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Presidential Candidate Martin O'Malley: We Can and Should Be 100% Powered by Renewable Energy by 2050

Climate

While the Pope sucks up all the media attention with his climate encyclical today, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley has released a position paper on the environment that deserves more attention, even if he's not frontrunner Hillary Clinton or progressive idol Bernie Sanders. In the paper, the former Maryland governor burnished his credentials as a climate hawk, laying out his plan for addressing climate change. The paper revealed O'Malley's unequivocal opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, offshore and Arctic drilling, and fracking, instead promoting a rapid transition to clean energy.

Martin O'Malley says addressing climate change with be at the center of his presidential campaign. Photo credit: Facebook.com/MartinOMalley

"Given the grave threat that climate change poses to human life on our planet, we have not only a business imperative but a moral obligation to future generations to act immediately and aggressively," said O'Malley. "This is why protecting the United States from the devastating impact of climate change—while capitalizing on the job creation opportunity of clean energy—is at the center of my campaign for president."

"Today, Pope Francis published his first encyclical—an official teaching document to all 1.2 billion Catholics—on the moral imperative of addressing climate change," O'Malley wrote in a USA Today editorial promoting the release of his paper. "He is not alone among leaders of world faiths making such a clarion call for action. We have come a long way as a nation in making ourselves more energy independent. Now is the time to take this progress to the next level—the future of our country and our planet depends on it."

O'Malley, who is Catholic, called for phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

"New technologies have put a clean energy, energy independent future within reach—while the threat of climate change, and the urgent need for new middle-­class jobs, makes it imperative that we aggressively pursue it,” he said.

Echoing a theme he's emphasized since he first announced his campaign in late May, O'Malley said that clean, renewable energy sources represent one of the biggest economic and job creation opportunities in a century as well as a more stable and secure world—a direct contrast to most of the Republican presidential candidates who have been promoting the idea that phasing out fossil fuels such as coal would cost jobs and be an economic anchor to the country.

O'Malley said that as president he would use his executive powers to make the transition to clean energy the top priority of the federal government. He proposed a series of specific actions such as a Clean Energy Job Corps to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency, create new green spaces, and restore and expand forests. He promised to bring all federal buildings up to the highest efficiency standards and set higher ones, and require all new buildings to be net-zero. He also vowed to require government vehicles to be low- or zero-emissions and to mandate that federally funded infrastructure projects meet climate resiliency standards.

He also said he would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take a zero-tolerance stance for methane leaks from existing fracking operations. And he would prioritize modernizing the grid in a way that encourages localized, renewable energy generation and reduces electricity waste.

Unlike Clinton, who has dodged the issue, O'Malley takes a position on the Keystone XL: he says he would kill the project. Drilling off the coasts and in the Arctic would be off the table too.

And he took a potshot at those, like President Obama, who have advocated for an "all of the above" energy policy that relies on natural gas—and fracking—to smooth the transition to clean energy sources.

"All of us can acknowledge that with an 'all of the above strategy,' President Obama has made the U.S. more energy independent in every category of fuels, including oil and gas," he said. "But America did not land a man on the moon with an 'all of the above strategy.' It was an engineering challenge. Making the transition to a clean energy future is also an engineering challenge."

“We can’t meet the climate challenge with an all-of-­the‐above energy strategy, or from drilling off our coasts, or from building pipelines that bring oil from tar sands in Canada,” he continued. “Meeting the climate challenge requires a commitment to one simple concept: a full transition to clean, renewable energy and an end to our reliance on fossil fuels altogether.”

Environment leaders praised O'Malley's proposals.

"I particularly applaud presidential candidate Martin O’Malley for answering the Pope’s call and laying out a bold plan to build a clean energy economy," said Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate. "By calling for the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and a transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, Governor O’Malley is presenting real, concrete solutions to climate change that will secure our country’s economic security—and break with the dirty energy politics of the past. This is exactly the type of leadership on climate change the Pope, military and business leaders are calling for—and that we need from our next president. I look forward to seeing candidates in both parties lay out their plans to take decisive action on this issue and build a more prosperous and sustainable future for our kids—and I hope they show the same boldness that Governor O’Malley did today.”

"The Sierra Club applauds Governor O’Malley for driving the conversation toward the critically important goal of transitioning off of dirty fossil fuels to a healthy and just economy powered by 100 percent clean energy," said the group's executive director Michael Brune“Polls make it clear that Americans want climate action and strongly prefer clean energy over fossil fuels. Meanwhile, leaders worldwide are committing to new steps to cut carbon pollution while the marketplace and public demand are ensuring clean energy solutions rapidly replace fossil fuels to create new jobs and new prosperity. We are pleased to see leaders like Governor O’Malley setting their sights on a prosperous and safe clean energy economy that works for all."

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."