How the EPA's Carbon Plan Could Create 274,000 New Jobs
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy made herself clear Monday morning—adoption of the proposed carbon regulation would not force the country to choose between a strong economy and a healthy environment.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and ICF International had already completed research aligned with that statement before McCarthy ever spoke. According to analysis from the two organizations, carbon standards could create 274,000 new American jobs and save households and businesses $37.4 billion on their electric bills in 2020.
They cited Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia as the states that would benefit most from climate action. The public health and energy efficiency sectors could gain the most workers if the proposal is adopted following a yearlong, open-comment period.
"Most Americans support curbing dangerous carbon pollution from power plants because it’s the right thing to do," said Daniel Lashof, chief operating officer at NextGen Climate. "Cleaning up dirty power plants can be a bonanza for public health and a boon for energy efficiency jobs—and save Americans on their electric bills.
“This is a winning step toward a cleaner, cheaper and healthier 21st Century energy future. It’s time to get moving.”
In 2012, Lashof, also a senior fellow at the NRDC, oversaw the development of an NRDC proposal to reduce carbon that ended up being very similar to the proposal announced by McCarthy. The organization proposed the country cut carbon pollution by 531 million tons per year, or nearly 25 percent from 2012 levels by 2020. When expanded to 2030, the numbers end up exceeding the EPA proposal by 5 percent.
The jobs that could see the biggest rises in employment include electricians, roofers, carpenters, insulation workers, heating and air conditioning installers and heavy equipment operators. Investments in energy efficiency could save households an average of $103 per household, or $13 billion as a nation.
Coal-fired power plants are the main polluters and have escaped regulation, as this proposal marks the first time an Administration has attempted to regulate carbon pollution.
"For far too long, coal-fired power plants have had free reign to dump carbon pollution into our atmosphere," NextGen founder Tom Steyer said. "The Administration’s plan to end this carbon pollution loophole will establish a level playing field for advanced energy solutions that are cleaner, affordable and more secure. Now, more than ever, the United States must be a global leader in addressing climate change. As the centerpiece of the president’s Climate Action Plan, today’s carbon pollution standards proposal goes a very long way toward establishing that leadership and the president’s legacy."
There are about 1,000 power plants today emitting more than 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year—about 40 percent of the country's carbon pollution emissions. There are already emissions limits on pollutants like arsenic, mercury, lead, sulfur and soot.
“Energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest and cleanest way to cut carbon emissions, and it benefits local communities enormously by putting people to work and lowering bills,” said Sheryl Carter, co-director of NRDC’s Energy Program. “We are already seeing clear examples of efficiency in action, with huge job and money-savings benefits based on real-world experience by states.
"This analysis shows that carbon standards that use efficiency as a key strategy will expand these benefits to a much bigger scale. We need to do this now.”
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
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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