By Jeremy Deaton
Experts disagree about how fast the United States can replace coal and gas-fired power plants with zero-carbon electricity. Some say we can shift to 100 percent clean power by 2050 with little friction and minimal cost. Others say that's unrealistically optimistic. Scientists on both sides of the argument agree that it's possible to get to 80 or 90 percent clean power. The debate centers on that last 10 or 20 percent.
Every year, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Annual Technology Baseline (ATB) projects the future cost of wind and solar energy. The graphs above show the projected cost of wind and solar in the best-case scenario. Every year since 2015 the projections have grown more optimistic. Source: UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy
The graphs above show the power mix in two different scenarios — one, where the lawmakers enact policies, such as a national clean power standard, to push utilities to shift to wind and solar (left), and one where utilities continue to operate as normal (right). Source: UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy
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By John R. Platt
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Japan's New Environmental Minister Calls for Closing Down All Nuclear Reactors to Prevent Another Disaster Like Fukushima
Japan's new environmental minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, called Wednesday for permanently shutting down the nation's nuclear reactors to prevent a repeat of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, comments that came just a day after Koizumi's predecessor recommended dumping more than one million tons of radioactive wastewater from the power plant into the Pacific Ocean.
The U.S. Department of Justice won't turn over 60 boxes of files about a nuclear arms plant in Colorado because it says it can't find the files. The missing documents were presented to a grand jury during a two-year criminal investigation that looked into environmental crimes committed at Rocky Flats, which produced plutonium triggers for the nation's nuclear arsenal throughout the Cold War, as the Denver Post reported.
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Germany reached an agreement Thursday that will allow it to stop burning coal by 2038.
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By Tara Lohan
The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.
What lessons can we learn from your research to guide us right now, in what seems like a really critical time in the fight to halt climate change?<p>What a lot of people don't understand is that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we actually have to reduce emissions by around 7-8 percent <em>every single year</em> from now until 2030, which is what the emissions drop is likely to be this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.</p><p>So think about what it took to reduce emissions by that much and think about how we have to do that <em>every single year</em>.</p><p>It doesn't mean that it's going to be some big sacrifice, but it does mean that we need government policy, particularly at the federal level, because state policy can only go so far. We've been living off state policy for more than three decades now and we need our federal government to act.</p>
Where are we now, in terms of our progress on renewable energy and how far we need to go?<p>A lot of people think renewable energy is growing "so fast" and it's "so amazing." But first of all, during the coronavirus pandemic, the renewable energy industry is actually doing very poorly. It's losing a lot of jobs. And secondly, we were not moving fast enough even before the coronavirus crisis, because renewable energy in the<em> best </em>year grew by only 1.3 percent.</p><p>Right now we're at around 36-37 percent clean energy. That includes nuclear, hydropower and new renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. But hydropower and nuclear aren't growing. Nuclear supplies about 20 percent of the grid and hydro about 5 percent depending on the year. And then the rest is renewable. So we're at about 10 percent renewables, and in the best year, we're only adding 1 percent to that.</p><p>Generally, we need to be moving about eight times faster than we've been moving in our best years. (To visualize this idea, I came up with the <a href="https://grist.org/fix/how-quickly-do-we-need-to-ramp-up-renewables-look-to-the-narwhal/" target="_blank">narwhal curve</a>.)</p>
How do we overcome these fundamental issues of speed and scale?<p>We need actual government policy that supports it. We have never had a clean electricity standard or renewable portfolio standard at the federal level. That's the main law that I write all about at the state level. Where those policies are in place, a lot of progress has been made — places like California and even, to a limited extent, Texas.</p><p>We need our federal government to be focusing on this crisis. Even the really small, piecemeal clean-energy policies we have at the federal level are going away. In December Congress didn't extend the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, just like they didn't extend or improve the electric vehicle tax credit.</p><p>And now during the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of the money going toward the energy sector in the CARES Act is going toward propping up <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-15/-stealth-bailout-shovels-millions-of-dollars-to-oil-companies" target="_blank">dying fossil fuel companies</a> and not toward supporting the renewable energy industry.</p><p>So we are moving in the wrong direction.</p>
Clean energy hasn’t always been such a partisan issue. Why did it become so polarizing?<p>What I argue in my book, with evidence, is that electric utilities and fossil fuel companies have been intentionally driving polarization. And they've done this in part by running challengers in primary elections against Republicans who don't agree with them.</p><p>Basically, fossil fuel companies and electric utilities are telling Republicans that you can't hold office and support climate action. That has really shifted the incentives within the party in a very short time period.</p><p>It's not like the Democrats have moved so far left on climate. The Democrats have stayed in pretty much the same place and the Republicans have moved to the right. And I argue that that's because of electric utilities and fossil fuel companies trying to delay action.</p>
