The resolution by the U.S. Conference of Mayors ― who represent a 148 million people and 41.8 percent of the country’s electricity use ― would be the broadest rejection of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. If each of the federation’s 1,481 cities actually converted to zero-emissions electricity by 2035, U.S. emissions of planet-warming gases would fall by 619 million metric tons, according to a Sierra Club analysis shared exclusively with HuffPost.
That’s equal to the total combined carbon footprint of the five worst states emitting greenhouse gases: Texas, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Florida and Ohio.
“The more cities that not only pledge to move to 100 percent renewable energy but pass that into a local law or ordinance and begin to work on that transition,” Jodie Van Horn, director of the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” campaign, told HuffPost by phone Wednesday from the mayors’ conference in Miami, “the closer we can get to meeting the Paris goals through city-level action.”
The Paris Agreement, a pact signed by every nation except Syria and Nicaragua, set broad, non-binding targets for countries to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause the planet to warm and alter the climate. The U.S., historically the world’s biggest emitter, agreed to scale back pollution by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Trump announced plans to pull out of the deal this month after shredding virtually every policy meant to meet those goals.
An alliance of more than 1,200 cities, counties, businesses and state leaders, led by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, formed soon after, announcing plans to meet the Paris Agreement targets anyway. The group, called We Are Still In, includes some smaller municipalities than the U.S. Conference of Mayors, whose members have populations of at least 30,000.
The Sierra Club analysis, based on data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, considered two additional scenarios. If the 34 cities who already have plans in place to transition to 100 percent clean energy achieve their goal, the U.S. emission from electricity would fall by 19.1 million metric tons. The number increases to 34.5 million metric tons, equal to 3.4 percent of U.S. electricity consumption, if an additional 84 cities whose mayors pledged to completely switch to renewables but have yet to pass a formal policy also meet their target. Of the 100 who committed to that promise, 16 already approved policies to convert their electricity supply to solar or wind.
Getting the entire U.S. Conference of Mayors to adopt solar and wind power remains the ideal, if lofty, goal, Van Horn said.
“This is the good, better, best scenario,” she said, referring to the three situations outlined in the report.
The analysis comes just days after new research sparked fresh debate over the feasibility of converting to 100 percent renewable energy. The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, warned that the costs of shifting the U.S. electricity grid to renewables by 2050, as Democratic senators proposed in April, could prompt a political backlash.
“If we push down the avenue of 100 percent renewables, it will become very obvious very quickly that it is neither cheap nor effective,” Christopher Clack, the study’s lead author, told InsideClimate News. “We worry that it could be used by our opponents to diminish the role of renewable energy on the grid. We worry if we oversell them, it will lead to disappointment and backlash.”
Rather, Clack proposed policymakers should aim for a number closer to 80 percent renewable energy.
That public discussion of clean energy has progressed at all to the percentage of renewable energy, rather than its merits compared to fossil fuels, struck Van Horn has a victory in itself.
“We think the academic debate is healthy,” she said. “A few years ago, we wouldn’t have been having a debate.”
The official resolution’s deadline is 2035.
And related to decarbonization…
The Roadmap was published in the journal, Energy & Environmental Science. It was covered by a large number of articles, including the CleanTechnica article, “State-By-State Plan To Bring US To 100% Renewables By 2050 Unveiled By Researchers.”
My thought on the article at the time was that it was not really a roadmap at all, so much as an elaborate academic exercise intended to provide one possible approach as a subject of discussion.
If I found fault with it, it was because I believed it was too restricted. I thought it failed to deal adequately with certain inputs that seemed very important, including problems that are not usually thought of as relating directly to climate change, but which should among the issues considered.
For example, the Roadmap to 100% renewables is almost entirely restricted to examining wind, water, and sunlight, just as its title suggests. This meant that it largely ignored the separate problems we have dealing with waste, especially from agriculture, food, and human waste, which we must deal with regardless of considerations about energy. These waste products can be treated in bio-digesters to generate biogas, which we can then use both to reduce energy demand for waste handling and to produce electricity.
