2022 In Energy And Climate: The Transition Is ON
'A coastal city of 2122 that is successfully adapting to climate change.' Image created with DALL-E 2 AI

Climate and energy stories are always about numbers, so let's start this review of 2022 with a fairly small one that should give you hope: Nine. That's nine percent, and according to polling by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, it's the percentage of Americans who are "dismissive" of the reality of climate change: They "believe global warming is not happening, human-caused, or a threat, and most endorse conspiracy theories (e.g., 'global warming is a hoax').” Just nine percent. That's roughly the percentage of Americans who think Elvis is still alive or that the Holocaust never happened. But because they make so much noise, spreading their denialism at every opportunity, most people would assume the number is a lot higher.

The poll also identified another 10 percent as "doubtful" of climate realities; these folks may say it's happening, but "do not think global warming is happening or they believe it is just a natural cycle. They do not think much about the issue or consider it a serious risk." I think that probably describes most Republicans apart from the all-out cranks, and it's very bad news that many members of those two groups are in positions of political or economic power, of course. But here are the other good numbers from the poll:

Most Americans are either "concerned" or "alarmed" about global warming and its effects on climate, and as those effects become all too visible in our lives, those numbers are only going to increase. We're finally demanding changes. And those changes are happening — 30 or 40 years later than needed to have headed off the significant worldwide damage that's now locked in, and we still need to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions much more quickly to avoid the worst possible effects of warming.

The Paris goal of limiting total warming since the Industrial Revolution to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) remains theoretically possible, but unlikely without dramatic changes in how we create and use energy. That's the bad news. But every tenth of a degree C of warming we prevent will also prevent progressively worse and worse outcomes. There's good reason to think we're finally heading in the right direction. The International Panel on Climate Change reports are going to continue to be grim, but it's no time to throw our hands in the air and say we're screwed — I worry that climate despair may be as bad a disincentive to pursue change as denial — and as unrealistic.

For a sobering but grimly optimistic look at where we are now, see this important David Wallace-Wells essay in the New York Times (gift link) published in October. Wallace-Wells explains that, thanks to changes in energy production that are already happening, the hands of the climate doomsday clock have slowed compared to estimates of just a few years ago. The "business as usual" estimates, which assumed no slowing in the rate of greenhouse emissions, pegged the likely increase in global temperatures at four or even five degrees by the end of the century. That would be

a change disruptive enough to call forth not only predictions of food crises and heat stress, state conflict and economic strife, but, from some corners, warnings of civilizational collapse and even a sort of human endgame. (Perhaps you’ve had nightmares about each of these and seen premonitions of them in your newsfeed.)

Now, with the world already 1.2 degrees hotter, scientists believe that warming this century will most likely fall between two or three degrees. [...] A little lower is possible, with much more concerted action; a little higher, too, with slower action and bad climate luck. Those numbers may sound abstract, but what they suggest is this: Thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years.

Needless to say, that doesn't mean we can pat ourselves on the backs and throw another endangered species on the barbeque. But the range of outcomes has changed, as Wallace-Wells notes. The nightmare scenarios have been "made improbable by decarbonization," although the most hopeful options have been "practically foreclosed by tragic delay."

The window of possible climate futures is narrowing, and as a result, we are getting a clearer sense of what’s to come: a new world, full of disruption but also billions of people, well past climate normal and yet mercifully short of true climate apocalypse.

Go read/listen to the whole thing. It's a holiday weekend, and you have a gift linky right there.

Part of the reason I'm feeling cautiously optimistic is that people who know climate and energy policy are generally very pleased with this year's climate bill, aka the Inflation Reduction Act. Independent energy reporter David Roberts has discussed it extensively with energy and climate experts, and while it has some dumb shit in it that was the price of getting Joe Manchin's support, they say the bill really deserves the praise it's received.

There's a perfectly good reason the climate provisions in this bill are so good. They're taken more or less directly from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's "gold standard" climate plan from the 2020 presidential campaign, which itself reflected the work of a whole bunch of climate policy wonks. The dollar amounts are smaller, but the effects are going to be significant.

What's more, Roberts points out, the "green bank" and other research and development provisions in the bill will provide billions of dollars in seed money for new clean energy enterprises, which are likely to lead to even more reductions in emissions over the next decade — but because those companies and technologies don't exist yet, they can't be included in any models. That means the total US emissions reductions resulting from the bill are likely to be more than the 40 percent already estimated. Roberts believes this law has the potential to remake large parts of the US economy.

Another reason for optimism came in the form of a peer-reviewed study published in September by Oxford University's Institute for New Economic Thinking. The researchers explain that a rapid transition to renewable energy will actually cost far less than going slowly, because greater deployment of renewables will drive down the price of electricity enough to save the world $12 trillion, compared to continuing to use fossil fuels. It's simply not true that the clean energy transition would be too costly to pursue: If anything, not transitioning quickly will cost far more. And damn right you should go give a listen to this Dave Roberts interview with Dr. Doyne Farmer, one of the study's co-authors. I am just plain turning into a mouthpiece for Roberts is what's happening.

Want a book to help you be a climate activist and help make change? That would be The Big Fix: 7 Practical Steps to Save Our Planet, by Hal Harvey and Justin Gillis. It's a handy guide to policies that will move us closer to a survivable climate situation, and how you can be an Active Citizen, like finding or starting a local climate group and, say, showing up at those mandatory public meetings on utility policies that are normally only attended by business reps and utility spokespeople. Well sure, there's also a Dave Roberts interview with the authors.

One more book: I'm currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson's excellent near-future science fiction novelThe Ministry for the Future, which manages to make discussions of climate science, sustainability policy, international tensions, and UN agencies an exciting read. It may help that there's a subplot involving a terrorist group that's out to assassinate the hundred people most responsible for continued fossil fuel use, which of course you should not advocate in the comments, but ups the ante and tensions in the novel. Some reader reviews found it preachy, if it is, I must be in the choir.

Happy new year. Consume less. Keep up the pressure for change.

[Yale Project on Climate Change Communication / Volts / NYT gift link / Scientific AmericanOxford University / Ministry for the Future (Wonkette revenue-sharing link) / The Big Fix (Wonkette link too) / Image generated using DALL-E 2 AI]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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