And their reason for doing that is simply about their bottom line and keeping their share of the market?<p>Exactly. You have to remember that delay and denial on climate change is a profitable enterprise for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities. The longer we wait to act on the crisis, the more money they can make because they can extract more fossil fuels from their reserves <em>and</em> they can pay more of their debt at their coal plants and natural gas plants. So delay and denial is a money-making business for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities.</p>
There’s been a lot of research, reporting and even legal action in recent years about the role of fossil fuel companies in discrediting climate science. From reading your book, it seems that electric utilities are just as guilty. Is that right?<p>Yes, far less attention has been paid to electric utilities, which play a really critical role. They preside over legacy investments into coal and natural gas, and some of them continue to propose building new natural gas.</p><p>They were just as involved in promoting climate denial in the 1980s and 90s as fossil fuel companies, as I document in my book. And some of them, like Southern Company, have continued to promote climate denial to basically the present day.</p><p>But that's not the only dark part of their history.</p><p>Electric utilities promoted energy systems that are pretty wasteful. They built these centralized fossil fuel power plants rather than having co-generation plants that were onsite at industrial locations where manufacturing is happening, and where you need both steam heat — which is a waste product from electricity — and the electricity itself. That actually created a lot of waste in the system and we burned a lot more fossil fuels than if we had a decentralized system.</p><p><span></span>The other thing they've done in the more modern period is really resisted the energy transition. They've resisted renewable portfolio standards and net metering laws that allow for more clean energy to come onto the grid. They've tried to roll them back. They've been successful in some cases, and they've blocked new laws from passing when targets were met.</p>
You wrote that, “Partisan polarization on climate is not inevitable — support could shift back to the bipartisanship we saw before 2008.” What would it take to actually make that happen?<p>Well, on the one hand, you need to get the Democratic Party to care more about climate change and to really understand the stakes. And if you want to do that, I think the work of the <a href="https://www.justicedemocrats.com/" target="_blank">Justice Democrats</a> is important. They have primary-challenged incumbent Democrats who don't care enough about climate change. That is how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected. She was a primary challenger and she has really championed climate action in the Green New Deal.</p><p>The other thing is that the public supports climate action. Democrats do in huge numbers. Independents do. And to some extent Republicans do, particularly young Republicans.</p><p>So communicating the extent of public concern on these issues is really important because, as I've shown in other research, politicians don't know how much public concern there is on climate change. They dramatically underestimate support for climate action.</p><p>I think the media has a really important role to play because it's very rare that a climate event, like a disaster that is caused by climate change, is actually linked to climate change in media reporting.</p><p>But people might live through a wildfire or a hurricane or a heat wave, but nobody's going to tell them through the media that this is climate change. So we really need our reporters to be doing a better job linking people's lived experiences to climate change.</p>
With economic stimulus efforts ramping up because of the COVD-19 pandemic, are we in danger of missing a chance to help boost a clean energy economy?<p>I think so many people understand that stimulus spending is an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that creates good-paying jobs in the clean-energy sector that protects Americans' health.</p><p>We know that <a href="https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200427-how-air-pollution-exacerbates-covid-19" target="_blank">breathing dirty air</a> makes people more likely to die from COVID-19. So this is a big opportunity to create an economy that's more just for all Americans.</p><p>But unfortunately, we really are not pivoting toward creating a clean economy, which is what we need to be doing. This is an opportunity to really focus on the climate crisis because we have delayed for more than 30 years. There is not another decade to waste.</p>
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After marathon talks in Brussels, the leaders of European Union member states – bar Poland – agreed early Friday to commit to going carbon neutral by 2050.
By Eon Higgins
Its official name is the "Akademik Lomonosov," but critics call it a "floating Chernobyl."
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Their signs read "We want to live!" and "Road to Death," and many bear the bright yellow symbol warning of radiation. On Monday, several hundred protesters gathered in the south of Moscow outside residential housing blocks that overlook a nuclear waste site.
Local resident Anna signs a petition opposing the highway right outside her apartment block.
At a forest in Moscow, signs warn of "radioactive contamination."
Andrei Ozharovsky has measured dangerous radiation on the nuclear waste site.
Signs at the protest warn of a "second Chernobyl," referring to a tragic nuclear accident in the Soviet Union.
By Julia Conley
Advocates for seven faith-based peace activists are calling on the public to support the group as they fight federal charges and a potential 25-year prison sentence for disarming a nuclear submarine base.
South Korea will close up to a quarter of its coal-fired plants for the winter months to tamp down on air pollution that the country declared a "social disaster" after several cities experienced record high levels of air pollution last winter, as CNN reported.
By Deidra Miniard, Joe Kantenbacher and Shahzeen Attari
Political divisions are a growing fixture in the United States today, whether the topic is marriage across party lines, responding to climate change or concern about coronavirus exposure. Especially in a presidential election year, the vast divide between conservatives and liberals often feels nearly impossible to bridge.
