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We Can Transition to 100% Renewable Energy Starting Today

Insights + Opinion

Across the nation, American businesses, families and communities are embracing clean, renewable energy that is homegrown, healthy, and can never run out. By finding alternatives to fossil fuels that pollute our air and disrupt our climate, they are showcasing the single most practical way to tackle climate change, starting now.

Companies including General Motors, Walmart, Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Crayola and Google are putting in solar and wind farms to run operations, and finding that clean energy is good for business.

Marching for 100% renewable energy with 400,000 people at the People's Climate March.

Schools from Virginia to Nebraska to Alaska are generating their own clean renewable energy, saving money while helping young people in their communities breathe more easily.

Ninety-one communities in Illinois have made the switch to 100 percent renewable electricity. Iowa and South Dakota are producing more than a quarter of their electricity from wind power. And while Houston, Texas might be the oil capital of the country, it's powering half of its municipal operations with renewable energy.

Keep these real-world success stories in mind next week, as heads of state from around the world gather at the United Nations for the Climate Summit. Embracing clean, efficient energy is a practical, flexible, adaptable solution for 100 percent of America, from rural families to multinational corporations and all of us in between.

At the Solutions Project, we see tremendous economic opportunity in a clean-energy future. We rely on the work of dozens of researchers at Stanford University, U.C. Davis and Cornell, who have found that embracing energy efficiency and moving to 100 percent renewable energy could double the number of energy-related jobs in the U.S., while saving every American thousands of dollars a year in health and utility costs.

The researchers found converting our country to 100 percent renewables would eliminate about 60,000 premature air-pollution-related deaths in the U.S. every year, saving people who suffer from cardiovascular diseases and respiratory illnesses. It would also save enormous amounts of money—about 3.3 percent of U.S. GDP—due to lower insurance rates, lower taxes, lower workman's compensation rates, fewer lost work and school days and fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

Going renewable would also stabilize energy prices in the long run, researchers found, because the fuel cost of wind, water, and solar electricity is fixed at zero. Forever. It's not volatile like the price of oil, coal, or natural gas. Real-world experience supports this analysis: the cost of electric power in the 11 states with the highest fraction of their electricity generated from wind power decreased 0.4 percent from 2008-2013, while the cost in the remaining states increased by 8 percent.

That's why Apple, WalMart, Illinois, Iowa and all those other states, companies, communities and families are eagerly moving to a clean energy future. And it's why heads of state talk about climate change at the U.N. Climate Summit yesterday and 400,000 people from all walks of life marched in New York City, calling for action.

A stronger economy. Healthier families. A more secure future. These are 100 percent American goals, and clean energy will help us get there.

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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

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"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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