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>
More than 40 million doctors and nurses are in, and they are prescribing a green recovery from the economic devastation caused by the new coronavirus.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Sam Edwards
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico is one of the windiest places on earth. Hemmed in by two mountain ranges, the flat strip of land between the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico is a natural wind tunnel. A single gust can flip over cars. It's the perfect place for turbines.
Clean Energy at a Price<p>The Gunaa Sicaru wind park is planned to be built next to Union Hidalgo. Run by French energy giant EDF, it would provide 252 megawatts of power. But first it needs approval from locals through an ongoing public consultation. And as for many multinational-backed wind parks in Oaxaca, that's proving a challenge.</p><p>In a country historically reliant on oil revenue, wind power and other renewables could bring a transition to cleaner energy. But Alejandra Ancheita, director of NGO ProDESC, warns green power must not replicate the environmental harm and mishandling of local communities typical of the global fossil fuel sector.</p><p>"Renewable energy projects can't be justified solely on the basis they are creating clean energy," Ancheita told DW. "It's not 'clean energy' if it isn't developed with a strict respect for the local communities where the project will be built."</p><p><span></span>ProDESC's legal team represents a group of Union Hidalgo residents in an injunction against EDF and local authorities, alleging violations of the consultation process. The NGO claims the local authorities and EDF failed to provide accurate information on the project's impacts and distributed misleading translations from Spanish to Zapotec.</p>
Community Conflict<p>Ramirez and other local activists say oil runoff from the turbines that already dominate the landscape pollutes waterways, while the sound of the wind farms — many of which are close to towns — disturbs residents and local birdlife.</p><p>But while Ramirez and others fight to prevent further damage to their land, some in Union Hidalgo support the development, particularly those who can earn a steady income from leasing their land.</p><p>"It's creating a lot of division in our community," Ramirez said.</p><p>According to a report by the Berlin-based <a href="https://www.ecchr.eu/fileadmin/Publikationen/ECCHR_PP_WINDPARK.pdf" target="_blank">European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights</a> (ECCHR), conflict in the community escalated in 2018, after critics of the project were condemned as "enemies of development" in the EDF consultation meetings.</p><p>ProDESC and ECCHR said in a formal letter last year, that the company needed to do more to prevent conflict in the community.</p><p>EDF told DW it had met its obligations in the consultation process for Gunaa Sicaru but it was the Mexican authorities who ultimately bore the responsibility for ensuring residents were informed and free to make a decision. EDF has received no reports of threats against critics of the Gunaa Sicaru project, the company added.</p><p>The Oaxaca state government did not respond to DW's request for comment.</p>
Future of Clean Energy<p>Mexico, one of the world's top 15 carbon emitters, has committed to producing 35% of its electricity from clean energy by 2024. Renewables have drawn significant interest from investors since a reform opened the sector to private investment in 2013. Both the solar and wind sectors reported record growth last year.</p><p>But observers fear the future of renewables is uncertain under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrado. Lisa Viscidi, from think tank The Inter-American Dialogue, told DW that regulatory changes under the current administration are undermining incentives to invest in the sector. Winning consent from communities in Oaxaca has been another significant challenge. A 2019 report authored by Viscidi on Mexico's first clean energy auction found several projects had been delayed due to a failure to get the community on board.</p>
Alternative Development<p>The challenges of wind energy in Oaxaca are not unique.</p><p>The transition to renewables will be an "epochal shift" in most countries, says Cymene Howe, an anthropologist with Rice University in Texas and author of a book about wind energy in Oaxaca. That's because energy infrastructure will move into parts of the planet untouched by fossil fuel industries.</p><p>"[It will be] a fundamental shift in how we imagine landscapes, what land is to be used for, who lives there and who has responsibility," she said. "This is a new frontier."</p><p>In Union Hidalgo, Ramirez says the conflicts over wind parks have already forced some people to move elsewhere searching for work or new land to farm. She fears that if Gunaa Sicaru goes ahead, the town will soon be bordered on most sides by wind turbines and unable to grow.</p><p>"No one is coming here to force us off our land. [But] one day we'll have to leave ourselves because we won't be able to handle being surrounded," Ramirez said.</p><p>For her, it is not about stifling wind power development, but empowering locals to shape it — for example through community-owned wind parks that would funnel profits back into the local community.</p><p><span></span>"Development can take many forms," Ramirez said.</p>
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By Kimberly White
The City of Houston has committed to 100 percent renewable energy. Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the city has teamed up with NRG Energy to power all municipal operations with renewable energy beginning in July.
