating another nuclear nonproliferation treaty with Iran, which would bring Iranian oil back onto the market.”
#5 – “There is also a bill in Congress that would pause the federal fuel tax, though it faces stiff opposition. Individually, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Georgia have suspended state gas taxes to help consumers, and at least 20 other states are considering similar moves.
Ben Casselman refers to a U.S. poll, which found that about “half of those surveyed say they are worse off financially than a year ago, and most disapprove of President Biden’s handling of inflation (https://nytimes.com/2022/06/30/business/economy/economy-inflation-survey.html). Implicitly, the respondents want Biden to do even more in rectifying the supply problem.
FIVE – Renewables are stalled
Evan Halper reports on the following. “How big solar projects are facing major delays. Plans to adapt the grid to clean energy are confronting mountains of red tape. Affordable electric vehicles are in short supply.” One salient fact: “There was 24 percent less solar installed in the first quarter of 2022 than in the same quarter of 2021” (https://washingtonpost.com/business/2022/06/14/gas-price-energy-climate).
Digging into the problem, Halper points out, “The country’s lofty goals for all carbon pollution to be gone from the electricity sector by 2035 and for half the cars sold to be electric by 2030 are jeopardized by years of neglect of the electrical grid, regulatory hurdles that have set projects back years, and failures by Congress and policymakers to plan ahead.”
No significant policy initiatives
He gives these examples. “The “United States does not have a tax on carbon, nor a national cap-and-trade program that would reorient markets toward lowering emissions. The unraveling in Congress of President Biden’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better plan has added to the head winds that green-energy developers face.” Heather Zichal, a former White House climate adviser who is now the chief executive of the American Clean Power Association, is quoted: “There is literally nothing pushing this forward in the U.S. beyond the tax code and some state laws.”
Expanding infrastructure and opportunities for continuing dependence on fossil fuels
Further undermining efforts on solar, wind, geothermal, are “plans to build costly new infrastructure for drilling and exporting natural gas that will make it even harder to transition away from the fossil fuel.”
Problems in connecting to the existing electrical grid
Halper puts it this way: “adding clean electricity to the power grid has become an increasingly complicated undertaking, given the failure to plan for adequate transmission lines and long delays connecting viable wind and solar projects to the electricity network.”
“The Department of Energy reports that transmission systems need to be expanded by 60 percent by 2030 to meet the administration’s goals. And they may need to triple in capacity by 2050.
“Patching wind and solar projects into the grid infrastructure that does exist, meanwhile, is increasingly challenging. Over the last decade, the time it takes to get a project online has jumped from two years to longer than three and a half years, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Its researchers say grid operators are taking longer to study project viability and are overwhelmed by a dramatic rise in the number of projects in the queue.
“The Biden administration is promising to ease congestion and shore up the grid through billions of dollars in spending on transmission lines and other improvements authorized in the infrastructure package that Congress passed. But it will probably be years before the upgrades and expansions are operational.”
Restrictions in Congressional bills
Halper gives the following example.
“Clean-power producers are also hitting numerous barriers in their bid to generate huge volumes of energy with offshore wind turbines. Among them is a provision in the House bill funding the Coast Guard mandating that only American ships can be involved in construction work on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. Amid a shortage of such American ships and trained crews to operate them, wind energy developers warn, the measure would effectively halt production of offshore wind.
Obstacles confronting electric car industry
“Only 4 percent of cars sold in the United States last year were electric vehicles.
The sticker price of a new electric vehicle is $10,000 more than a comparable gas-powered model, and lawmakers have so far balked at renewing some of the subsidies designed to bring the price down while the industry scales up. Even so, interest in the vehicles is so high that many buyers eager to get in an electric car or hybrid have found themselves instead on a waitlist.
“A plan the administration unveiled Thursday [June 9] to install hundreds of thousands of new charging stations will help accelerate the transition. But even more crucial right now are $7,500 federal tax credits that make the cars affordable for consumers. They have expired for several models and cannot be used to purchase used vehicles.”
SIX – The illusory promise of carbon capture technology
Nicholas Kusnetz addresses this issue in an article for Inside Climate News on March 9, 2022 (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/09032022/carbon-cabture-and-storage-fossil-fuels-climate-change). The technology, favored by Republican lawmakers and energy corporations, is aimed at “sucking carbon dioxide from smokestacks and the atmosphere” and burying it underground. It has the support of the “oil industry, Biden administration and even some environmentalists.” President Biden is planning to spend $12 billion from the 2021 infrastructure bill on such technologies.
