Like the “unsinkable” Titanic, the United States has just hit a melting iceberg and is about to turn nose up in the water. It’s now past time for us to wake up, smell the carbon emissions, and immediately start transitioning our energy development, production, and use policies. Otherwise, we will soon become an also-ran—falling way behind Communist China as well as many other countries—in the race toward a Global Clean Energy Economy.
This is true for several reasons. First and foremost, as we write in our recently published book, PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, implementation of a carbon fee on all CO2 emissions and uses is the easiest—and by far the most effective way—to reverse the ongoing trend of annual global temperature rise. And rising it is—16 out of the past 17 years have been the hottest ever recorded on Earth. To date—while the U.S. Congress and several states have often debated a carbon fee—they have yet to take any action.
Now let’s take a look at the country we consider one of the greatest threats to our economic and socio-political wellbeing—China. As recently highlighted in episode 8, Season 2 of the National Geographic Channel’s Years of Living Dangerously (YLD), China is currently implementing a carbon fee through a national cap-and-trade program and will be producing at least 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuels by the year 2030. Also by 2030, China plans to add more solar and wind power to its energy reserves than exists collectively in the world today.
Meanwhile—under the new Trump Administration—we are preparing to expand our dependence on coal mining and coal-fired power plants. This despite the fact that coal is no longer a viable commodity in today’s world economy. Trump is also championing more oil and gas development—notably featuring the dirtiest crude on Earth which is being tediously squeezed out of Canada’s Alberta Tar Sands.
As we write this during the 100 days of Trump’s Presidency, our new leader has already brought back two previously “dead in the water” oil pipeline projects (the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines) and called for massive reductions in funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air and water pollution control programs. This latter action will—of course—lead the way for more power generation from the mining and burning of coal. To top things off, Trump has just filed executive orders to get rid of President Obama’s ambitious Clean Power Plan while also rescinding our commitment to the historic Paris Climate Agreement that the U.S.—along with 195 other countries—signed in December 2015.
So while China is showing the world it knows how to efficiently and permanently cut back its CO2 emissions, the Trump Administration is—in terms of power production and generation—leading the U.S. back into the Stone Age!
What can we do about this? For starters, we need to resist Trump’s attempts to undo the climate change successes of the Obama Administration. We need to reach out to our legislators and insist that the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Climate Agreement are kept while the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines remain defeated. Then we need to ramp up and keep the hammer down on our transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources. As China and many other countries (including all of Scandinavia, plus Slovenia, Poland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the UK) are demonstrating, a carbon fee—either implemented through a cap-and-trade program or as a direct additional cost to emitters—is the best way to accomplish this. Charging fees for existing CO2 emissions and uses will force our utility companies to either switch or make way for new companies that feature only renewable energy resources—wind, water, and solar power.
In summary, we can’t afford to fall further behind in the Global Clean Energy Race. We must heed the old Chinese proverb that reads: “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” We must quit standing still and immediately start moving forward toward full reliance on carbon free energy sources. Otherwise, we must hope that there will be enough lifeboats for us all when our ship finally goes down!
Budd Titlow and Mariah Tinger are professional environmental scientists and co-authors of PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change.