Clean Power Plan Paves Way Toward a Carbon-Free Economy
The long-awaited final Clean Power Plan rule was released yesterday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 3, 2015
The summary of the final rule, states that the EPA is establishing:
- carbon dioxide (CO2) emission performance rates representing the best system of emission reduction for two subcategories of existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units—fossil fuel-fired electric utility steam generating units and stationary combustion turbines,
- state-specific CO2 goals reflecting the CO2 emission performance rates, and
- guidelines for the development, submittal and implementation of state plans that establish emission standards or other measures to implement the CO2 emission performance rates, which may be accomplished by meeting the state goals.
The EPA also released this video with Administrator Gina McCarthy explaining in detail the impact the Clean Power Plan will have on laying "the foundation for a healthier future and a stronger economy."
President Obama is calling the plan “the biggest, most important steps we’ve ever taken to combat climate change." He said in a White House video release Sunday, "It's time for America and the world to act on climate change."
Ken Berlin, president and CEO of The Climate Reality Project, agrees. “The final, strengthened Clean Power Plan comes at a critical time, not only for the United States, but also for the entire world," he said.
"Across the globe, this commitment to cut emissions from power plants by nearly a third from 2005 levels will be seen as a crucial step toward fulfilling President Obama’s pledge to reduce our country’s greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent by 2025, which will set us on the path to achieving a strong emissions reductions agreement at the upcoming COP21 climate negotiations.”
In addition to reducing carbon emission by 32 percent below 2005 levels, the plan will grow and strength the U.S. economy by driving innovation and investment in renewable energy. According to McCarthy, the plan will "keep energy affordable and reliable."
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 3, 2015
"The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity for workers, entrepreneurs and businesses to prosper as we go above and beyond the goals set by this plan," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "It is a signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. is serious about acting on climate disruption and ready to lead the way toward a strong international climate agreement in Paris later this year."
But not all environmental groups were cheering.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said, “The Obama Administration has long touted a commitment to implementing meaningful regulation to address the climate crisis. Unfortunately, this plan fails that commitment. "The goal is too weak, and the tools aren’t fit for the job. Relying on inherently flawed programs like cap-and-trade instead of serious federal regulation is a recipe for failure. His Clean Power Plan is nothing more than a market-based compromise with polluting industries. With this plan, we can expect more fossil fuel development, more dangerous fracking and only a symbolic investment in truly clean, renewable energy.”
May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, agrees the plan needs to be stronger. “This is the most significant action yet from the Obama administration, but it’s still not enough to secure his climate legacy. Cutting coal emissions is low hanging fruit, the next challenge will be standing up to Big Oil," she said.
"We’ll be pushing the administration to build on this announcement and take the additional steps necessary to protect our climate, like rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, ending fracking and preventing Arctic and offshore drilling. As the Clean Power Plan shows, tackling climate change helps save lives, cut pollution and create jobs. Thanks to the work of the millions of people involved in the climate movement, momentum is now clearly on our side."
Where do presidential candidates stand on the Clean Power Plan?
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton was the first 2016 candidate to respond to President Obama's Clean Power Plan. Clinton called the plan "a significant step forward in meeting the urgent threat of climate change." Read page 1
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also came out strong in support of the plan.
In a statement Sanders said, “President Obama understands that climate change is the great planetary crisis facing us and that we must move boldly to transform or energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and renewable energy. I have not yet seen all of the details of the president’s proposal but it sounds to me like a step forward in ending our dependence on fossil fuel and I support that effort.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley responded to the plan in this tweet:
.@POTUS’s clean power plan is a great step fwd, & I’d expand it to cover large emission sources beyond power plants. http://t.co/GdOejxHFWM — Martin O'Malley (@MartinOMalley) August 2, 2015
But not all candidates support the final rule.
And, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who announced his run for president mid-July, had this to say about the final rule:
Obama's plan should be called the Costly Power Plan because it will cost hard-working Americans jobs and raise their energy rates. -SW
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) August 3, 2015
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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