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Vision, Reality, and Austerity

by Eban Goodstein • October 3, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

This is part two of a two-part series by Eban Goodstein on Tea Party ideology and what it implies for climate stabilization efforts.

Part one: Tea Party to Planet: Checkmate?

Climate stabilization, if we got started today, would not be an economic or technical challenge. Recent research, including by co-authors and myself, has added to the strong evidence that we could get most of the way there simply by scaling up existing low carbon technologies, at moderate investment cost. The challenge is time: thanks to the Tea Party, we will not start cutting emissions for another 5 years at the least. An orderly, “politics as usual” transition towards 450 ppm slipped away in 2010. 

What now? We have to drive the US political system towards an emissions reduction trajectory as aggressive as possible, with the hope that our kids will discover sequestration technologies that can dial the planet back towards 350 ppm. And also with the recognition that no one can tell the future. Climate crises in the 2010’s and 20’s may spur global, WWII-style mobilization in support of a clean energy future, targeting sustainable C02 levels. Australia illustrates how the experience of massive flooding and extended drought can begin to alter the political landscape.

To support this vision, the Clean Energy movement has a winning story. The future is about economic revitalization, jobs, national security, rural development, energy independence, community empowerment, technological savvy, environmental security, clean air for our kids, and climate stabilization. The trick will be to build more and more economic and political power behind the story, faster and faster. (more…)

Tea Party to Planet: Checkmate?

by Eban Goodstein • @ 4:31 pm

This is part one of a two-part series by Eban Goodstein on Tea Party ideology and what it implies for climate stabilization.

Like many “climate hawks”, I spent the 2000’s working to drive US national policy in two directions:  towards a price on carbon, and towards large-scale investment in a clean energy economy. We believed that a civil-rights style movement, combined with a lobbying coalition including businesses, environmentalists, faith leaders and others, could, with luck, force the American system to do the right thing, and lead the world in stabilizing the global climate system.

With the election of President Obama, and the progressive 2008 Congress, it all seemed within reach. Carbon pricing in the form of the Waxman-Markey bill advanced in the House. Clean energy investment, at the rhetorical heart of the stimulus, rose to unprecedented levels. 

Goal one shattered when Ted Kennedy died, tipping the Senate back into gridlock. Goal two collapsed this summer, in the wreckage of hostage-driven budget politics. Future clean energy investment has been brutally choked off by the fiscal handcuffs of the deficit deal.

And the earth continues heating up. The year’s 2010 and 2011 have been horrendous for extreme weather:  unprecedented heat and drought in Russia and now Texas and Oklahoma; biblical-scale floods in Pakistan, Australia, and the American Midwest, and Vermont.  All this as conventional power infrastructure, at BP’s Deep Horizon and Fukashima, failed catastrophically, degrading both national economies and regional ecosystems.

The climate movement of the 2000’s was driven by the belief that if the US did not begin seriously cutting emissions by 2015—as part of a global deal heading to 80% reductions by 2050– then we would be “too late” to prevent truly catastrophic climate de-stabilization.

By vilifying carbon pricing, and by blocking serious clean energy investment, the Tea Party has insured that we will not cut emissions by 2015, and that there will be no global deal.  The politics of the radical right have locked the US into energy policy stalemate, at least through the middle of this decade. With the climate clock running out, is this stalemate also checkmate for the planet? (more…)

Costs of Inaction: The Price of Ice

by Eban Goodstein • February 8, 2011 @ 10:49 am

This is another in a series of entries focused on the costs of inaction – what we will pay if climate change continues unchecked

Source: NASA

Arctic sea ice extent averaged over Januray 2011 its lowest recorded levels since satellite records began in 1979. It was 19,300 square miles below the record low of 5.25 million square miles, set in 2006, and 490,000 square miles below the 1979 to 2000 average.

Climate change, the crisis many hoped we could ignore for decades, is here. Ice and snow that covered the vast frozen northland for 800,000 years is disappearing rapidly. As countless square miles of the Arctic turn from reflective white to heat-absorbing dark, the result is an acceleration of global warming. And this is not just a problem for polar bears. The Arctic acts as the air conditioner for the entire planet.  And it is starting to break down.

A co-author and I estimated the economic impacts of this breakdown. What is the price of a melting Arctic? Trillions of dollars in global economic damages. (more…)

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