“The promise of a bigger payout has helped spur a wave of entrepreneurial activity and corporate investment in carbon removal. Microsoft, Stripe, United Airlines and other companies have announced millions of dollars in investments in carbon removal, and some have even bought carbon offsets from the first commercial ‘direct air capture’ plant, which began operating last year in Iceland. Technology giants—and billionaire executives including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos—have been pouring money into start-ups. Elon Musk’s foundation is funding a $100 million competition for efforts to pull carbon from the atmosphere, including direct air capture, nature-based and other approaches.
“Occidental Petroleum has said it plans to begin construction this year on a direct air capture plant in Texas that will initially pull up to 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air. The company could then pump the gas into depleted oil reservoirs to increase their production, a process that can also store most of the carbon dioxide underground.
Big fossil fuel companies drawn to the technology
“The funding in the infrastructure bill was the culmination of years of lobbying by industry and unions. One carbon capture bill, which was later included in the infrastructure law, drew lobbying from dozens of corporations and industry groups in the coal, oil and power sectors, as well as from labor unions, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics. In Exxon’s lobbying disclosures, carbon capture and storage were the only issues tied to the infrastructure law it reported discussing. In fact, Exxon reported lobbying on carbon capture more than on any other issue last year, according to an Inside Climate News analysis.
“The result was more than $12 billion dollars that will fund large scale demonstration projects to capture and store carbon dioxide, as well as funding for the pipelines and infrastructure that would tie it all together. The Department of Energy, which will oversee most of the money, is required to fund at least one demonstration project each for coal and natural gas power plants and an industrial application. The bill directed an additional $8 billion to ‘clean hydrogen’ projects. Some of that funding, too, is earmarked for using fossil fuels paired with carbon capture to produce hydrogen. Today, hydrogen is commonly produced from natural gas, but the process emits carbon dioxide.”
The potential impact is limited
“In 2020, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totalled nearly 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, including other pollutants like methane. Even optimistic projections say that carbon capture and removal technologies will be able to cut only about 250 million metric tons annually by 2035, or about 4 percent of 2020 emissions.”
Expensive and energy-intensive
“Despite decades of research and development, and billions of dollars spent, carbon capture and removal remain extremely expensive and energy-intensive, even as the costs of alternatives have plummeted.
“The technology generally requires large amounts of power, heat or both, so scaling it would consume vast quantities of energy and money.”
“Large-scale carbon capture would require pipeline networks that would rival the scale of existing oil pipelines. They would come with their own set of safety risks associated with leaks and ruptures—in large volumes, carbon dioxide is an asphyxiant.
“Then there is all the other pollution associated with producing, transporting and burning fossil fuels, much of which would remain unaddressed by carbon capture equipment.
Carbon capture projects have not worked
“A December report by the Government Accountability Office said the Department of Energy gave nearly $684 million to six coal plants for carbon capture projects from 2010 through 2017, but that only one of those projects was built and it ceased operations in 2020, citing high costs.
SEVEN- The right-wing Supreme Court is adding fire to the flames
Thom Hartmann, author and talk-show host, argues that the Supreme Court has, in its West Virginia v. the US Environmental Protection Agency, used “it’s ill-gotten power on behalf of the fossil fuel industry to cripple America’s ability to meet the challenge of climate change” (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/06/21/right-wing-supreme-court-readies-help-destroy-planet). The decision will “cripple virtually every regulatory agency in Washington, DC, from the EPA to the FCC to OSHA.” It is a decision that supports “the fossil fuel industry’s desire to end government regulation and kill subsidies of green energy.”
Fundamentally, it seeks to marginalize the authority of federal regulatory agencies and transfer regulatory power to the Congress. Regulation will hence be in the hands of elected representatives who typically know little about the technical aspects of regulation but who, if they are Republicans, will engender chaos and neglect in such regulation. The naivety of most in Congress doesn’t matter under the new regulatory regime. Given the record, the ill-equipped legislators will continue to be eager to advance the interests of fossil-fuel corporations and to reap the financial and campaign support in return.
Here’s the way regulation has worked for more than a century
“Congress passes a law that says, for example, that the Environmental Protection Agency should limit the damage that carbon dioxide in the environment causes to the planet. Congress (the Constitution’s Article I branch of government) defines the broad goal of the legislation, but the Executive Branch (Article II) has the responsibility to carry it out.
