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The United States has entered a new energy era, ending a century of rising carbon emissions. As the U.S. delegation prepares for the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December, it does so from a surprisingly strong position, one based on a dramatic 9 percent drop in U.S. carbon emissions over the past two years and the promise of further huge reductions.
Prominent among these carbon-cutting initiatives are stronger automobile fuel-economy standards, appliance efficiency standards, and the potential to heat, cool and light buildings with carbon-free sources of electricity. On the supply side are efforts supporting the development of U.S. wind, solar and geothermal energy resources.
Even though part of this decline in carbon emissions was caused by the recession and higher gasoline prices, part of it came from gains in energy efficiency and shifts to carbon-free sources of energy, including record amounts of new wind-generating capacity. This impressive drop in carbon emissions should enable the United States to push for a steep cut in Copenhagen.
Although Congress is considering legislation that would cut emissions only 15 or 20 percent by 2020, it’s clear to me that with just a little effort, the United States could far surpass this. Given the potentially catastrophic climate change the world is facing, we should push in Copenhagen for an 80 percent reduction by 2020.
The really big gains in fuel efficiency will come with the shift to plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars. Not only are electric motors three times more efficient than gasoline engines, but they make it possible to run cars on domestic wind-generated electricity at a gasoline-equivalent cost of 75 cents a gallon. As the low fueling cost becomes more apparent, the shift to plug-ins and all-electric cars will come far faster than most policymakers anticipate.
With carbon cuts, it’s time to stop talking about political feasibility and start talking about scientific necessity. The science is scary. We need not go beyond ice melting to see that civilization is in trouble. The Greenland ice sheet is melting. If it were to melt entirely, and that obviously would take a few centuries, sea level would rise by 23 feet. The latest reports suggest that we are looking at a rise in sea level of up to six feet this century. Such a rise would inundate part or all of many low-lying coastal cities, such as London, Miami, New Orleans, Alexandria and Shanghai, producing millions of refugees. Such a rise would also inundate the rice-growing deltas of Asia, devastating harvests in Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau will deprive the Indus, Ganges, Yangtze and Yellow rivers of the ice melt that sustains their flow during the dry season and the irrigation systems that depend on them. Let us not forget that China is the world’s leading producer of wheat and rice. India is number two in each. Anything that reduces their grain harvests will raise food prices everywhere.
If the United States pushes for an 80 percent cut, will the rest of the world follow? In particular will China, now the world’s leading carbon emitter, cooperate? And what about India?
In times past, if countries resisted international initiatives, the international community could resort to trade boycotts, export embargoes or tariffs on exports from the offending countries. Bilateral penalties are also an option. The United States is, after all, China’s largest export market.
On the renewable front, China’s wind-generating potential is seven times its current electricity consumption. Although a late starter, China is building wind farm complexes on a scale the world has not seen before. In recent years, the United States has led the world in new wind generating capacity, but within the next year, China will overtake the United States, moving so fast we might not even see it go by.
Source: The Washington Post
Author: Lester R. Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of the forthcoming “Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.”
In Maryland and Washington DC, like much of the country, the price of electricity is going up this Summer. But unlike most of the country, residents of Maryland and Washington DC have a clean energy alternative which will actually save them money on their electric bills. Clean currents is offering a program where they can purchase a combination of wind energy and renewable energy credits (RECs) for less than the price of non-renewable coal produced electricity.
To find out about continuously updated renewable energy options in your home state, along with rebates, tax credits and exemptions, grants, loans, providers and any other information related to renewable energy visit: dsireusa.org
Established in 1995, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency is an ongoing project of the North Carolina Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.