Solutions Summit

by Michael D. Pulliam

FIVE CLEAR PATHS TO LOW-COST, ZERO-CARBON AMERICA

A new study pioneered by Princeton University gives intricate detail on no fewer than five economic pathways for getting America to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Each of these pathways utilizes existing technology and relies on historical energy spending rates to completely de-carbonize the US economy; we do not need to invent anything or create any new finance to follow any of these plans. The team’s findings lay out practical, low-cost initiatives at local, state, and national scales which touch on these fields: infrastructure, technology, capital mobilization, land use, incumbent energy industries, employment, and health. The initial report was released mid-December 2020 to highlight the urgency of needed policy action, with scientific journal publications to come.

One of the lead research partners, Eric Larson, described the issue this way: “Most studies do not provide this high geographic resolution for every state in the country, making it hard to tangibly appreciate what it will take to get to net-zero. Our research helps make a net-zero future vivid and real for people.”

Sources: Princeton, Niskanen Center

CONSERVATIVES ORGANIZING FOR CLIMATE ACTION

Visitors of the website REP.org are greeted by this telling line: “Yes, there really are Republicans for Environmental Protection. We really do exist. We call ourselves REP members.” Organizations like Republicans for Environmental Protection are much more common than many Americans seem to think. These conservative communities stretch across the US, and most of them profess at least some values, energy solutions, and climate goals in common with their liberal counterparts. Here are eight of the most notable groups:

Property and Environment Research Center (est. 1980, headquartered in MT)

Republicans for Environmental Protection (est. 1995, headquartered in NM)

ConservAmerica (est. 1995, headquartered in DC)

EarthX (est. 2011 as Earth Day Texas, headquartered in TX)

Niskanen Center (est. 2014, headquartered in DC)

Conservative Energy Network (est. 2016, headquartered in MI)

American Conservation Coalition (est. 2017, headquartered in WI)

Clean Capitalist Coalition (est. 2018, headquartered in NY)

Note: Not all these organizations agree with each other, and some have opposing viewpoints to progressive climate action plans. Others have been criticized for falsely appearing conservative while pushing a liberal agenda.

RENEWABLE ENERGY SURPASSES FOSSIL FUEL USE IN EU AND US

The fight against climate change reached a new milestone in 2020. For the first time in history, renewables (solar and wind) delivered more electricity to the European Union than fossil fuels. An annual report tracking power use in the European Union showed that for 2020, 38% of power came from renewable sources, just inching ahead of fossil fuels at 37% (Nuclear, solar and wind power have almost doubled in Europe since 2015, and emissions from electricity have become almost 30% cleaner.)

Dave Jones, one of the lead authors on the report, said, “Rapid growth in wind and solar has forced coal into decline, but this is just the beginning. Europe is relying on wind and solar to ensure not only coal is phased out by 2030, but also to phase out gas generation, replace closing nuclear power plants, and to meet rising electricity demand from electric cars, heat pumps and electrolysers.”

The European Union isn’t the only region making strides in renewable energy. According to the US Energy Information Administration, at one point in 2019 Americans got more power from renewable energy than from coal for the first time since 1885; that happened again in 2020, and is likely to become an annual trend.

“We are moving away from coal steadily, consistently and quickly,” said Dennis Wamsted, a research analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis. “People want renewables. Corporations are asking for it. They are being pushed by consumers.”

Sources: Unilad, The Happy Broadcast, CNN

CITY USES GOLD STARS TO BOOST RECYCLING

The city council of Christchurch, New Zealand, applied conspicuous gold stars to residents’ curbside recycle bins in order to incentivize proper sorting—and it worked. Households with uncontaminated recyclables were rewarded with a shiny star sticker that got the neighbors talking. Within several months, the number of truckloads carrying fully recyclable materials went up from 48% to nearly 80%. The city has been aiming to return to the 99% recyclability they had in 2019.

A visible reward system taps into the general human desire to achieve conspicuous status among our peers. Countless studies in social psychology show that many people would go to tremendous expense to gain—or simply give the impression of—a reputation of uprightness, integrity, and often superiority. Leveraging this common feature of the human mind has been widely successful in guiding people into prosocial behavior.

Sources: Reasons to be Cheerful, Guardian

 

MOST AMBITIOUS CLIMATE CHANGE EXECUTIVE ORDER IN U.S. HISTORY

On January 27th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to address the climate crisis by transitioning away from the nation’s fossil fuel economy. The executive order paused oil and gas leasing on federal land, and targeted subsidies for fossil fuels. A few of the many directives found in the order included conserving 30% of US lands and waters by 2030, eliminating pollution from fossil fuels in the power sector by 2035, doubling offshore wind energy, and moving to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet.

Biden repeatedly stated his climate goals would create “millions of good-paying, union jobs” in renewable energy, electric vehicle manufacturing, and restoration projects of places like mine-scarred land and old industrial sites. “When I think of climate change and the answers to it, I think of jobs,″ Biden said. “These aren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams. These are concrete, actionable solutions.″

Biden also directed agencies to focus on helping and investing in low-income and minority communities located near polluting refineries and other hazardous areas to mitigate job losses during the transition to renewable energy.

Source: Associated Press

CITIES REVIVE NATIVE HABITATS TO BOOST BIODIVERSITY

Numerous cities around the globe have made great headway in “rewilding,” the process of restoring biodiversity amidst urban development. Through initiatives like Wild West End, which started in London, England, in 2015, alliances of environmental organizations and property developers have been cultivating native flora throughout city structures—rooftops, walls, planters, hives, and bat boxes. Wild West End takes surveys across London every two years and has recorded impressive increases in populations of native bats, birds, bees, and butterflies.

In a scientific study of green spaces throughout the second-largest city in Denmark, researchers confirmed “a positive relationship between urban wildness and biodiversity.” In Washington, D.C., the Department of Energy and Environment has been rewilding drainage ditches and mowed grass into meandering waterways and meadows, as well as planting 11,000 trees per year to reach 40% canopy coverage by 2032.

In addition to sequestering CO2 and strengthening ecological resilience, rewilding a city benefits people of all ages, including reduced stress and anxiety, and increased social connections.

Sources: Reasons to be Cheerful, PewTrusts.org