2014 Was A Pretty Great Year For The Environment. Really!
This post brought to you by the Patty Dumpling Endowed Blogging Chair For Something Nice For Once
At first it looked like 2014 was going to be more of the same bullshit. On Jan. 9, a chemical spill in West Virginia's Elk River contaminated the drinking water of some 16 percent of the state's population. Freedom Industries, the company responsible, was soon revealed to be a malodorous pit of corruption and grabassery that seemed almost too stupid to be real.
Meanwhile, bigger picture, mainstream and left-leaning media enterprises covered the environment in apocalyptic terms, while their peers on the right pedaled derision and fantasy. Climate change, habitat destruction, antibiotic resistant diseases, and on and on -- these would either end life as we know it, or not really bother anyone because liberals made them up.
But! While lurid doom porn was everywhere in 2014, we think this year SHOULD BE remembered as the year things actually started to get better. Really!
Let's remember 2014 as the year when clean, renewable energy truly became cost competitive with fossil fuels. From the New York Times:
And, also in Oklahoma, American Electric Power ended up tripling the amount of wind power it had originally sought after seeing how low the bids came in last year.
“Wind was on sale — it was a Blue Light Special,” said Jay Godfrey, managing director of renewable energy for the company. He noted that Oklahoma, unlike many states, did not require utilities to buy power from renewable sources.
“We were doing it because it made sense for our ratepayers,” he said.
Ratepayers rejoice! Your power's getting cleaner and maybe even cheaper all at once. Probably not cheaper though, because energy company executives like money, too.
This was also the year when NRG, one of the U.S.'s largest energy companies, committed to reducing its CO2 output by 50 percent by 2030 and an amazing 90 percent by 2050. NYT again:
Since 2005, the company has reduced its carbon emissions 40 percent, executives say, and the new goals would use this year’s projected level of 125 million metric tons as a baseline. Few power companies have made similar commitments, although they have become common in corporate America and are part of the impetus for NRG’s move.
Amazingly, the company's CEO acknowledged that the nascent campaign to divest university endowments from fossil fuel companies played a part in this decision:
“If divestment from fossil fuel companies becomes the issue that preoccupies college campuses around America for the next decade,” Mr. Crane said, “I don’t relish the idea that year after year we’re going to be graduating a couple million kids from college, who are going to be American consumers for the next 60 or 70 years, that come out of college with a distaste or disdain for companies like mine.” He added that renewables were the segment of the power sector showing the greatest growth.
So maybe it's marketing, but so what? If it's real, it's huge.
Meanwhile, how does massive efficiency gains from solar panels sound? Solarific? Some other, better fake word? Whatever:
One new technology in particular has scientists voicing unusual enthusiasm — perovskites, a class of minerals with a salt-like crystalline structure that are easy to build, are made from inexpensive ingredients like lead and ammonia, and are becoming increasingly efficient at converting sunlight to electricity.
“Everybody around the world is extremely excited about this,” Jao van de Lagemaat, director of the Chemical and Materials Science Center at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory(NREL) in Golden, Colo. “The efficiency of solar cells made from this material has been climbing more rapidly than anything else that we’ve seen before…. I don’t know where it stops yet.”
That's as reported by Yale's Environment 360 blog, so it might even be true!
We fixated quite a bit on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in 2014, yet the project remains in limbo even after soon-to-be-former Sen. Mary Landrieu's not especially heroic vote in favor of building it. But maybe the best hope for keeping that filthy oil in the ground is Saudi Arabia's recent enthusiasm for pumping its own oil. This Saudi production has crashed oil prices, much to your wallet's pleasure, but it appears the Kingdom's real aim is to make producing the "unconventional" oil deposits in shale and tar sand economically inefficient, thereby eliminating their competition. Works for us! Also, doesn't it kinda make sense for Saudi Arabia to just bank whatever it can from its oil as quick as it can, considering that nobody really knows if we'll all be driving electric cars in 20 years? We are not economists but we ARE writing on the internet, so who knows!
Oh, and 2014 was also the year that President Obama directed the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions, announced higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks, and struck a major climate deal with China. Obviously, real hardcore liberals still hate him because something Wall Street something drones something something worse than Bush.
Okay, yes, 2014 may still go down as the hottest in recorded history. And yes, it's still likely that significant changes in the Earth's climate will kill a couple-few million people in the coming decades, which super sucks! But that's kind of locked in at this point. The choice before humanity isn't "everything's fine" versus "extinction." More like "only poor people get their shit fucked up" versus "all our shit gets fucked up even if we have money." Inspiring words for an inspiring New Year!
Really, though, in the end, we will out-think, out-engineer, and ultimately outlive climate change. Two million years of human survival through ingenuity argue in favor of this thesis. And when we get there, it's gonna be great -- a genuine paradise on earth. With birth control for all. And asteroid mining.
This thing with the fish though, and how we're eating all of them? That might be a real problem. Someone should work on that.
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