Renewables are Winning, Nukes are Dead and Coal is Crashing
By Kathleen Rogers and Danny Kennedy
In a year when the election was dominated by fossil fuel propaganda and both candidates for President failed to mention climate change on the campaign trail, it's hard to say "we're succeeding." However, the trends are clear—an enormous shift has begun in the ways in which the U.S. and the world will power itself with clean energy.
To understand what we're talking about, consider this fact:
All new electricity capacity built in the U.S. in September was renewable.
You read correctly. As a sample in time, there was no new fossil fuel capacity added to our grid in September 2012, and 443 megawatts of wind and solar were installed.
Here's another one for you that may be more immediately relevant:
Clean tech companies are growing faster than the fossil fuel industries as employers. That's right. More people are now getting work in clean energy and related clean technology business than oil, gas and coal.
Take the solar industry, which is 119,000 strong in 5,600 companies in all 50 states. That's more than are employed in coal mining in this country—about 80,000 and declining. The solar industry grew at a rate of about 13 percent for the last year, while reducing costs 19 percent and growing. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, more than 3.2 gigawatts of photovoltaic solar will be installed in the U.S. this year—up from 1.9 gigawatts last year. The broader economy barely grew in the same period in terms of new job creation, as unemployment has stayed stubbornly high.
So solar is employing people—lots of them. And we're seeing an historic turn away from the dirtiest of electricity generating technologies. Nuclear power post-Fukushima is all but dead, and coal is crashing. U.S. coal supply declined by 100 million tons in 2012. In terms of coal fired electricity, it was 52 percent of the mix in 2000; last year, it was 42 percent—and this year, some reports have it at less than 33 percent. These are pre-WWII levels as a percentage of the electricity supply. That is a seachange.
Of course, much of the slack has been taken up by natural gas—this new, cheap gas that the frackers are creating. But that too won't last because, regardless of the hype, a finite fuel under increasing demand will go up in price. So, gas is creating the space and understanding that we don't need to be dependent on coal, that we can shift the mix and keep the lights on. And in time, the "no-fuel" solutions will come to dominate. And the bottom-line we should all be watching is that carbon pollution is down.
But perhaps the most important fact is that most Americans want more clean energy. Year-after-year, the enthusiasm for wind and solar power grows rather than declines. Nine out of 10 Americans want more solar in the mix, according to a poll Sungevity conducted in the heat of the 2012 campaign season, on the anniversary of Solyndra's bankruptcy.
Remember those jobs being created in clean energy? More of them are in red states than blue, which means there should be bipartisan support for core policies supporting clean energy. Now, we have to make that happen—we the people. Our elected officials will follow, which is what they have always done.
The seismic shift in how we all use cell phones and mobile technology to access the internet almost snuck up on the incumbent technologies and the monopolies that made money selling us landline telephones and a crappy service. Now, we're all using apps on smartphones all of the time. So too, the shift to a scaled, solar-powered future built around the modular technology at the heart of solar power—the photovoltaic solar cell—will come as a surprise to many. We call it the solar ascent, and it is happening every day in a million ways.
While it's still sometimes hard to realize the seachange that's going on around us, the main question now is whether the shift will come in time.
Our challenge is how to make it happen faster and how to get our government to help, not hinder, it. Preserving access to the federal solar Investment Tax Credit is one key element of this process, but there are many others that a second-term Obama Administration should have the clout to accomplish.
And remember, we're winning. Shine on!
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
Kathleen Rogers is president of Earth Day Network. Danny Kennedy is CEO of Sungevity. Earth Day Network and Sungevity have teamed up to help people in nine states go solar at no cost. Learn more at www.sungevity.com/earthdaynetwork.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.