Assessing Perceptions<p>To explore people's views on energy sources, we conducted an online survey of 2,429 adults across the U.S. Our participants represented a range of political ideologies, with 51% self-identifying as liberals, 20% as moderate and 29% as conservative. To investigate patterns in the data, we analyzed responses based on participants' political ideologies.</p><p>Our survey asked people to estimate the shares that various energy sources contributed to all energy use in the United States, including activities like generating electricity, running factories, heating homes and powering vehicles. We asked participants to estimate what percentage of U.S. total energy used came from nine energy sources: coal, oil, natural gas, solar, wind, hydro, biomass, geothermal and nuclear power.</p><p>Next we had participants describe what they viewed as an optimal mix of these nine energy sources that they hoped the U.S. would use in the year 2050. We also asked what kinds of policies they would support to move the nation from its current status to the future that they envisioned. In a follow-on study, we are examining how factors such as cost and environmental impact influence people's preferences for one energy source versus others.</p>
Estimations of Today’s Energy Mix<p>We found that our respondents had some misperceptions about <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts/" target="_blank">where energy in the U.S. comes from</a>. They tended to underestimate U.S. reliance on oil and natural gas and overestimate coal's contribution. We believe Americans may not realize how dramatically electric utilities have <a href="https://rhg.com/research/preliminary-us-emissions-2019/" target="_blank">switched from coal to gas for power generation</a> over the past decade, and may therefore have dated impressions of coal's prevalence.</p><p>Conversely, we found that participants overestimated the contribution of lesser-used energy sources – specifically, renewables like wind and solar power. This pattern may partially be explained by people's general tendency to inflate estimates of small values and probabilities, which has been seen in areas ranging from <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/107/37/16054" target="_blank">household energy use</a> and <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/111/14/5129.short" target="_blank">water use</a> to <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1980-20983-001" target="_blank">risk of death</a>.</p><p>In the case of the U.S. energy system, this bias means that people think our current energy system is greener than it really is, which could reduce the perceived urgency of shifting to lower-carbon sources.</p>
Shared Goals, Divergent Pathways<p>When we asked participants to indicate the amount of each energy source they hoped the U.S. would use in 2050, the broad consensus favored a future in which the nation primarily relied on renewable energy and used much less fossil fuel. Conservatives, moderates and liberals shared this outlook.</p><p>Particular preferences for a lower-carbon future varied somewhat by political ideology, but on average all groups supported an energy mix in which at least 77% of overall energy use came from low-carbon energy sources, including renewable fuels and nuclear power.</p><p>This bipartisan consensus wavered, though, when we asked participants whether they supported or opposed 12 energy policies – six that would lead to larger roles for low-carbon energy sources, and six that would increase use of fossil fuels.</p><p>Liberal participants showed strong support for policies consistent with increased use of low-carbon energy sources, such as providing government funding for renewable energy and subsidies for purchasing electric vehicles. They strongly opposed actions that would increase reliance on fossil fuels, such as relaxing oil drilling regulations or lowering fuel economy standards.</p><p>On average, conservative participants supported several policies that favored low-carbon energy use, though not as strongly as their liberal counterparts. Conservatives tended to be closer to neutral or only slightly opposed to policies that promote fossil fuel use.</p><p>The sharpest contrast between the two political groups was over building and completing pipelines to move oil from extraction points to refineries in the U.S. Several <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/03/31/824445928/builder-of-controversial-keystone-xl-pipeline-says-its-moving-forward" target="_blank">proposed pipelines</a> have generated <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/climate/dakota-access-pipeline-sioux.html" target="_blank">intense controversy</a> in the past years. Conservatives generally supported pipeline development, and liberals generally opposed it.</p>
Achieving a Low-Carbon Future<p>An important argument for transitioning to low-carbon energy sources is to limit climate change to manageable levels. Recent polls show that climate change remains a politically divisive issue, with <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/276932/several-issues-tie-important-2020-election.aspx" target="_blank">far more Democrats than Republicans</a> rating it as extremely important to their vote in the 2020 presidential race.</p><p>Recent research has shown that both Democrats and Republicans strongly support renewable energy development, but <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2020.111448" target="_blank">do so for different reasons</a>. Democrats prioritize curbing climate change, while Republicans are more motivated by reducing energy costs. We see these motivations playing out in the real world, where conservative oil-producing states like Texas are experiencing <a href="https://www.economist.com/united-states/2020/03/12/a-renewable-energy-boom-is-changing-the-politics-of-global-warming" target="_blank">huge booms in renewable energy generation</a>, driven primarily by the improving economics of renewable energy.</p><p>Realizing the shared vision of an energy system dominated by renewable energy will mean reconciling partisan differences over how to achieve that future. While there is no single rationale that will convince all Americans to support a transition to low-carbon energy sources, our results are encouraging because we find consensus on the U.S. energy future – everyone agrees that it should be green. </p>
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