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By Fino Menezes
April 2020 was the first month ever that renewables generated more electricity than thermal coal in the United States every single day, while across the Atlantic, the United Kingdom's rapid decarbonization of its electricity grid has achieved another significant milestone – completing a whole month (30 days) without coal power for the first time in 138 years.
Renewables Surpass Coal in U.S. Power Generation Every Day in April<p>April 2020 was the first month in U.S. history that renewables generated more electricity than coal on every day of the month. That's based on new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and compiled by the nonprofit <a href="https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-renewables-surpass-coal-in-u-s-power-generation-throughout-the-month-of-april-2020/" target="_blank">Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA)</a>.</p><p>The daily consecutive run of renewables over coal began on March 25 and continued for 40 straight days through May 3. That breaks the previous record of just nine continuous days.</p><p>The strong output from utility-scale solar, wind, and hydropower is based on several factors, including low gas prices, warmer weather, new renewable capacity connecting to the grid late last year, and lower power demand because of the coronavirus.</p><p>IEEFA <a href="https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-renewables-surpass-coal-in-u-s-power-generation-throughout-the-month-of-april-2020/" target="_blank">reported</a>: "Coal's high cost has made it increasingly one of the last fuel choices for many utilities, a trend reflected by its declining market share for electric generation: just 15.3% in April, according to preliminary EIA figures.</p><p>"In January, coal's market share fell below 20% for the first time in many decades — and possibly for the first time in the entire history of the U.S. power industry — ending at 19.9%.</p><p>"EIA figures also show its share continued to erode, falling to 18.3% in February and 17.3% in March. As recently as 2008, coal's market share was above 50% in the months of January, February and March."</p><p>IEEFA had previously <a href="https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-renewable-generation-is-set-to-surpass-coal-in-2021/" target="_blank"></a><a href="https://ieefa.org/ieefa-update-renewable-generation-is-set-to-surpass-coal-in-2021/" target="_blank">forecasted that power generation from renewables</a> would likely surpass coal-fired generation in 2021, an important milestone in the energy transition that is well underway. But in the first quarter of 2020, renewable generation unexpectedly exceeded coal, and with this strong performance continuing in the second quarter, there is an increasing chance that the milestone could occur this year.</p>
U.K. Goes a Month Without Coal Power for First Time for 138 Years<p>The United Kingdom's rapid decarbonization of its electricity grid has achieved another significant milestone – completing a whole month (30 days) without coal power for the first time in 138 years, <a href="https://ieefa.org/u-k-electricity-goes-coal-free-for-a-month-a-first-in-138-years/" target="_blank">reported</a> The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) this week.</p><p>The milestone was reached on Sunday 10 May (U.K.) time and celebrated by National Grid ESO, the organization that runs the grid and is responsible for keeping the lights on nationwide. It was the first time this occurred since coal power was first used on the U.K. power system in January, 1882, at Holborn Viaduct.<br></p><p>Within a few years, there will be no coal generation at all – with the remaining plants shuttered, and one or two converted to gas by 2025. National Grid aims to be able to operate a fully zero emission grid when weather conditions allow from 2025, and is accelerating its adoption of new technologies and management systems that will allow it to side line gas power plants when possible.<br></p><p>Just a few days before the new month-long coal-free milestone, National Grid released its latest end of year planning report outlining the main achievements it has made in the long path to a fully decarbonized grid before 2050.</p><p>"We're really proud of our zero carbon targets," National Grid wrote in a blog a few days earlier. "In May 2019 there was a 2-week period where there was coal free operation of Great Britain's electricity system. This has quickly been beaten after the record breaking sunlight in April."</p><p>It noted that the carbon intensity of the electricity system has halved over the last five years, and is down 60 per cent when compared to 2013. "The recent <a href="https://www.nationalgrideso.com/news/day-life-energy-forecasting-manager" target="_blank">low demand for energy</a> due to COVID-19 has dramatically reduced the use of fossil fuel based generation, and this has been supported by our optimized renewable generation," it says.</p><p>"And as supply changes, so to does demand, as renewables capacity and smart grid functionality increases further to enable the side-lining of gas power plants when possible."</p>
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By Stephanie Hanes
Earlier this month, health care experts from across the United States gathered to address hundreds of journalists and policymakers by webinar. But their focus was not testing, nor vaccines, nor "herd immunity." It was not even COVID-19, really. Instead, their focus was climate change.