The amount of energy that could be produced from bio-digesters is impressive. In October of 2013, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory issued a paper on this, “Biogas Potential in the United States,” which gave the maximum amount of biogas that could be produced as 40% of the amount of natural gas we consumed at the time. I would have expected the Roadmap to say something about this.
Evaluation for the Sake of Criticism
As the Roadmap approached its second year in publication, Christopher T. M. Clack et al. published their “Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar” (Evaluation). This article set out to show how the Roadmap was wrong for a number of reasons. My take on it is that it is embarrassing, but not for Jacobson et al. While it set out to debunk the Roadmap, I think it demonstrably debunked itself.
I would like to consider two quotes in the Evaluation. One is this:
“With all available technologies at our disposal, achieving an 80% reduction in GHG emissions from the electricity sector at reasonable costs is extremely challenging, even using a new continental-scale high-voltage transmission grid. Decarbonizing the last 20% of the electricity sector as well as decarbonizing the rest of the economy that is difficult to electrify (e.g., cement manufacture and aviation) are even more challenging.”
This quote appears in the section titled, “Faults with the Jacobson et al. Analyses.” I would point out that it is stated without citing any reference to a source. What puzzled me more about this statement, however, was the fact that it explicitly contradicted something I had just read in the same paper:
This statement, which appeared in the Evaluation’s section, “Abstract,” has two citations. (I restrain myself from asking a very rude question here.)
The Media Response
There have been a number of pieces published in the back-and-forth between Mark Jacobson and Christopher Clack. One article that appeared in the Energy Collective is “Energy Wonks Have a Meltdown Over the U.S. Going 100% Renewable. Why?” In it, we find this on the aftermath of the publication of the Evaluation:
“What followed was a storm of debate as energy wonks of all stripes weighed in on the merits of the PNAS analysis. Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University professor who was the lead author of the 2015 study, shot back with detailed rebuttals, in one calling his fellow researchers ‘fossil fuel and nuclear supporters.’”
While that is all extremely exciting to wonks, I suppose (including myself), the really important immediate effect of the publication of the Evaluation was what it was taken to mean in the media at large.
Scientific American published an article at one extreme of the discussion, “Landmark 100 Percent Renewable Energy Study Flawed, Say 21 Leading Experts.” It criticizes Jacobson for “dismissive and flippant responses” to “legitimate concerns” of some critics on a number of occasions. It praises Clack et al. for “rising above the political fray and rigorously critique Jacobson’s methods and assumptions based on engineering and scientific principles,” which is something I do not feel at all confident that they did. But importantly, it also said this:
“That doesn’t mean that decarbonization of the energy system is impossible.”
At the other extreme of the discussion, represented by many more articles than those like the one in Scientific American, were articles such as one in the National Review, whose title speaks clearly to its bias, “The Appalling Delusion of 100 Percent Renewables, Exposed.” The first paragraph of this article speaks clearly of what I can only see as its utter disdain for facts and truth:
“The idea that the U.S. economy can be run solely with renewable energy — a claim that leftist politicians, environmentalists, and climate activists have endlessly promoted — has always been a fool’s errand. And on Monday, the National Academy of Sciences published a blockbuster paper by an all-star group of American scientists that says exactly that.”
The contrast between the National Review and Scientific American is driven, I believe, by a contrast between the “politically incorrect” (which is easily as bad as the “politically correct”) and science. It is clear to me that renewable energy and climate change provide issues of real concern to neither conservatives nor libertarians. They are, however, issues for the tiny subset of people who call themselves conservatives or libertarians and pay the bills of the right-wing media and politicians.
A Cautionary Conclusion
The leaders in Washington don’t want objectivity.
They want uncritical Objectivism.
Conservatives should take heed. Reality will inevitably prevail, and both climate change and the disruptive possibilities for low-cost renewable energy are real. I do not think voters will not forgive fraud in this case, especially when they see what they will pay for the damage.