“The EPA, part of that Executive Branch and answering both to the law and the President, then convenes panels of experts. They spend a year or more doing an exhaustive, deep dive into the science, coming up with dozens or even hundreds of suggestions to limit atmospheric CO2, ranging from rules on how much emission cars can expel to drilling and refining processes that may leak CO2 or methane (which degrades into CO2), etc.
“The experts’ suggestions are then run past a panel of rule-making bureaucrats and hired-gun rule-making experts for the EPA to decide what the standards should be. They take into consideration the current abilities of industry and the costs versus the benefits of various rules, among other things.
“After they’ve come up with those tentative regulations, they submit them for public review and hearings. When that process is done and the rules are approved, they make them into official EPA rules, publish them, enforce them….”
Subverting government regulatory authority
“Now,” Hartmann continues, “comes a group of rightwing Supreme Court justices including Neil Gorsuch, whose mother tried to destroy the EPA when she ran it (and had to resign in disgrace) during the Reagan administration.
“In addition to Gorsuch, the Court also has Amy Coney Barrett whose father was a lawyer for Shell Oil for decades, and John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh who are all on the court in part because of support from a network funded by fossil fuel billionaires and their industry (among others).”
“They’re arguing, essentially, that the EPA (and any other regulatory agency) can’t do all the steps listed above: instead, that detailed and time-consuming analysis of a problem, developing specific solutions, and writing specific rules has to be done, they say, by Congress itself.
“In other words, Gorsuch says, Congress itself—not the EPA—must evaluate the science and then write the rules.
“As if Congress had the time and staff. As if Congress was stocked with scientific experts. As if Republicans in the pockets of fossil fuel billionaires wouldn’t block any congressional action even if it did.”
New York Times Editorial Board takes a shot at the Supreme Court’s decision
The Supreme Court Sabotages Efforts to Protect Public Health and Safety (https://nytimes.com/2022/07/01/opinion/supreme-court-epa-ruling.html). They write.
“The court’s ruling constrains any effort to tighten restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It also threatens the Biden administration’s ability to impose new limits on tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks and on methane emissions from oil and gas facilities. As the three members of the court’s liberal minority wrote in a stinging dissent, the majority’s decision strips the E.P.A. of the power ‘to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.’”
The editors add:
“Thursday’s ruling also has consequences far beyond environmental regulation. It threatens the ability of federal agencies to issue rules of any kind, including the regulations that ensure the safety of food, medicines and other consumer products, that protect workers from injuries and that prevent financial panics.”
“When it comes to “major questions” of regulatory policy, the court said, it would not hesitate to second-guess regulators — and to strike rules that it decided did not have a clear congressional warrant.”
It is “a blow to both the public interest and democracy.”
Global warming, reflected most basically in rising temperatures that result from greenhouse gas emissions, is a growing problem in the U.S. and across the world. The solution to the problem, if any, is ultimately international, although the U.S. under propitious political circumstances could serve as a major model, facilitator, innovator, subsidizer, and investor in clean energy.
However, because the climate diners and detractors have so much political and economic power in the U.S., even modest climate stabilizing initiatives are currently in doubt.
But there is an even more basic question about whether a capitalist economy based on the interests of shareholders, profit, and growth, combined with a complicit Republican Party, a right-wing Supreme Court, and a stymied Biden administration, can ever be reformed or transformed enough to begin the process of containing and reducing the climate crisis soon enough.
So far, the U.S. and the nations of the world have done a poor job in finding ways to significantly curtail the climate crisis. The current forces driving energy prices upward, along with the Right-wing forces in Congress, the Supreme Court, and in the majority of state legislatures, avidly favor deregulation and undiminished corporate power. One big question is whether the right-wing, highly partisan Republican Party, will consolidate their power in the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections or not.
What can individuals do?
Katherine Hayhoe’s book, Saving US: A Climate Scientist’s Hope for Healing in a Divided World, offers ideas for what concerned citizens may do to influence the attitudes of people. She argues that informed individuals can reach out to those who buy the right-wing line – not the hard-core right wingers – and start conversations that over time introduce the scientific facts documenting the problem.
Hayhoe is a distinguished climate scientist. The implication of her analysis is that such conversations can have ripple effects that eventually will expand the population that accepts the science, how global warming is already generating great environmental and human harms, and how there is a pressing need to support transformative actions, particularly the rapid phase out fossil-fuels. If this should ever happen, individual conversations and the groups that grow out of them would be one part of larger social and political movements and activities that, if combined, might lead the society to move on a path toward clean energy.
But time is short and the powerful forces arrayed against reasonable and scientifically-based energy policies are unlikely to compromise.