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How to deal with the US government’s lack of climate leadership

Most of our national climate agenda has been paralyzed by Donald Trump for four years and Joe Manchin for a year and a half. Over $300 billion in environmental capital is included in Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, and federal procurement policy requires an additional $600 billion in annual spending to go green. The senator from West Fossil Fuel-land, on the other hand, vetoed federal incentives for electric vehicles and solar energy. That will hurt our auto and home solar industries because they will have to compete with businesses in areas where governments subsidize these important industries. If it weren’t so obvious that Manchin was in the fossil fuel industry’s pocket, he would push for subsidies and plant placement in his home state. However, the state of West Virginia is doomed to economic ruin by its terrible leadership, which continues to focus on a dying industry and refuses to move forward. The poverty rate of 17.7% in West Virginia ranks fourth in the United States. Only New Mexico, Mississippi, and Louisiana are worse. It’s possible that Manchin is utilizing his temporary influence to promote poverty reduction in his home state; Instead, he’s using it to save the fossil fuel industry in vain.

Federal inertia can be frustrating, but it is not necessarily fatal. Experts and academics continue to give the national government of the United States more weight than it deserves. We are only one nation, and the national government does not have complete authority within our nation. When they noted the following yesterday in the New York Times, Jonathan Weisman and Jazmine Ulloa reflected the typical viewpoint that climate change was losing its status as a political issue:

“…the latest Democratic defeat may be met with a resigned shrug from an electorate already struggling with inflation, exhausted by Covid, and adjusting to tectonic changes like the end of constitutionally protected abortions. And it’s possible that this is why climate change still lacks political clout, either among those calling for immediate action or those standing in its way.

They point out that the majority of people do not consider climate change to be the most important political issue. These kinds of polls measure front-of-mind issues like the cost of groceries or an increase in crime, not people’s core values and beliefs, and they are highly volatile. The issue is this call for emotional activity when for the environment emergency, similar to the turtle and bunny, steady minded individuals will win in the end. Decarbonization is difficult, and no amount of dramatic action will bring it about. Drama is favored by the media; I’m more realistic.

States, localities, corporations, and large nonprofit cultural, medical, and education institutions all have greenhouse gas reduction goals and are serious about achieving them, despite the national setbacks. In 2020, a Brookings report found that many cities had set goals and had achieved reductions, but progress was slow. According to an updated World Resources Institute study from August 2021, many states in the United States have been reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases. WRI claims that:

From 2005 to 2018, U.S. emissions decreased by 9 percent overall. However, the narrative varies from state to state. From 2005 to 2018, 38 states and Washington, D.C., including Maine, New Hampshire, and Alabama, reduced their emissions. Maine benefits from huge forestland that goes about as a carbon sink to retain more carbon dioxide than it discharges. The decline in traditional energy-intensive industries and the rise of service industries like finance, insurance, real estate, health care, and tourism contributed to emission reductions in the state’s industry sector. In contrast, the clean electricity and heat sector accounted for the majority of the reductions in New Hampshire and Alabama. Mississippi, North Dakota, and Idaho lead a group of twelve states that have increased their emissions. Soaring shale gas production and a lack of regulations requiring operators to implement all cost-effective measures for controlling methane emissions were the primary factors behind North Dakota’s rise. 41 states reduced their CO2 emissions and expanded their economies nearly simultaneously, demonstrating that climate action and economic prosperity go hand in hand.

California and New York appear to be serious about achieving their significant goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The federal government still has the authority to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and motor vehicles, in addition to infrastructure and procurement. They must use command-and-control regulations and establish emission standards for power plants and vehicles. Since the cost of emission controls will make natural gas a more cost-effective bridge fuel to renewable energy, this may encourage the use of electric vehicles and indirectly eliminate coal as a power source.

With federal leadership, America’s energy system would be modernized more quickly, but it will happen anyway. The question is whether the pace of energy modernization will be so sluggish as to hurt America’s economic competitiveness. Europe and China will have lower energy costs than the United States if they modernize their energy systems with smart grid technology, high-capacity transmission lines, and cheap solar and wind energy. America’s inability to locate high-capacity energy transmission lines exacerbates its inability to subsidize renewable energy and electric vehicles. At the end of June, Catherine Clifford published an excellent article on the transmission issue on the website of CNBC. She details the following in an article titled “Fierce Local Battles Over Power Lines Are a Bottleneck for Clean Energy”:

“The country needs a large-scale deployment of clean energy to meet its decarbonization goals and combat global warming, but building transmission lines is a complicated task that can get stuck in fierce local siting battles. The existing system of transmission lines is insufficient. 53 utility-scale wind, solar, and geothermal energy projects were found to have been delayed or blocked by local opposition between 2008 and 2021, according to a study that was published in the journal Energy Policy in June. Building transmission lines is more important for distributing renewable energy than it is for using fossil fuels because with baseload energy from coal, natural gas, or nuclear, the source of energy can be moved to where it is needed. Those projects represent approximately 9,586 megawatts of potential energy generation capacity.

While the electric grid will be modernized with $20 billion from the Biden infrastructure law, a full expansion and repair will cost much more and be difficult to accomplish without federal leadership. State-level grid modernization initiatives aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions are more likely. While this may not be ideal from a global or national perspective, it will allow the majority of blue states to lower their energy costs.

The development of new technology is the wild card in efforts to decarbonize. We assume that subsidies are required to accelerate the use of existing technologies for electric vehicles and renewable energy. However, developments in solar cell and battery technology have the potential to reduce the price of electric vehicles and distributed energy generation. It is possible to disconnect from the electric grid itself, just as people have done with cable television and wired internet. The low-cost home energy kit’s inventor and the business that makes and sells it will make a lot of money. There is a strong financial incentive to develop this technology, but there is no guarantee that it will be implemented.

Despite the possibility that technology and the free market will save us, it makes no sense to rely on science fiction and fantasy to deal with the flooding, drought, rising sea level, famine, and other extreme weather that are currently occurring. In order to build the technologies of the future, we need to use the technology we have now and invest in research and development. The dysfunction of American politics in many states and Washington, D.C. makes this even more difficult.

The transition to renewable energy is already underway, and fossil fuels will eventually be driven off the market, despite the numerous political issues and the abdication of national leadership. The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, Joe Manchin, and the U.S. Supreme Court all lack urgency regarding the climate crisis. Globally, the picture is less clearly ideological, but autocrats like Vladimir Putin prioritize using fossil fuels because of their political self-interest. Despite this, a significant number of people worldwide who hold positions of economic and political power are aware of the nature of our environmental crisis and are willing to respond to it. This transition, which I believe cannot be stopped, was initiated by institutional leaders in corporations and governments around the world. The consequences of delaying the process are less clear. Like Donald Trump before him, Joe Manchin challenges all of us to figure out how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of national leadership from the United States. It has to be done in one way or another.

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