This past Saturday hundreds of tribal leaders, clean energy supporters and faith leaders from across the Southwest joined the Moapa Band of Paiutes for a 16-mile Coal to Clean Energy walk.
The march came on the heels of NV Energy announcing plans to retire its coal plants and stop drawing power from Arizona's Navajo Generating Station. A year ago, Moapa Paiutes walked 50 miles over three days from their reservation to Las Vegas to protest the Reid Gardner coal plant's pollution and bring attention to the tribe’s efforts to develop solar energy. This year's Coal to Clean Energy walk culminated at the site of the 250-megawatt solar project on the Moapa Paiute Reservation that will sell power to Los Angeles.
"For far too long, the Reid Gardner coal plant has been poisoning our air, water and the health of our families," said Moapa Band of Paiutes Chairman William Anderson. "NV Energy moving to close the coal plant is the result of countless families coming together to demand change. We want to make sure that the coal plant does indeed close and stays closed. We don't want the coal plant to be replaced by another polluting power plant—like a gas plant. We want a switch to truly clean sustainable energy sources like the solar project that will be built in our reservation."
Senator Harry Reid expressed his support for the Moapa Paiute Coal to Clean Energy march. "The Moapa Band of Paiutes is an important voice for Nevada's transition towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future," said Reid. "The day is soon coming when the Paiutes will be able to breathe freely and the Reid Gardner coal plant will be shuttered and they will break ground on the nation's first commercial solar energy project on tribal lands that will not emit any hazardous emissions, wastes or carbon pollution."
For decades, Moapa Paiute families have experienced high levels of asthma attacks, lung disease, heart disease and cancer they believe is related to the coal pollution coming from the Reid Gardner power plant. The plant is located immediately adjacent to their community on the Moapa River Reservation.
"The Paiutes are leading the way with the Moapa Solar project that will soon break ground and create good jobs for the families that live right here in the Reservation," said Allison Chin, national president of the Sierra Club, who participated in the walk on Saturday. "Today's march from the Reid Gardner coal plant to the future of site of the Moapa Solar project represents for all of us a new coal to clean energy path for not only Nevada, but for the entire west to follow."
NV Energy's recently announced statewide plan to transition away from coal takes place in the midst of a trend to end the use of coal in the West. Washington State enacted a law that will close its last coal plant by 2025 and Oregon will be coal-free by 2020. Los Angeles just announced that it is ending its use of coal energy from Arizona's Navajo Generating Station and Utah's Intermountain Power Plant.
Southern California Edison is in the process of finalizing its exit from the Four Corners Generating Station. The Department of Water Resources will exit the Reid Gardner plant this summer and several smaller publicly owned California utilities are also finalizing an exit from New Mexico's San Juan Generating Station.
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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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