Climate Dispatches: A clear way forward for those bemused in how to leave fossil fuels behind

We cannot fight climate change with impromptu fixes. The way to combat climate change is with forward-thinking, long-term planning to reduce fossil fuel emissions down to zero by the middle of this century. It is extremely encouraging therefore, that California has established the goal of 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045 and recently passed the California Air Resources Board plan to require at least half of new trucks and tractor trailers sold in California to be electric by 2035.

California is clearly a leader in climate policy, however, when I say “we” at the beginning of this op-ed, I mean all Americans, if not all of humanity. Carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere is a globally averaged tragedy of the commons and even if California went to zero CO2 emissions today, not much could be celebrated in terms of assuaging our total global climate. Therefore, it is vital we set our sights on not only California state policy, but federal policy as well. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763) is a bipartisan bill that puts a fee on fossil fuels requiring fossil fuel companies to pay for their environmental impact; the revenue collected is then paid out to citizens monthly. Right now is a particularly good moment in time to use the newfound configuration and attitudes of the 117th congress to take action on this bill and on fossil fuel emissions at a federal level.

Industry-led, fossil fuel interests over the last 30-40 years have bred apathy toward renewable energy action in the U.S. congress. California continues to surge ahead as a potential role model for other U.S. states. To meet our renewable energy goals in California and supply electric trucks with carbon-free electricity, we as Californians are still left with a problem needing solving, an increase in our ability to store electricity. This is the main hurdle to moving our grid to fully renewable.

During much of the year, California ISO (the nonprofit Independent System Operator serving California’s electric grid) already documents a surplus of solar power during the day; however, this surplus is currently being lost. The clear way forward, as offered in the title, is improving our long-duration energy storage. These grid-scale energy storage projects include pumped storage hydropower, compressed air energy storage and flow batteries. Not only would public works such as these create jobs and plug inefficiencies, they would tear down the barriers to being able to fully rely on renewables for electricity production. An addition of any of these storage solutions would help smooth the relationship between solar intermittency and grid needs.

The cost/benefit analysis over the long run is clear: the costs of future climate change vastly outweigh the costs of switching to zero carbon emission energy solutions. In the short run costs will increase, but in the long run (the remainder of the 21st century) costs will decrease. This is going to take effort, but we need to act altruistically toward the next generations and not selfishly to make our lives easier today. Future generations will despise us for leaving them with an unfixable problem; unfixable, because if the problem reaches them, it means we have reached the tipping point where we can no longer prevent the world from further warming. Our great grandchildren will either look back and say that they are proud to be our descendants because we averted an irreversible climate shift, or they will be dismayed in our indifference to action toward reducing our carbon emissions to zero. It will not be easy, but we are the ones in the driver’s seat, so the onus is on us.

Dr. Nilo Bill holds his PhD in paleoclimatology from Oregon State University. He is currently an educator at Tahoe Expedition Academy and a volunteer with the North Tahoe Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.


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