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Bill McKibben: 100% Renewables Needed 'As Fast as Humanly Possible'

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By Jake Johnson

"Given the state of the planet," wrote 350.org founder Bill McKibben in his new feature piece for In These Times, it would have been ideal for the world to have fully transitioned its energy systems away from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable sources "25 years ago."

But we can still push for the "second best" option, McKibben concluded. To do so, we must move toward wind, solar and water "as fast as humanly possible."


The transition to 100 percent renewable energy is a goal that has gained significant appeal over the past decade—and particularly over the past several months, as President Donald Trump has moved rapidly at the behest of Big Oil to dismantle even the limited environmental protections put in place by the Obama administration. Trump also withdrew the U.S. from the Paris agreement, a move McKibben denounced as "stupid and reckless."

"Environmental groups from the Climate Mobilization to Greenpeace to Food and Water Watch are backing the 100 percent target," McKibben wrote, as are many lawmakers, U.S. states and countries throughout the world.

Given the climate stance of both the dominant party in Congress and the current occupant of the Oval Office, McKibben noted that we shouldn't be looking toward either for leadership.

Rather, we should look to states like California and countries like China, both of which have made significant commitments to aggressively alter their energy systems in recent months.

The newest addition to the push for renewables is Maryland, which is set to announce on Thursday an "urgent" and "historic" bill that, if passed, would transition the state's energy system to 100 percent renewables by 2035.

McKibben also pointed to individual senators like Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who in April introduced legislation that would transition the U.S. to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2050. The bill will not pass the current Congress, "but as a standard to shape the Democratic Party agenda in 2018 and 2020, it's critically important," McKibben argued.

"What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100 percent renewable is to the struggle for the planet's future," McKibben wrote. "It's how progressives will think about energy going forward."

Previously a fringe idea, the call for 100 percent renewables is "gaining traction outside the obvious green enclaves," McKibben added. This is in large part because technology is such that a move toward 100 percent renewable energy "would make economic sense ... even if fossil fuels weren't wrecking the Earth."

"That's why the appeal of 100% Renewable goes beyond the left," McKibben wrote. "If you pay a power bill, it's the common-sense path forward."

Writing for Vox last week, David Roberts noted that "wind and solar power are saving Americans an astounding amount of money" already.

"[W]ind and solar produce, to use the economic term of art, 'positive externalities'—benefits to society that are not captured in their market price," Roberts wrote. "Specifically, wind and solar power reduce pollution, which reduces sickness, missed work days, and early deaths."

For these reasons, and for the familiar environmental ones, 100 percent renewables is no longer merely an "aspirational goal," McKibben argued. It is "the obvious solution."

"No more half-measures ... Many scientists tell us that within a decade, at current rates, we'll likely have put enough carbon in the atmosphere to warm the Earth past the Paris climate targets," McKibben concluded. "Renewables—even the most rapid transition—won't stop climate change, but getting off fossil fuel now might (there are no longer any guarantees) keep us from the level of damage that would shake civilization."

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