Renewing a Focus<p>For many climate advocates, this is a reason to push green initiatives now. Environmentalists worry that unless policymakers focus on climate as part of their economic packages, the pandemic could lead to policy shifts that would undermine years of hard-won climate victories. Indeed, the Trump administration in late March announced that it would weaken Obama-era fuel standards that mandate increased fuel efficiencies for automobiles. It also announced last month that the Environmental Protection Agency will not enforce environmental regulations during the pandemic.</p><p>"What we have to worry about is whether ... policy changes are going to be long term or short term," says Christopher Jones, director of the CoolClimate Network at the University of California, Berkeley. "If we roll back standards and they remain in place when the economy comes back, we are going to have a real problem." </p><p>Researchers say that a green economic stimulus package could both help the U.S. ensure long-term sustainability and rebound from the crushing economic impact of the pandemic. (More than 26 million Americans have filed for <a href="https://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2020/0401/Faces-of-the-new-jobs-crisis-from-restaurants-to-real-estate" target="_blank">unemployment</a> benefits since March 15, according to the U.S. Labor Department.) Many environmentalists look at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama in 2009, as an example of how government initiatives can spur climate-friendly industry. That bill, which earmarked some $90 billion to promote green energy, is widely credited with launching the widespread renewable energy sector in the U.S. </p>
Inequality, Exacerbated<p>But a move toward environmental sustainability, says Dr. Bernstein, is going to be crucial not only for combatting a climate crisis, but for helping some of the people most impacted by the coronavirus. As he points out, both the pandemic and the impacts from climate change disproportionately affect people of color and other marginalized groups.</p><p>There is, he and others say, a hopeful lesson to be taken from the massive lifestyle and economic shifts seen across the globe in response to COVID-19. For years, popular wisdom has said that people simply would not engage in the sort of behavior changes necessary to fight climate change; that they wouldn't stop traveling, wouldn't stop consuming, wouldn't sacrifice material comforts and help save others who are most immediately at risk from climate change. Now, the response to the pandemic suggests otherwise. </p><p>"We are able to mobilize the entire global economy and population for an imminent threat," says Dr. Jones. "Both climate change and this pandemic both affect the most vulnerable. But everybody is willing to make personal sacrifices to protect the most vulnerable. I think that's quite new."</p>
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By Lauri Myllyvirta and Sunil Dahiya
An economic slowdown, renewable energy growth and the impact of Covid-19 have led to the first year-on-year reduction in India's CO2 emissions in four decades. Emissions fell by around 1% in the fiscal year ending March 2020, as coal consumption fell and oil consumption flatlined.
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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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While the nation struggles to find ways to put money in peoples' pockets and to ramp up the economy so people can get back to work, over $43 billion in low-interest loans earmarked for clean energy projects sits undistributed by the Trump administration, according to The New York Times.
By Dana Nuccitelli
Environmentalists and renewable energy advocates have long been allies in the fight to keep unchecked industrial growth from irreversibly ruining Earth's climate and threatening the future of human civilization. In their new YouTube documentary "Planet of the Humans," director Jeff Gibbs and producer Michael Moore argue for splitting the two sides. Their misleading, outdated, and scientifically sophomoric dismissal of renewable energy is perhaps the most dangerous form of climate denial, eroding support for renewable energy as a critical climate solution.